Thursday, October 23, 2014

Building better financial planners: what we can learn from crowdsourcing GPs

In 2012, news from the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) was that a medical study suggested 57% of adult Australians were receiving “appropriate” (read ‘good enough’) GP care. That left a whopping 43% in the sample group of more than 1,000 who did not receive “appropriate care”.
Sound familiar? Reminds me of a recent ASIC report and media announcement about life insurance. While there are key differences (churn of life cover for commission perhaps) there are enough similarities to think more broadly about what might be most helpful to advisers who want to do the best by their clients – which most do.
Medicos and crowdsourcing
Consider this:
  • GPs are among some of the most overburdened in our health care system
  • They have limited time and resources to see, diagnose and treat thousands of diverse conditions
  • They’re not God. And we’re unreasonable if we expect them to be.
So how does a busy GP ensure (i.e. be certain or near enough) they’re doing better than getting it right half the time? They use a MJA “wiki” – a social, collaborative tool a la “Wikipedia”. Overseen by experts, it is intended to provide a “dynamic, centralised and inclusive platform — openly available to all to contribute to and use — that will help empower clinicians to deliver the best care”.
This is a huge leap for medical practitioners, who had been (and often still are) complaining about their patients’ propensity to resort to “Google Doctor”, while at the same time, on occasion, being well behind the eight ball when faced with an intelligent, curious and well researched (read, Google-doctored) patient.
Which brings us to the question: if this approach is good enough for medicos, why isn’t it good enough for our banks, insurers, wealth advisers, financial planners, credit card companies and financial services providers as they serve us on our own personal journeys towards better financial futures?
Here are a few key lines from the 2012 MJA abstract covering the study, which was designed to measure how well we deliver “appropriate care” to patients in Australia (doi: 10.5694/mja12.10510). Change the aim of “appropriate” or “recommended” care to “appropriate” or “quality” advice and its applicability to financial planners and others in the wealth industry is immediately apparent.
  1. “The researchers were aiming to reproduce a landmark 2003 study that found that only 55% of patients in the United States received “recommended care”…findings are essentially the same — that almost half of patients are not receiving appropriate care….
  2. “…challenge that practitioners regularly face — how to access reliable, updated and credible information about appropriate care, and how to make clinical decisions in the absence of this information.
  3. “…Runciman et al suggest a way to achieve national agreement on clinical standards…we (the MJA) are already working with the Cancer Council Australia to deliver a “wiki” guideline tool on our website … a dynamic, centralised and inclusive platform — openly available to all to contribute to and use — that will help empower clinicians to deliver the best care.”
We can’t reasonably expect our GPs to be God, or even close to omnipotent, but we can expect that when such a tool exists, they can use it to improve their diagnoses and treatment plans.
Still wondering about social media in financial services?
How long before such a wiki helps financial planners, and their clients, arrive at better decisions about long term financial planning? Or helps you make better decisions about the cheapest and best credit card? Or when to flick the mortgage provider and change banks? Choose a super fund? Or how to really cost the services the bank provides?
Hopefully such solutions will be made possible by joint industry efforts, collaborating with consumers, to develop social tools that give us all access to better financial decisions.
It would seem that whether we seek to be healthier, wealthier or wiser, the long-predicted democratisation of information through social media is now a reality.
This blog is an edited and updated version of a blog first published on 16 July 2012 on

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The two best things you can do to improve your marketing results

I admit it. It's true. I've spent as much time as any marketer justifying my role. And often I've thought less than kindly of sales... those people who just wants tactical marketing guff and don't "get" the bigger picture about brand, reputation and marketing. 

This was probably particularly true when when I worked inside a certain company (we'll call them Big Consumer Finance Brand A), and in my time early on as a consultant advising another firm (we'll call them Asset Management Brand B).

Of course these days that just doesn't wash. I was converted from a "marketing is good, sales is bad" view shortly after the commercial realities of running my own business hit me, hard. I found myself doing both sales and marketing. And I developed a new, healthier respect for salespeople. They, of course, are where the money that pays us all comes from. And as a marketing consultant I now understand that people who actually talk to customers or clients (sales and service roles) usually know a lot more than the marketers do about customers, and potential customers. 

But my respect for their marketing nous probably hasn't shifted quite as far. 

Turns out that's actually my fault.

My experience is this: marketers often do see the big picture a bit better - how marketing might connect to strategy and help sales by delivering quality leads, more enthusiastic prospects or better informed customers. But not always do they (and I mean "me") invest the time to make sure they really understand the depth of customer and prospect knowledge that sits inside many salespeople's heads. Nor do they (we!) always then engage sales in a truly collaborative marketing (or content marketing) process that brings the best of both capabilities to the table to solve the problem we're both paid to solve: attract more customers, at a lower cost and keep them. 

What's the first thing you can do to improve your marketing results?

The first thing many financial services marketers can do to improve their results is to help their colleagues in sales see the value of content, and content marketing. 

What sales person doesn't want it to be easier to convert prospects? What sales person doesn't want a buyer who is more ready to buy? What sales person doesn't want a better success rate?

Back when I was inside Big Consumer Finance Brand A, and advising Asset Management Brand B, I worked with marketing to build stuff and throw it over the metaphorical fence to sales.

Did it work? Did the sales teams use it? Not sure. Probably not.

Why? Because I didn't go about creating content or marketing communication the right way.

The right way would have been to help sales see how honest, transparent and high quality content, served the right way, can make their life easier.

The right way would have been to take them on a journey: ask for their engagement upfront, understand their challenges and then use their very own content (outbound emails, calls and meeting content) to create marketing that worked far better.

That's marketing that educates prospects before they get a call or sales visit, marketing that answers the logical questions potential customers want answered, and marketing that's so good our customers would pay for it.

What's the second thing you can do to improve your marketing results?

The second thing we can do to improve our marketing results is take the time to explain to the leadership, sales and marketing teams why we need content marketing or integrated marketing.

The path to digital and marketing greatness is steep and sometimes far too tricky. It can't be navigated without leadership and employee buy-in. 

A good place to start is by having one-on-one conversations with what I call "the conversion pack". I have one of those now, and it takes most decision-makers from "skeptical" to "ready to go" in about 12 slides. 

Another starting point is a company workshop -  explaining WHY we need content marketing but starting by asking about the challenges sales and marketing folk face right now in their jobs. 

Many of those problems can be addressed through better collaboration, which in turn delivers high quality marketing because it's real - informed by what the people closest to customers see.

Yes, it all sounds too easy. And in practice these two things to improve our marketing results are not that easy to actually do. 

But they're worth it. 

Because soon, as digital marketing and the dominance of search is accepted by leadership teams, we'll be forced to collaborate better because our wealth management, insurance, fund manager or banking colleagues will be doing it better and beating us in the market.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Former PM Julia Gillard's three lessons for women in leadership

Gender, leadership, communication lessons relevant to financial services

One thing no one can take from Julia Gillard is that she was Australia's first female Prime Minister.

And as such, political and personal views aside, there's a lot to learn from her tenure - how it was portrayed, how she and her team handled perceptions, and how gender plays a role in our view of leadership. 

In person, at this morning's Business Chicks Breakfast Julia Gillard was warm, personable and funny. In the media as PM she was more often portrayed as cold, disloyal and ineffective as a leader.

There are also simple lessons for women in leadership that have little to do with gender - about how to do well once in the top job.

So what can we take from this as marketing and corporate affairs people, women in financial services, or as those with an interest in leadership?

Lesson one: ignore the whisper of gender stereotypes

Gender does matter, for starters, it's clear that almost universally our notions of leadership are gendered. Whether we are female or male, the most educated of us in business judge women leaders harshly for displaying the kind of traits we laud in men. We might not like hearing that but reams of research over several decades back up the finding. The Columbia Research is just the latest in a long string of empirical evidence supporting this. The research shows we are pre-programmed to judge women more harshly. Question that. Hard.

Lesson two: make time for the "important" not just the "urgent"

Secondly, making time to think in a schedule of "busy and urgent" days and weeks is critical to success. Gillard says she always made time for this. But upon reflection, she'd carve out even more time for the "important" versus the "urgent". Being an ever-busy people pleaser isn't going to help any of us steer a sound long term course of action.

Lesson three: be women who support other women

Gillard makes the point that Keating got to be judged on his merits, despite the manner of ascension to Prime Minister. Did our first female Prime Minister get the same opportunity? Even feminists condemned Gillard for the leadership spill, and it went on to define her term, her place in history and in many women's hearts and minds.

The problem with bias is that while we can sometimes (just) see other people's faults but often not our own. Good leadership starts with realism - about how we all see the world, about how female leaders are portrayed and what we all need to do in response to "what is" rather than what we'd like to be. 

Gillard admits she maybe underestimated a few things along the way - Australian's perceptions of her and female leaders included. She's not alone. From Germany's Angela Merkel (pilloried in her own press for her appearance) to FaceBook's Sheryl Sandberg (who admits her own bias) we're challenged to get this right.

That's not an excuse to not turn our face away, to ignore the issues or to accept the status quo.

As leaders we do have to accept reality. Leadership also about striving to improve it. So let's keep the conversation going: about female leaders, how they are portrayed and what role our communication about them should, and can play.

I attended this morning's Business Chicks breakfast as a guest of CBA.

What Kevin Spacey said about content marketing

His top three tips for marketers and how they apply in financial services


Joe Pullizzi, founder of Content Marketing World welcomes Kevin Spacey (House of Cards, American Beauty, The Usual Suspects @KevinSpacey) to Cleveland’s CMW 2014

You’re probably thinking what I’m thinking: why the hell would Hollywood legend Kevin Spacey care about content marketing, much less talk to 2,500 marketers about why it matters?
The short answer is a shared passion for good stories.
Stories that contain conflict, stories that are authentic and stories that connect with our audience.
Content Marketing World
A little over a week ago the world’s largest gathering of content marketers invaded Cleveland’s centre and spilled over into the city’s outer suburbs in order to learn about the latest, greatest in content marketing. I was there with a narrow focus – to find out what we in financial services, wealth management and professional services in Australia need to learn or adapt from others who (frankly) lead. With a particular interest in search engine marketing (SEO), analytics (Google analytics but also the wider tool set) and lead nurturing for the finance sector I picked those sessions. Most sessions were great and are entirely translatable to our sector. More on that another time, but for now let’s focus on Mr Spacey’s wisdom…
What makes a good story?
With remarkable generousity Kevin Spacey took the audience on a journey through parts of his own career and his experience as a storyteller. He singled out conflict, authenticity and audiences as the three critical ingredients in the magical mix that makes good narrative.
And in that regard, we’re not so different: Kevin Spacey and marketers in financial services who ‘get’ content.
Conflict, he said, is “the essential thread of own lives…that tension between who we are, and who we want to be. How we respond to life’s events and which roads we choose often define our lives”.
This thought is so very evident in “House of Cards” where characters make choices that increasingly take them down a certain kind of path – often successfully, but with bloodless calculation and in a way that defines their character and narrows their future options as their own choices box them into increasingly narrow ways of being.
Sidebar: I’d argue financial sector brands face a similar defining set of choices right now about their marketing, content and online (social, search and the whole shooting match) direction. The choices we make now (for example about content marketing) could (in good or bad ways) define who we’re able to be in the future.
“Choose with care” might well be a financial services digital marketer’s motto as well as those Machiavellian House of Card characters’.
Spacey described how a decade ago he was interested in doing something outside what he’d already achieved, chosen and was expected of him. He took on the role of Artistic Director at London’s famous Old Vic theatre. Spacey describes the move as “something challenging, at the edges of my experience, that made me a better actor.”
“Our stories become richer and more interesting when they go against the subtle order of things to achieve something different and unexpected,” said Spacey of his personal journey, but also of the journey characters take in film.
And what is that idea, if not analogous to marketing’s “differentiation” holy grail? Seth Godin said it all when he asked us to make our businesses Purple Cows. While that’s a lot less subtle than Spacey’s message, it’s still asking us to buck the trend, be different – resist the usual.
“In an environment of spin, how do you keep in mind something that feels genuinely authentic to an audience?”
It’s a question for film-makers but equally relevant to financial services marketing – especially the corporate affairs folks telling a corporate or solution story.
The answer is good content. Whether film, TV or marketing, it must be narrowly conceived for, and delivered to increasingly niche audiences – so it really meets a need, solves a problem, delivers value. Spacey cites Netflix as a business that embraced brand and target marketing. Brands need to do the same.
Lose sight of our audience and we lose the game says Spacey. “We must strive, as Buzzfeed has done, to give them good stories…device and length are essential to understand. The audience doesn’t care about the platform, they care about the content”.
All true. For the finance industry, and creatives seeking to touch the hearts of viewers. These are the viewers who most likely are device hopping, time shifting and on the move as they consume content.

We’re all, in the end, talking to the same people.

How well we do it determines whether or not we deserve a first look, a regular read or cult-TV series addiction status.
Can your content cut it?