Are you selling the wrong thing?

“NO PHOTOS.”

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. 

Budgets, buckets, and home equity according to Thaler

Welp, I’ve officially gone down the rabbit hole that is behavioural economics. Because I’m consumed by this ‘How do people money?’ question.

How do people feel about, think about, and spend their money?

I’m reading Thaler’s Misbehaving thanks to some great Twitter recommendations and I just got through section two on Mental Accounting, which was all kinds of up my street. Acquisition versus transaction utility, sunk costs and payment depreciation… you know, the good stuff.

But oddly enough it was a paragraph on home equity in Chapter 8: Buckets and Budgets that’s stuck with me the most.

He talks about how home equity lines of credit came to be a thing (that’s HELOC for short) and how they completely changed the way Americans do money.

(Yes, I’m fully aware this is old news to most people but you have to remember that I’m a snowflake millennial who’s just coming around to the idea that a) the world existed before 1990 and b) said world might be worth learning about.)

So here’s the deal on HELOCs in the US according to Thaler…

– Until the 1980s home equity was sacred. Like your retirement accounts. You didn’t touch those buckets. That was money for future you, not present day you.

– This meant that in the early 80s people over 60 had very little mortgage debt. Paying off your mortgage—as quick as possible—was what you did.

– Then came Regan. Good ol’ Ronald and his tax reforms. Before 1986 all interest paid (on auto loans, credit cards, etc.) was tax deductible. After 1986 only mortgage interest was tax deductible.

– Hmmm. So now that mortgage interest was the only kind of interest that’s deductible, there was an economic incentive for banks to create something that lets you borrow money in a tax-deductible way. Because people love a deduction, right? Enter the HELOC.

– Want a new car? Finance it using a HELOC, not an auto loan, because you’ll get the deduction. Have credit card debt? Take equity out of your house to pay it off. And so on…

– On top of this interest rates kept getting lower and mortgage brokers became a thing, which encouraged more and more people to refinance.

What did all of this do?

“The change eroded the social norm that home equity was sacrosanct.” 

Home equity was no longer the ‘safe’ mental account it once was. It was no longer a bucket for future you, like your retirement accounts, that you didn’t touch. It was for spending and spending today.

“During the housing boom in the early 2000s, homeowners spent the gain they had accrued on paper in home equity as readily as they would a lottery windfall.”

And then he says this...

“The fall in stock prices did not impact spending as much as the fall in home prices.”

Since people still had retirement accounts as this bucket you didn’t touch, stocks taking a dip in your 401(k) didn’t change how much you were going to spend on furniture that year. Your 401(k) was still mentally filled under ‘money for future you’.

But your home? That was now a bucket of money for present you. And when people could no longer take money out of their homes to finance new cars because house values had fallen so much and/or they were underwater on their mortgage, well, you know what happened. Things went downhill fast.

Enter the 2008 financial crisis.

Here’s what’s so interesting about this to me…

How do we go from, “Here’s a sacred thing we don’t touch” to, “Burn it to the ground.” 

How do these shifts happen?

What’s going on with culture, with education, with how ideas spread… What’s all the stuff circling around a change in behaviour that facilitates it? What’s the narrative around it?

The marketing bit. Because marketing isn’t just advertising, it’s the story we tell others and ourselves.

How did we change the story?

That’s what’s super interesting. That’s what we’ve got to dig into. When we look back and when we look around at what’s happening today…

What’s the story being sold to us and what’s the story we’re selling to ourselves?

Because if there’s one thing we can count on in this world, it’s that history repeats itself.


Oh look, a house. Because home equity. Points for originality, yes? Taken near Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. 

P.S. Read this NY Times article from 2008 on bank advertising leading up to the crash. Ya. History definitely repeats itself.

2017 was the year you… What?

PSA: It’s September.

Meaning there are four more months of 2017.

Yep, four. That’s it.

I’m not bringing this up to guilt trip you into feeling like you haven’t done enough this year, because if you’re anything like me you’ve got that more than covered.

I bring it up because September feels like a good time to check in with, you know, life.

With how you’re spending your time and your money. With where you want to go and where you currently find yourself.

When you look back on 2017… what are you going to think of?

The year you did what? The year you learned what? The year you changed what?

Four months is actually a lot of time. Plenty of time to build a new habit or break an old one.

Bit by bit. Day by day. What could you do?


View from the dock my pale butt was parked on this Labour Day weekend. It was lovely. 

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.

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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.

Currently #7: How Should a Person Be, behavioural economics, and saving for NYC

You didn’t ask, I answered.


I’M READING…

How Should a Person Be? by Shelia Heti

Okay, ~technically~ I’m currently reading Thrive by Arianna Huffington but I finished this one a couple days ago and have to mention it because it was SO GOOD. And because despite being halfway through Thrive I don’t have strong feelings about it yet…

It had been a long time since I’d read anything close to fiction (my Goodreads is pretty solidly marketing/self-development books) and this was such a welcome change of pace for me. Her writing style is intoxicating, I’ve never read anything quite like it. She had me smiling, laughing, and feeling and the feels.

It was a needed reminder to branch out with what I’m reading.

I picked this up at Anansi Press and Groundwood Books in the Junction last week which is the most lovely little book store I’d definitely recommend checking out. The Drake Commissary is nearby, too, should you find yourself in need of sustenance.

I’m studying…

Behavioural Economics

How and why people spend money totally fascinates me. In particular, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fee-only financial planners… Why do people decide to use them? Or not use them? What can we learn about that to improve financial education in general?

I think this behavioural/psychology bit is key in figuring out successful marketing strategies for fee-only financial planners and more effective financial education. We get caught up on price and think that’s the sticking point for people considering hiring a planner, “It’s too expensive!” But I don’t buy it. Price isn’t the issue, it’s deeper than that. The money is there but people are choosing to spend it on something else. Why?

We need to identify biases and worldviews so we can root the long-term benefit of financial planning/education in the now. Tension! Then we’ll get somewhere good… real good.

If you’re interested in this kind of stuff check out this Cognitive Bias Cheat Sheet and these 8 Marketing Takeaways from Behavioural Economics.

I’m saving for…

New York!

I’m saving for New York *happiest of dances*. I’m going to the Smart Hustle Small Business Conference this November 1st and I’ve tacked on a few extra days before and after the conference so I can, well, be in New York.

I’ve got some USD stashed away from a previous job that’ll be enough to cover the cost of the conference as well as my accommodation and a basic daily food budget, and the travel savings account I contribute to monthly will take care of the flight. I’d like to save up a little more spending money for exploring and shopping though because, well, New York.

oh, that’s good…

PSA

A welcome reminder looking over Dundas West in Toronto.


What have you come across lately that’s stuck with you? A book, a podcast, an article, a really great ad… Comment or Tweet me.

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What if it doesn’t work?

What if it doesn’t work? 

What if I’m not good enough? 

I invested a lot of energy into trying to make those thoughts go away. Not realizing that pushing them away only made them stronger. Saying to myself, “Think positive, Kate! Stop telling yourself you’re not good enough!” only did one thing… it kept me focused on the idea that I wasn’t good enough. 

I felt like I shouldn’t do something unless I was sure it would work. And that if I wasn’t sure something would work I shouldn’t speak up.

Which, big surprise, meant I wasn’t doing much of anything.

So as I mentioned last week—apparently Saturday’s are for feelings?—I turned myself into my own science experiment. The kind you’d read about in one of those NY Times bestselling advice books.

I gave myself permission to follow my instincts. To let myself focus on the questions that interest me instead of searching so hard for answers and tearing myself down if I couldn’t find them.

I gave myself permission to show up as me, exactly where I am, with the understanding that I might feel/think/act differently tomorrow and that’s OK. In fact, that’s good. That’s growth. That’s how we find clarity.

Not to sound like an infomercial but this really has changed the game for me. I can’t believe how much better I understand myself, and the difference in the quality of people I’ve been meeting and opportunities I’ve been finding (or perhaps finally noticing?).

It’s a lot easier to meet people and find things you like when you show up as yourself, because like attracts like.

So I’ll say it again—because Lord knows I had to hear it a few times before I did anything with it—clarity comes from action, not thought.


Flowers! Because, feelings. Taken in my Mum’s garden. You know when people come over for dinner and bring you plants? She’s the one person I know who manages to keep those things alive and put them in her garden. So the next time that person’s over she can be all, “Look, the hydrangea’s you brought last spring are blooming!” It’s a level of domestication I can only aspire to… 

“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?