So many of us have waited a long time for the SEC to modernize the rules for how advisors market our businesses. After all, decades have passed since the current rules were passed, and they have largely remained unchanged. Think about it for a second. When the original ruling was passed, there was no CNBC. No Internet. No blogs, Facebook, Youtube or iPhone apps. The world was a fundamentally different place than it is today. If you were consuming content, it was coming from a physical newspaper.
When it became known on December 22nd that the SEC had passed a new advertising rule that would allow RIAs to use testimonials and endorsements in their marketing, it felt like a huge win. Everywhere on my social media feeds, the RIAs were happy.
And then the questions came up. “What does this updated rule actually allow?” “Can I start emailing my clients now to collect testimonials that I can later use on my website?” and “What new marketing opportunities will RIAs have when the rule goes into effect and how can I benefit from them?”
I got to work right away, outlining the top five marketing opportunities for consultants to get out of this new rule. I also consulted with Max Schatzow, legal advisor to RIAs, BDs and fund managers.
Max agreed that the following five marketing strategies will be groundbreaking for RIAs, but before I get into each one, I need to reiterate Max’s disclaimer:
- Always check with your compliance team before setting up new marketing strategies.
- The new regulation comes into force 60 days after its publication in the federal register. At the time of writing, this has not yet happened.
Five key opportunities created by the new SEC rule
- Google reviews
All the excitement and focus on the original announcement was centered on testimonials – they were used on your website, in ads, and on social media – but people are missing the point because by far the biggest chance is good, old-fashioned Google reviews. Of all five marketing opportunities listed here, this is by far the one that has the most impact. Here’s why:
- Third-party review sites are completely objective – you, the business owner, have no control over the review and consumers know this – so they trust these other customer reviews a lot more than handpicked testimonials on your website.
- Getting Google Reviews can help improve your local SEO (Search Engine Optimization) ranking. This is because Google gives users the best possible results for a search query. Online reviews are a strong indicator (to Google) of whether or not real consumers like your business.
In a sense, reviews serve as a referral for businesses. Interested parties can read why your company is a good choice for people who have tried your service themselves and can vouch for it – what we call “social proof” in marketing. According to a 2016 Report from the Pew Research Center::
- Approximately 82% of American adults consult online reviews and ratings the first time they buy.
- 40% of Americans say they almost always turn to online reviews when buying something new.
- Nearly 50% of Americans believe that customer reviews go “a lot” in helping consumers feel safe shopping (46%) and making businesses more accountable to their customers (45%).
Google reviews are in a section of Google called “Google My Business”. If you want to manage, respond to, and “like” your reviews, this is what you need to do Request your GMB entry and optimize it.
2. Customer videos
Video is without a doubt one of the best forms of marketing and has been for a number of years. However, the changes to the SEC advertising rule open up the possibility of using customer videos now.
As testimonials, customer videos offer the opportunity to present the services you offer as told by a real person. From a compliance perspective, videos need to be pre-recorded and not live (without asking a customer to join you for a LinkedIn live or host a live Q&A webinar), and you want that too Transcript is approved. Of course, you want to archive the video like you would any other content.
Keep the following tips in mind when creating customer videos:
- Choose customers who will connect with your audience
When we watch something, be it an ad, a webinar, or even a movie, we often get invested in a character. We somehow identify with this person and see things from their perspective. Keep this in mind when choosing a client for an interview. Who shares similarities with your general audience? Will this person resonate with your viewers? Make sure to highlight your customers’ vulnerabilities and show how you resolved their concerns.
2. Keep it casual and talkative
The fastest way to lose viewers on a video? Sound robot and script. Instead, leave the script behind and let your customers share stories in their own words. Of course, you can (and should) create an outline of topics for conversation, but don’t type in every word and expect it to be a video worth watching.
3. Social media
For years, so many financial advisors have sent me DMs on social media instead of directly commenting on a post because they couldn’t comment due to compliance. The new SEC ad rule gives consultants the opportunity to actually be social on social media: they can engage with other people’s posts by commenting on, liking and sharing them, connecting with your customers and commenting on their posts, asking questions and the Invite readers to respond to the comments.
If a current customer leaves you a comment or says something nice on social media, now is the time to actually respond!
And since social media algorithms determine the success of a post largely based on engagement, that can mean real change for companies trying to grow their social media presence alone. The more people interact with a post, share it, comment on it and click on it, the more the social platform shows this post to other people.
4. Testimonials on your website
Nine out of ten consultants I’ve spoken to aim to update their marketing by collecting customer testimonials that they can use on their website.
There are several ways you can incorporate testimonials into your website, and you can certainly use several. However, it may be easiest to start by creating your own testimonial page with a photo of the customer and their quote underneath. If you use video testimonials, you can add them on this page too.
Make sure you add different types of testimonials. Some may focus on your actual services while others highlight how friendly your team is or how easy the onboarding process was. Focusing on the key benefits and results customers get from working with you is always most effective, especially when they acknowledge weaknesses in the testimonial that you have resolved.
I asked Max Schatzow about his thoughts on including testimonials mentioning investment returns, and he warned that the SEC has very specific guidelines for how investment returns can be presented in marketing materials. In particular, the SEC rule prohibits “including or excluding performance outcomes in an unfair and balanced manner, or presenting performance periods” and “discussing potential benefits without ensuring fair and balanced treatment of the material risks or limitations involved. ”
That being said, Max and I both agreed that an easy and compliance-friendly way to get testimonials on your website is to set up a page that only feeds reviews from Google reviews. This would help meet the compliance requirement that says you need to access both bad and good reviews / testimonials without having to keep updating your website.
5. Reuse reviews and testimonials in other marketing materials
I always preach to the consulting firms we work with Twenty over ten that they should reuse each content at least 10 times. A blog post can be turned into a webinar, YouTube video, podcast, slide deck, case study, social media post, and so on.
The same can apply to testimonials. Of course, you’ll want the customer’s explicit permission to re-use their review and post it elsewhere before doing so.
Again, the new ad rule isn’t yet in place and won’t take effect until 60 days after it’s posted in the Federal Register, which has not yet happened. Hopefully these five ideas will give you some insight on how to incorporate reviews and testimonials into your marketing once the ink has dried.
Samantha Russell is the FMG Suite’s chief evangelist. Sam helps financial advisors develop digital marketing strategies that lead to explosive growth through website development, content marketing, SEO, social media, and video. Learn more about Samantha