7.5 MIN READ
The mass adoption of the internet into everyday life has critically changed the course of marketing over the past two decades. Usage and adaptation of the internet increased rapidly in the late 1990s leading to the dot-com bubble, which eventually burst at the turn of the millennium. With the dot-com bubble burst came a shift in marketing tactics, with a greater emphasis placed on inbound marketing through information sharing, user-centric design and collaboration.
As the world moved online, marketing by necessity became more transparent, personalized, and agile. With the introduction of social media sites like LinkedIn in 2002, Facebook in 2004, and Twitter in 2006, internet users started sharing more and more personal data online. This digital information, known as “big data,” has made it possible to track human behavior patterns and trends, giving rise to data-driven marketing. Whereas marketing used to be about creating a myth and selling it, it is now about finding a truth and sharing it. In an era where customers are in the driving seat, easily able to research products in a matter of seconds, marketers need to engage consumers in an ongoing conversation, creating real, human-to-human relationships. With 70% of the buyer’s journey complete before a buyer even reaches out to sales, marketers need to create a unique experience that emotionally connects to consumers.
Creating that unique, emotional connection is exactly what XYPN Radio Episode #130 guest Patrick Brewer did to successfully grow his firm, SurePath Wealth Management, and its niche subsidiary, SurePath Physician Services, from $0 to $250,000 in annual revenue in just 13 months. By “marketing as a human,” Patrick saw higher levels of engagement, paid less for clients, became relevant more quickly, and ultimately, didn’t need to buy people's attention. In an industry notorious for pushing out mass amounts of what Patrick calls “noise” to people, consumers crave that human connection and authenticity more than ever. At a time when most other advisors miss the mark and communicate like a business, you need to communicate like a human.
Creating Human Connections
We may be living in a world overtaken by technology, but at our core, we all crave human experiences and connection. In an age of seemingly infinite reach, that one-to-one connection is more valuable than ever. But how, as a business, do you establish that human connection?
Our need to connect socially is powerful—in fact, as humans, we’re wired to connect with one another. At a time where we can collect an incredible amount of information about our customers, it’s easy to treat our customers like data. By focusing on conversation, respect, and engagement, you can establish trust with your prospective clients. Give them opportunities to connect and opt-in to sharing their data (always remember that opting in is the bare minimum for data collection). Find opportunities to listen by asking questions or soliciting opinions on your social channels. One of the easiest ways to engender trust is to talk with people, on their terms, asking and listening. Listening sends a strong message to clients that this relationship will be more about their needs than yours.
Engaging on social media also gives you insight into the language your current and prospective clients use. Mirror that language—you can better relate to prospects by understanding how they express their problems. As “experts,” we easily get caught up in our jargon. Using the language of your clients instead will better allow you to help them connect the dots to an impactful solution.
Treat every touchpoint with your customers like a face-to-face conversation. When someone connects with your business, it should feel more like an eye-to-eye conversation than a one-way corporate communication. Authentic dialogue is how humans communicate, and it is how the most successful businesses thrive. Engaging with who your clients are apart from a just a hand with a wallet helps build customer loyalty and trust.
The best marketers understand that brand experience is more emotional than cognitive. You can humanize your business through services that solve problems. Patrick identified pain points of his prospective clients and started on the front end with marketing messages that related to those pain points and offered a solution. In an era where competitors are furiously trying to get the attention of customers, you can stand out from the noise by offering a human solution to a human problem. The modern-day wonders of technology are amazing and at times awe-inspiring, and while technological tools help us get to the right people, truly connecting with those people is where the real magic happens.
According to marketing guru Simon Sinek, “People are people, and the biology of decision-making is the same no matter whether it is a personal decision or a business decision.” People decide whether they want to buy a product or a service using the same process they use when deciding whether or not to pursue a friendship. Hopefully at this point you know how to create relationships in your personal life. Use those same tactics—authenticity, transparency, and empathy—to create relationships with prospective clients. There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it (another nod to Sinek). When marketing your business, always aim to inspire.
Tell a Story
Before you start posting on social media in an attempt to connect with prospects, you need to fully understand your position, mission, and how to offer your services concisely. As marketing expert Seth Godin contends, “If you can’t state your position in eight words, you don’t have a position.” You have only a matter of seconds before you lose people’s attention, and people are much more likely to believe in your position—and subsequently your business—when your message is crystal clear.
We all have preconceived ideas about our world—stories we tell ourselves. Successful businesses find a way to fit into or add to those stories. Human-to-human marketing is about creating a compelling narrative—a story people actually care about. As Patrick explains, getting people’s attention and building relevancy are critical first steps to success. Unless you already have a certain level of prestige associated with your business, it’s very rare to get people to care about your brand immediately. Garner attention by crafting a story that inspires people to care about what you’re selling. Always remember to explain to your audience why your service is useful to them; you must solve a problem they are experiencing (even if they don’t yet know they are experiencing it) to connect on a deeper level.
A good story awakens empathy, adds a human element to your content, and doesn’t sound “salesy.” When you promote your business through a story, you aren’t trying to convince prospective customers to buy your service. Instead, you’re sharing an experience and leaving the decision in their hands. Your stories should demonstrate that you are listening, convey a sense of helping, and be localized and personal. Relevant storytelling based on the beliefs of your prospective clients goes a long way towards establishing that emotional connection that leads to customer loyalty (which translates to client retention).
Get Personal, Conversational, and Empathetic
New business don’t have track records or well-established reputations off of which prospective clients can base their decision to buy. Instead, they rely on your word alone that you will deliver what you’re promising them. It is therefore critical that you instill a sense of trust early on. Getting personal, conversational, and empathetic with your customers will help you do this.
Infusing authenticity into all of your communications helps create a brand voice that is relatable to your clients. While your brand voice should be polished and authoritative (you are the expert after all), it must also be approachable and human. When writing content or copy, keep it conversational so that your messaging is an extension of the actual people behind your brand—your clients. Formal, super polished language has its place, but it’s not what builds trust: real life interactions and authentic dialogue do. Think of building trust as a new business much like nurturing a new friendship. Be mindful of your prospective and current clients’ feelings and values, and of the impact of every interaction you have with them. Each of these interactions acts as a building block of brand trust.
Understand your audience really well; understand the problems they face even better. When you demonstrate an ability to empathize with a person’s pain points, they start to see you as a solution to their problem(s). As a business, perhaps your most important goal is to help fix your clients’ problems. After all, you’re in business in the first place because you provide solutions; you have the answers; you are the one with the plan.
Use customer-centric language that makes the consumer, not your business, the hero of your story. Your marketing should revolve around your customer, their interests and their challenges. They should don the cape, not you. When a customer plays the starring role in your marketing efforts, they are more likely to continue to engage with your business. A personalized customer-centric marketing strategy maximizes opportunities to connect with your target market in a genuine way by showing your clients that you are more focused on their needs than your profit margins.
Integrating personalized marketing into your strategy is a way for you to show your clients that you’re listening and that you understand their needs. The more you demonstrate this to a client or prospect, the more likely they are to connect and become a promoter of your business. Your message should stay true to who you, as a business, are, but must also consider the values of your clients. Your business was (hopefully) built to solve their problems, not yours.
Welcome to the Human Era
We live in a revolutionary time where humans are more connected to technology than ever before. With this technology has come an onslaught of information, constantly thrown at consumers on a daily basis (it’s been said that the average American sees or hears more than 4,000 ads a day). Out of necessity, we’ve learned to be selective.
As a result, businesses have had to reevaluate their approach to marketing. Regardless of how much you spend on marketing today, if your business doesn’t resonate with your audience, it will be money wasted. With people so connected to technology, businesses must find ways to connect with consumers on different devices and social platforms, but in a way that enables consumers to feel connected on a more human level.
Whereas big businesses used to cast a shadow on their audience with power and authority, thereby demanding respect, today, businesses must be peers, not superiors. Only by individualizing an audience and building authentic connections will businesses thrive in today’s technological age, because the paradoxical truth is, as consumers become increasingly connected to their devices, they crave human experiences and interactions more than ever.
To learn more about how Patrick drowned out the noise and established a human connection with his clients, listen to the full podcast.
About the Author
Alan Moore, MS, CFP® is the co-founder of the XY Planning Network, a support network for advisors looking to serve next generation clients. He is also the CEO of AdvicePay, the first and only compliant payment processor for financial advisors. He is passionate about helping financial planners start and grow their own fee-only firms to serve Gen X & Gen Y clients largely ignored by traditional firms. Alan has been recognized by Investment News as a top “40 Under 40″ in financial planning, by Wealth Management as one of a “The 10 to Watch in 2015″, and was the first recipient of the NAPFA Young Professional award in 2015. Alan frequently speaks on topics related to technology, marketing, and business coaching, and has been quoted in publications including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes and The New York Times. He is also the host of XYPN Radio, one of the largest podcasts for independent financial advisors. He currently lives in Bozeman, MT so that he can hit the slopes on powder days.