Are you shooting yourself in the foot with paid advertising and outbound marketing tactics?
You could screw up your marketing if you never stop to consider how people actually make decisions. People don’t show up and hire you because you waved a slick ad in their face — unless you do so after understanding the biases you need to overcome to have that actually work for you.
Financial advisors need to use extreme caution when relying on paid ads and cold messages (be they emails, calls, or LinkedIn messages). We’ll get to why that’s the case in a moment — but first, I want to point out that it’s not that you can’t or shouldn’t use these tools…
It’s that you shouldn’t try to wield them without first understanding why you’re trying to do so in the first place. That goes for any kind of marketing you want to do.
You have to start by understanding your strategy, which means doing the deep work required to fully answer questions like:
- Who do I want to reach? What do those people have in common? How do they think, and why?
- What problem do they have? Do I have a solution that adequately addresses the problem? What kind of change am I going to help them make?
- Where are those people? How would they prefer to hear from a company that might have a solution to their problem?
Once you understand these fundamentals, you can then start constructing a marketing funnel — or, more accurately for modern marketing, a marketing ecosystem in which someone you want to reach and serve will journey through on their way from becoming aware that they even have a problem that might need solving all the way to deciding if you’re the right person to solve it.
From Funnels to Jungle Gyms: Marketing and Sales Are No Longer Linear
A “funnel” is no longer a great way to describe the system a potential client might move through to get from knowing nothing about you to considering hiring you as their advisor.
An analogy I like better is that of a jungle gym. Marketing is now this large, overarching structure that allows your audience to play around and explore various parts of the web to understand who you are and why they need what you provide.
That brings us back to why you need to use caution when targeting people with ads.
In the past, advertising was a simple, straightforward system. Insert coin here. Get output there.
It really wasn’t much more complicated than that (although it did become costly because it didn’t build anything lasting. Stop putting in coins, stop getting result. Content marketing is different in that you don’t have to constantly feed the machine once you set up a foundation; that foundation is enough to carry you for a long time depending on your goals).
If you had money with which to buy ads a few decades ago, you didn’t need to consider much more than, “how can I use this money to get in front of the biggest, widest audience possible?”
The problem is, consumers are much smarter and savvier than they used to be. Think about it: you know when you see an ad — if you see it at all. Most of us have, at this point, trained ourselves to not even see ads when they appear.
Our minds edit them out of our content. Or, we use tools like ad blockers to literally remove them from our line of sight.
Why would you think the people you want to work with are any different?
Are they somehow much less sophisticated than you are, and therefore unaware what you’re up to when you send cold InMail messages to 3rd degree connections on LinkedIn? Do they not know what your paid ads look like?
Of course they know. They know what you’re up to and they know you scraped their information when they happened to land on some website where you had a pixel set up.
That’s one reason you need to be careful with retargeting ads. For one, it’s extremely easy for people to block what they never requested to see online. If people find that your ads are constantly following them around, it’s easy to simply turn them off.
And two, there can be real damage done when you use tools like pixels to gather information that allows you to get ads to follow people around their preferred platforms, like Facebook.
The Trouble with Using Ads or Asking for the Sale Out of Order
Again, it’s not that you can’t use advertisements or sales funnels to get what you want: more clients.
These things do work. But they work at the bottom of the funnel, not at the top.
Your ad does not belong at the top of your funnel. The purpose of the top of the funnel is to drive awareness, earn attention, and increase engagement.
The content you use at the top of the funnel should serve to earn your first conversion: get a casual passerby to become a member of your audience. Turn a random visitor into a lead by capturing some bit of information.
Now, this information could be gathered by a pixel and you could put paid content in front of that person — but it might be more effective to be less aggressive.
A recent Harvard Business Review article helps explain why some retargeting ads do a lot of damage, and it’s usually when our information is collected and used without our information.
(Personally, that’s why I don’t use a pixel to track visitors to my own site. I find that annoying as shit and I respect the people I work with enough to know A. they know what’s up and B. they probably also find it annoying as shit when ads incessantly follow them around.)
That’s why receiving an email from someone after you gave your email address to them to download something they offered is much different than visiting a website once and then been haunted by their Facebook ads forever.
Think about it. You wouldn’t take someone on three dates and then ask them to marry you, would you? Of course not.
And this really wouldn’t work if you did some aggressive Google searching and research before you went on a date, told your date everything you learned about them before they volunteered that information, and then proposed.
Ugh. Much more gross — but that’s exactly how the worst retargeting ads behave.
The problem isn’t with the act of asking for marriage. The problem is the timing. It’s usually done after you’ve spent years establishing a relationship with that person.
The same thing needs to happen in your marketing. No, not spending years together — but establishing a relationship before you ask for a sale. A general rule of thumb in marketing reminds us that consumers need about 7 “touches” before they’ll convert to clients or customers.
If you just leap out at them with one big hairy demand to become a client through aggressive messaging and ads that almost read like bullying (“only idiots and losers pass up this opportunity!”)… well, all I can say is good luck and maybe next time try a little more patience.
If you only ask (nicely, I might add) once you’ve provided value first, once you’ve established a connection and built some trust, you might get an affirmative response when you request someone hop on a prospect call with you.
3 Cognitive Biases That Screw Up Your Marketing
So far, none of this has even considered what happens in your prospect’s mind when you do marketing in the wrong order and start hitting people with pushy sales tactics before taking the time to provide value first.
It might look like the worst that could happen is that someone gets a little annoyed at your ads so they adjust their settings on Facebook. Or they never saw the ad in the first place thanks to their ad blocker plugin in their browser.
But something much worse could happen if you mess up your marketing order of operations — or try to skip marketing with inbound strategies and content entirely.
Humans are subject to a wide number of cognitive biases that inform and influence our decision-making. As much as we’d like to believe we behave rationally, most of us don’t most of the time.
These systems of thought happen subconsciously. We’re rarely aware of them when they’re happening in our own minds. But we must take the time to understand how we make decisions if we want to be better marketers.
Understanding that decision-making process is the only way to understand how to market to people in a way that works and leaves them raving fans of our work.
Getting this wrong could cause the opposite: a group of people who find you really freakin’ annoying at best, and disingenuous and inauthentic at worst.
Bias #1: The Anchoring Effect (or Why You Need Content Marketing First, and Outbound Tactics Later)
Let’s start by exploring a cognitive bias called the anchoring effect.
That’s the “common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the ‘anchor’) when making decisions,” according to Harvard Law School.
Consider this in the context of ads you may put out there as a financial advisor.
What happens when a paid ad — that someone knows is a paid ad, because remember, consumers are extremely savvy and aware of the distinction between valuable content and paid posts — is the first piece of information someone has to make a judgment call on the type of person you are or business you run?
Is “salesperson” what you want associated with you as a financial advisor?
If not… well, proceed with caution because that may be the conclusion drawn from you if you use old-school, pushy, outbound sales tactics to get in front of prospective clients.
You just made it exponentially more difficult for yourself to convince that person you’re not someone who’s going to sell them something because the first piece of information they gathered about you was that you’re someone using an ad to sell something!
The anchoring effect may have people associate you with “sales” or “salesperson” because that’s how you acted in your first encounter with that person. Instead of giving or providing value first, you tried to sell them.
All other information you throw that person’s way will be in context of the initial information that anchored you in their minds.
With content marketing, you can use the anchoring effect to your advantage. If, in my first interaction with you, I offer you something valuable and ask for nothing in return, you may be more likely to like and trust me. You may think of me as someone interested in helping, not selling.
And when I continue to give and give and give as we get to know each other better, that initial impression is only reinforced.
That’s thanks to another bias: confirmation bias.
Bias #2: Confirmation Bias (or the Reason That Once You Look Like a Salesperson, You’re Always a Salesperson)
Let’s go back to the ad-driven advisor for a moment. If that’s what you do first because you’re prioritizing getting in front of as big and as wide an audience as possible, you give off a different first impression than someone who publishes and shares content for the sake of providing value.
Even if your ads get someone on the phone with you, they’ll subconsciously seek information to prove their initial impressions and assumptions… like the one that you are, in fact, a salesperson.
You’ve already got to fight hard against confirmation bias as a financial advisor no matter what you do to market or sell yourself, because most people already have a picture in their mind of what an advisor is.
That’s why inbound marketing is an excellent tool to use first because it allows you to:
- Use the anchoring effect to your advantage, by having the first piece of information someone gathers about you to be, “this person gave me something and asked for nothing in return” instead of “this person wants to sell me something.”
- Gain a stronger foothold against a confirmation bias that says “advisors are salespeople,” because again, you gave first. You gave and gave and gave before you ever made a single ask or request.
This triggers a third cognitive bias: reciprocity.
Bias #3: Reciprocity Bias (Or the One That Reminds Us Why Content Marketing Works)
As humans, we tend to feel like we “owe” someone who gave us something… even if we didn’t even really want that thing, or ask for it, in the first place.
It’s why someone selling cars might give you a cup of coffee while you walk the lot. Does the cup of coffee make you feel like you owe that person enough to buy a $20,000 car?
Probably not if you used logic to think through that exchange. But remember, most of this stuff goes on in our heads without us even realizing the reasons why we think, feel, and do the things we do.
As applies to content marketing, that whole system of marketing allows you to give and give and give, over and over again, as you build trust and establish a relationship with an audience who likes you and wants to hear from you, and believes that you’re there to help them succeed.
When you actually include an ask in all that giving? Your audience is much more likely to respond because they may feel, deep down, they owe you.
Leverage Outbound Tactics Wisely If You Don’t Want to Screw Up Your Marketing
This is where outbound strategies can come into play: when you’re ready to make an ask. First, offer value. Give before you take. Finally, ask.
If you’ve used inbound tactics and content marketing up until the point where it’s appropriate to make an ask, doing so proactively could be a great way to boost your results.
Instead of just targeting a massive array of random people who haven’t heard from you before or are only distantly connected, you could run highly specific ads to people who have interacted or engaged with your content in some way — and ideally, they’ve done this beyond just randomly landing on your homepage once and then bouncing off.
They may be on your email list. They may follow you on social media. They may have visited and actually engaged with your website.
That’s when it’s time to consider paid advertisements or even cold calling or emailing because those messages won’t be ice cold. They’ll be warm and coming from someone familiar to the recipient. They’ll come with context and an established connection.
And that allows them to be received much differently.
This is a radically different process than trying to interrupt someone and shout about your solution before you’ve even learned about their problem.
When you’re in a relationship-based business, you can’t treat people like transactions. You can leverage the distribution power of the Internet to help expand your reach, but it’s not an insert-coin get-result system.
It’s much more complex, nuanced, and layered than that now. Which presents you with an opportunity to treat people like people even if you’re not literally face to face with them.
And that’s much more compelling than a random ad that interrupts or demands attention.
Remember, part of treating people like people means taking the time to understand how we all make decisions — and seeing what might be getting in the way of persuading your prospects to move forward with you.