Are you selling the wrong thing?


That’s what the sign said in front of this man’s booth at the Chelsea Market. He was selling shirts with fun quirky patterns on them. You know, the kind of locally-made-limited-run thing you’d expect to see for sale at an art market.

When I see a sign like this my reaction is always…

What are you scared of?

Are you scared that someone’s going to steal your idea? That someone is going to copy you?

If all it would take for you to lose customers is someone showing up and making what you make, but cheaper, you’re doing it wrong. You’re selling the wrong thing.

You’re selling what you make instead of why you make it.

You’re selling what you do instead of why you do it.

Doing that means you’re asking to be treated like a commodity. You’re asking to be compared on price.

If you’re doing it right, people aren’t buying shirts from you they’re buying why you make shirts. The shirt is just a souvenir. Tangible proof that they were there, a signal to others that “Hey, this is what I believe in.”

The shirt isn’t the product, the way I felt when I bought it is.

That’s what I’m buying.

If your customer would buy from someone else because it looks like the same shirt but it’s cheaper, then you’re in the business of selling shirts. You don’t want to be in that business because there’s no loyalty and because nobody needs another shirt. We’ve got to think in terms of wants. 

You’re selling an experience. A promise. 

That’s what a brand is.

What does your brand stand for? What’s the promise you’re making? What does it say about me when I wear your shirt or have your logo on my website? What do I tell myself about it? What do I tell my friends?

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product like shirts or a service like a website or a financial plan, you’re selling a story. That’s what I’m paying a premium for. I’m coming to you and buying your product or your service because this is the story I want to tell myself. 

No one can steal that.

Photo from my recent trip to NYC, taken at the Mociun Home store in Brooklyn. (Ceramics are my true weakness…)

You’re not spending $50 on any of these mugs because you need a mug (if you needed a mug you’d go to IKEA) you’re buying the way it makes you feel every time you take it off the shelf. You’re buying the story you get to tell your friends when they ask about it.

So, what story are you selling? 

A marketing primer for financial planners

You’re a financial planner.

How do you get clients? How do you get people to see the value in what you do and choose you over other options, including the option of doing nothing at all?

More specifically, how do you get the right clients? You know, the ones that don’t make you want to gouge your eyeballs out with a spoon when you’re on a call with them.

I got to see Seth Godin speak at the Smart Hustle Small Business Conference in New York City last week and someone in the audience, a financial planner, asked just that. His question was along the lines of, “How do I get noticed and get people to choose me?”

In other words, how do I get people to give me their money?

Between Seth’s response, the concepts I learned taking his Marketing Seminar (10/10 would recommend), and my own experience working in the financial industry here’s a few things financial planners should consider when thinking about marketing.

Yes, this is marketing. And yes, you have to do it yourself.

You can’t opt out because how you do business is your marketing. And you can’t outsource it because no one cares about your business as much as you do.

Familiarity is not the same as trust.

Just because people know you doesn’t mean they trust you. You can be familiar because you’re active on Twitter or host events or because you’re known as “Rhonda, the finance woman!” at parent events at your kid’s school… but that doesn’t mean people trust you. They might know what you do (familiarity) but not how or more importantly why you do it (trust).

Getting in front of people so they know you exist is only part of it. For someone to work with you they’ve got to trust you.

Being specific helps build trust.

How do I tell you apart from all the other financial planners?

You have to give me a clue. Something that shows me, “Oh, she’s the financial planner for people like me.” I need to be able to figure that out quickly and I can’t do that if you look and sound like every other financial planner.

You have to resist the urge to play it safe because safe equals generic, and generic equals ignored. Be clear about who you are and are not for. If you’re “a solution for everyone” you’re a solution for no one.

Share specific, detailed stories that your client can see themselves in. Stories that act as mirror… “I work with families going through exactly this moment who believe this” kind of stories.

If you tell a potential client a story that sounds exactly like the one they tell themselves every day, guess who trusts you now?

You must create tension.

Tension is created when I realize I have a problem and that you’re the one who can solve it. Tension is why we go from interested to paying client.

We pay for solutions.

How do you create tension? Bring to someone’s attention a problem they’ve been burying. A great example Seth gave was picking up a Berne Brown book… “I didn’t know I had a shame problem until I read the cover. The answer is inside so I’m going to buy it.”

Once we know we have a problem we’re dissatisfied until we get the answer (that’s tension) and the answer should cost money (that’s a business).

Those free intro calls with prospective clients? They’re great as long as they create tension. If you solve someone’s problem on that first call—and don’t bring up other problems you can solve—they’re not going to become a client because they’ve already solved their problem. They’ve already relieved the tension.

Change what people know, not what they believe.

You can change what people believe or you can change what they know.

It’s much easier to find people who believe what you believe and change what they know. Keep this in mind when you’re thinking about how to show people they have a problem you can solve.

What do they currently believe about money or financial planners? And what do they currently know about those things? If someone doesn’t think they have a fee problem then that’s not going to be a selling point for them. You’ve got to show them why they have a fee problem (change what they know) while connecting with them on something they believe in i.e. “my kid deserves to graduate from university debt free” or “I don’t trust banks”.

And finally…

They are not wrong.

Sure, if they knew what you knew and believed what you believed then they’d do what you’d do. They’d open retirement accounts and save diligently and become properly insured and hire a planner.

But they don’t.

And furthermore, they are not wrong for that. 

Everyone does the right thing based on what they know and what they believe at the time. That’s why it’s so important to start with where people are, because nobody likes to be told that “they’re doing it wrong”. It puts them on the defensive and makes them much less likely to trust you.

And yes, showing people they have a problem is different than telling them they’re wrong.

Another reminder that these concepts come from things I’ve learned through Seth Godin. I’m not this smart… *winks*. This is simply my interpretation and expansion of those concepts and how I think they apply to financial planners.

Well, any business, really.

And here’s a photo from that trip to New York. A reminder to always look up. 

Lessons from the first Sears wish book catalog

How fan-freaking spectacular is this. I mean, LOOK AT THIS MAGIC.

A page from the first Sears Wish Book catalog published in 1897. Seven hundred and eighty-six glorious pages of… This. The copy is straight wizardry, written by Richard Sears himself.

(Big ups to the internet hero who found and uploaded pages from the original catalog here.)

I started reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson this morning and he talks about how Sears and Roebuck’s began as a mail order catalog company and was an early example of viral marketing.

“Sears was spreading the word among prospective customers with one of the earliest examples of “viral marketing.” In 1905, the company wrote to it’s best customers in Iowa, asking each to distribute twenty-four catalogs among friends and neighbors. These customers sent Sears the names of people who received the catalogs. When those people placed orders, the original customers, in turn, received premiums for their work: a stove, a bicycle, or a sewing machine.”

They had started with watches but quickly expanded into selling anything and everything a rural household or business might need. Instead of having to go to the general store hours away or dealing with middlemen, you could order from a catalog that had literally 1000 times the selection at half the price.

Like, it’s no wonder it took off.

“Thanks to volume buying, to the railroads and post office, and later to rural free delivery and parcel post, it offered a happy alternative to the high-priced retail stores.”

Then came their department stores—27 were opened between 1920 and 1927, which apparently laid the groundwork for the Walmart model—but this is how it started. With a catalog Sears wrote the copy for himself.

I can’t stop smiling. Are you seeing this? Like, really seeing it? Are you imagining what it would be like as a farmer in Iowa to have this thing arrive at your doorstep?

Also, when’s the last time you saw “sanguine” used in a sentence? Just excellent.

It’s at this point most people would offer some sort of analysis or key takeaways, but, I’ve got none of that for you. And I’m certainly not going to get into Sears Canada’s modern day marketing, which includes but is not limited to the slogan WTS “What the Sears.” (I know…)

I just wanted to share something I thought was pretty awesome, in case you find this sort of thing awesome, too.

I’ve been thinking a lot about retail lately (do I say that about everything?). Especially what sort of retail models would better serve makers and artists and smaller brands. So for me, that means not just looking around at the world today or what people speculate it’ll look like tomorrow, it means looking way back at what the world used to look like.

So perhaps that’s the takeaway here…

The thing you’re interested in? The business you want to start? Yes, it’s important to be innovative and future focused, but don’t discount the importance of knowing what came before you. How things started. That doesn’t mean you have to repeat it, but there’s always something to be learned, right?

Read. Accept you know way freaking less than you thought you did and that you’ll never have the time to learn all-the-things and that someone will always be smarter than you… and read anyways.

You never know what lights will turn on.

Alright, that’s it for this weeks episode of Kate Finds Cool Shit That Probably Everyone Else Already Knows About But It’s New to Her and She’s Super Jazzed About it So She Shares it Anyways Offering No Personal Perspective or Actionable Insight.

… Thanks for tuning in.









What’s it for?

Your website. Your Twitter account. Your ad campaign. Your software update. The product you’re building. The brochure you’re designing. The event you’re organizing. The course you’re launching.

What’s it for?

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Seth Godin’s work and that he’s changed the way I think about marketing. I just completed The Marketing Seminar he founded and started running this past spring and this is something we talked about a lot.

Why are you doing it? What change are you trying to make? For who?

What’s it for?

This ties into a whole whack of stuff, but I keep circling back to that single question. Not just in my professional life but my personal life, too.

We do all these things—start blogs and Instagram accounts, release software updates and launch courses, buy gym memberships and new clothes—without bothering to ask why. Why the heck are we doing it?

Your ad campaign… Is it to get new customers or reassure existing ones they made the right choice? Is it to encourage action (sign up now!) or increase awareness (branding)?

Your blog… Is it to teach someone something? Is it to get newsletter signups? Is it to sell something? Is it a personal outlet and it wouldn’t matter if no one read it? Is it to build a community?

There’s no right or wrong answer. For me this isn’t about morality or judgment, it’s simply about awareness. If your Instagram account is for engagement (followers and likes) or your blog is for ad revenue that’s totally fine, just be clear with yourself because it dictates your actions.

Knowing why you’re doing something helps you decide the actions you’ll take and how you’ll measure the results. It helps you qualify what’s a success and what’s a failure. When you know what signs you’re looking for it’s a lot easier to tune out the noise. Instead of looking around at other Twitter accounts and feeling anxious that you don’t have more followers you can say, “Oh right, that’s not why I’m here. That’s not what it’s for.”

Know what it’s for and own it.

It saves you from chasing the wrong metrics and throwing resources at dead-ends. It serves as a kind of reality check.

Try it.

From the cover of Seth Godin’s new book, Footprints on the Moon, which you can’t buy. (Seriously.) Check out his note explaining why not. Also, isn’t the text effect on the cover amazing?

Is your marketing strategy a comparison trap?

We spend so much time worrying about the other guys.

How do we stack up? How do we convince people we’re better?

We want to stand out. We want to be the go-to financial planner for young professionals or the preferred webinar software for solo-entrepreneurs.

But something I’m noticing is that so many businesses build websites or curate social media feeds that look and sound exactly like everyone else in their space. They model themselves after another financial planner or webinar software that’s already successful. Thinking they’ll be like them “but better” (faster, cheaper, more convenient, etc)

When we’re that focused on our competition our marketing tends to fall into a comparison trap, and we wonder why we’re not “breaking through” or getting noticed. Which leads to a whole lot of frustration because we think we’re doing the right thing. It worked for them, why isn’t it working for us?

Here’s what we’re forgetting…

If you look and sound like the other guys then you’re setting yourself up to be pitted against them. You’re asking to be compared. When your website or social media looks and sounds like every other financial planner or webinar software you’re making your potential customers work extra hard to figure out if you’re right for them. People don’t have the energy for that, so they go for the most popular option. They pick the category winner.

If you’re going to play the game the way everyone else is playing it then the only way to win is by coming out on top. By having the resources to be a little bit faster or cheaper or louder.

For a lot of businesses, especially those just starting out, this isn’t possible. Not to mention it’s exhausting.

What if you focused less on competing and more on positioning? What if instead of trying to become the category leader, you created your own category?

I’m not saying you should ignore your competition or industry standards. It’s important to know where you stand in your customer’s eyes and what their expectations are. It’s important to know what’s worked in the past and what rules exist in your industry.

Take all that information, get really clear on who you’re for, and carve out a space that’s all your own—something that’s unmistakably you. Know the rules so you can choose which to uphold and which to break. Familiarity is important (you want to remind people of something else they already understand) but you have to set yourself apart.

It’s about coming across as the only option, not the best one.

Cheese Magic! Taken at Kensington Market in Toronto.

“If they only knew what we know” is the wrong way to think about marketing

“If only they knew what we know.”

That’s a really enticing concept. The idea that if people simply knew what we did then they’d do what we do.

“If I could just show them, if I could prove to them, if I had the chance to explain…”

The idea that if people would read our brochure or watch our webinar then they’d get it. They’d understand why they should buy locally made furniture instead of shopping at IKEA or why low investment fees are so important. Then they’d buy our product or sign up for our service.

It’s easy to get hung up on this and to think that’s what marketing boils down to.

The problem with this is that humans aren’t rational creatures. As much as we’d love to believe otherwise, we don’t make decisions based on facts and long-term outcomes. The sooner you understand that as a business and therefore a marketer, the better.

Because even if they knew what you know, they’re not you.

They see the world differently. They don’t believe what you believe and they don’t care about the same things you do.

So you have to start with where people are. With not just with what they know or don’t know, but with what they think and feel and believe about themselves and the world around them.

If you want someone to listen you have to earn their trust. And if you want to earn their trust you have to empathize with them. You have to show them you understand where they are now and where they want to go.

If you hope to change someone, that’s where you have to start.

Don’t mind me, just snooping around construction sites… Taken at Regent Park in Toronto this past spring. Because your view depends on where you’re standing, right?

Hiding your competition isn’t going to keep me from finding them


This seems obvious, but it’s funny how quick we are to forget it as marketers.

We won’t tell the person asking about our email software that we don’t have the features they need, but the other guys do. We won’t tell visitors to our store that the couch in the fabric they really want is sold down the street. We won’t tell the couple sitting across our desk that they’d be better off with insurance coverage from the other guys…

We sell them on the next best thing we offer.

As if somehow by hiding the competition, our customers won’t find out they exist. They won’t know they have options and they’ll choose us.

Like, what?!

Everyone knows they have options. It’s called Google. They know there are “other guys” and they know how to find them.

So what are we afraid of? If what we’re selling is that good and we believe in it that strongly, getting stacked against our competition actually does us a favour.

Customers can smell fear. And that’s all this is. It shows insecurity, a lack of confidence, and frankly it undermines the intelligence of our audience. Certainly doesn’t inspire much in the way of trust, does it?

If the only way we can make a sale is by tricking people into thinking we’re the sole option… we’ve failed as marketers.

We can do so, so much better.

Epic tip jar courtesy of The Remarkable Bean in the Beaches, Toronto. I voted Big Bird. (Obviously…)

Making the Most of “Thanks for Signing Up!” Landing Pages

Some thoughts on conversion optimization, landing pages, and how to make people that give you their email addresses feel like valued humans…

I was listening to Talia Wolf on the Unemployable podcast the other day talk about thank you landing pages—you know when you buy something online or sign up for a service/newsletter and you’re redirected to a ‘Thanks for trusting me with your email address and/or money promise you won’t regret it K BYE!’ page? (OK not entirely sure if I’m using the right terminology here, but that’s what I’m running with…)

Talia was saying we seriously underuse this page. Rather than do the generic little ‘Thanks and check your inbox to confirm’, why don’t we use that real estate? Personalize it! Keep people on your website rather than bouncing them between you and their inbox.

She said it’s a great place to ask questions and get to know your customers. Ask them what their priorities are for their business, or what they want to learn about. And if they don’t answer? No big loss, they’re already customers. It’s not like you’re not creating a barrier in the buying process.

Now obviously you don’t want to be annoying or overwhelming at this stage either. I wouldn’t want to go through the bother of signing up for something only to be presented with a 4-page survey. This isn’t a time to ask for favours. Any content you share here has to clearly be in your customers best interest.

I totally see how a thank you landing page is a great place to A) get to know your customer better and B) make them feel good about the choice they just made.

So how could you do this? Of course depends on your business and brand, but here are some (entirely unoriginal) ideas that come to mind…

– Ask them what they want to learn about. Either leave this open for them to fill out or list 3 options they can select from. Then listen! Track what people say so you get to know what actually matters to your audience. Tailor your content accordingly. You could even put people on segmented email lists based on their selection if you’re super fancy…

– Embed a video. A welcome video so people get to know you, something that makes them feel connected to you and your mission. People want to feel like they’re a part of something. Or if you sell a product maybe you share a “how-to” video. A walk through of your product, how to get started sort of thing.

– Share a popular/useful blog post. Something that’s legitimately helpful and makes them think, “Yep. This was a great decision. No regrets giving this person my email and/or money.”

– Link to an external article of someone talking about your product/service. This might be especially useful if you’re new—or a new type of business—and people don’t completely understand or trust you yet. People want to feel like they’re making the right decision, and they’ll trust an external authority over you. “If it worked for them it’ll work for me.” The whole social proof thing, which Talia also talks about.

It’s the little things like this that can make all the difference, right? Especially if you’re a new company. Maybe you’re lacking features that your competitors have, maybe you can’t compete on certain levels… so how else can you add value?

I’m sure this is all super obvious to anyone with experience in conversion optimization, or whatever category of marketing this falls into. But I thought it was worth sharing because if you’re anything like me, you thought this stuff was all analytics so you’ve been straight up avoiding learning about it.

Turns out don’t have to be some data genius to do this. (At least that’s what I’m telling myself….) Because really, your business comes down to connecting with people. Empathizing with your audience. Asking yourself, “How would this make me feel?” And going from there.

Thanks, Talia, for making conversion optimization not suck.

P.S. In lieu of a somewhat-passably-relevant stock photo… Please enjoy this snap I took in my Dad’s garden last June of some really pretty blooms I don’t know the name of.  Because spring is coming (sort of). 


Banks, budgets, and beauty bloggers

I’m scrolling through Instagram, as you do, and I get to thinking about sponsorships and the fact that Social Media Influencer is now a job title (explain that to your grandmother). Which leads to me wonder where are the banks and other financial companies in all of this? If it works for L’Oréal, would it work for Citigroup?

Take a lifestyle blogger for example. Look at their Instagram account. They’ve got millions of followers and one of those perfectly curated, envy-inducing feeds. Now look at their sponsors. Huge beauty, fashion, and fitness companies pay them (and pay them a lot, apparently) to fill their posts with branded products. Sometimes it’s a seamless fit, sometimes it’s not (hello, detox teas), but either way we’re taking it all in. And it sticks with us right to the checkout counter.

When we follow someone like that we’re not just learning what’s trendy this season, we’re absorbing a set of values.

What if one of those values was financial responsibility? What if more social media influencers talked about how they manage their money? So instead of just showing you their collection of Chanel bags, they showed you how to afford your own?

There’s a YouTuber, Chase Amie, who has a great video on exactly that. No one follows her because she knows how to budget, they follow her because they admire her lifestyle. It just so happens she has that lifestyle because she’s driven in her career and knows how to manage her money, both things she’s open about in her videos. Now someone who started following her because they envy her closet finds themselves learning about why they should open a savings account. None of it’s sponsored, just stuff she talks about naturally. Pretty cool, right?

What a great way to reach people that would benefit from financial advice but aren’t likely to Google ‘how to invest’ on their lunch break. If banks, robo-advisors or lenders found a way to genuinely collaborate with these social influencers it could open them up to a whole new audience.

I’m not exactly sure what this would look like, or if it would work, but it sure is interesting to think about.

P.S. In lieu of a somewhat-passably-relevant stock photo… Please enjoy this snap I took of the Flatiron building in New York while I was waiting at a crosswalk. It was a thousand degrees and smelled like garbage. It was beautiful. 

Why banks should care about beauty vloggers

You know what’s really interesting? The rabbit hole that is YouTube beauty videos—monthly favourites, Sephora hauls, get ready with me’s… that slice of the internet.

It’s addictive. I can watch someone apply eyeshadow with 14 indistinguishable brushes for hours, knowing full well I’ll never try it myself. My idea of a ‘smokey eye’ is mixing two shades of skin toned beige I’ve owned since university, and I’m OK with that. I am not the product hungry teen these videos are targeting, and yet, here I am.

I know I’m not alone because these videos have millions of views. Beauty vloggers are building tiny empires on our support. They’ve changed the entire industry. They’re a new breed of celebrity.

And it’s fascinating.

Why? What makes a girl who doesn’t even own eyeliner watch a 20 minute smokey eye tutorial? I’m sure there’s some good psychoanalysis to be done here, but I’ve noticed it’s the personality I’m watching more than the content. ‘I don’t really care what you’re talking about as long as you’re the kind of person I’d want to hang out with on the weekend’ sort of thing.

It’s magnetic.

Do you see how influential that is? It might feel like passive entertainment, but think of what I’m subconsciously absorbing and how it’s affecting me. I mean, Wow.

If a stranger on the internet can keep my attention for 30 minutes on a topic I’m not even interested in… that’s powerful.

My question is how could you harness this magic to make topics that are traditionally a snooze fest, like finance, accessible? What can we learn from these content creators who have millions of teens hanging off their phones waiting for the next upload?

The way people consume content has changed, and the finance industry needs to pay attention. Banks thinking the YouTube beauty vlogger phenomenon doesn’t apply to them isn’t just stupid, it’s suicide — how do they think they’re going to get their next generation of customers?

P.S. In lieu of a somewhat-passably-relevant stock photo… Please enjoy this snap I took of pretty colourful things like flowers in Chinatown, New York.