Why Blogging Will Replace Marketing Newsletters For Financial Planners

Posted by Michael Kitces on Thursday, July 12th, 11:03 am, 2012 in Practice Management

Using newsletters for drip marketing has long been a cornerstone of marketing for financial planners. However, the newsletter process itself is relatively inefficient - costs of production can be high if it's printed, the process of building a distribution list is slow, the content often cannot be effectively shared, and there is no means for someone to find and access the content if they aren't already on the mailing list. By contrast, operating a digital blog has no printing cost, has content that can be distributed on multiple digital channels, can easily be shared by readers and prospects with others, and can even be found by search engines without any further effort from the planner. The challenge, of course, is that a blog requires content - yet the reality is that for firms already producing a newsletter, the content is already being created. In which case, the blog is simply a more efficient way to get the content out there and drip market to a growing a list of prospective clients!

The inspiration for today's blog post was a recent conversation I had with another financial planner, who was struggling with the decision about whether or not to begin blogging and adopting social media. "I'm just not sure I have the time to add another channel to our marketing," he said, "on top of the newsletter we already produce and mail out each quarter."

"But if you're already sending out a newsletter," I replied, "then blogging and social media are just an alternative means for what you're already doing, but taking it to the next level!"

Newsletter Versus Blogs

At the core, producing a newsletter or a blog are simply different ways to accomplish the same thing - distribute content and information to a target audience. With a newsletter, articles are produced (either written internally or obtained from external sources) and distributed out to a list of readers. With a blog, articles are produced (again either written internally or obtained - "curated" - from external sources) and made available to readers. 

The difference, however, is that a newsletter is only as effective as the list of names and addresses you have gathered. Building a mailing list can be a very slow process for most financial planning firms, that tend to see relatively few new prospective clients and potential affiliated professional referrers each year. In addition, it's almost impossible for good content distributed by a newsletter to be shared. Unless someone literally has the physical document with them at the exact moment it's relevant to refer, it's a near certainty that the content will never be seen by anyone except the exact list of people to whom it is mailed - which makes the process of growing a list of prospects even slower. Even worse, someone who is searching for information about a subject will never find your newsletter, as Google and other search engines cannot index and provide search results for documents that don't exist in the electronic world!

By contrast, when the content of a newsletter is published via a blog, the content has the potential for a far broader reach. Current and ongoing readers can still be notified when new content is available via email, just as a newsletter is mailed out. However, far more channels for distribution are available in a virtual world; the new content isn't just sent out to a mailing list, but also published on an RSS feed for blog reading software, tweeted on Twitter, shared on Facebook, and added to your profile on LinkedIn. In addition, readers who enjoy the content also have the opportunity to share it instantaneously with others they believe might be interested, using their own social media channels; for instance, a current or prospective client might share the article with his/her own network on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn... instantly expanding the reach of your content, with no action necessary on your part! Furthermore, people who are searching for answers to their own problems and challenges have the potential to find your content through search engines like Google. Thus, for example, your content about how to make the right decision about exercising stock options might show up at the top of a search query for an executive who wants to know what to do with a current set of stock options, leading the executive directly to you at the exact time your advice is needed! And those who enjoy the blog content can then sign up to receive your updates in the future by any number of channels! The end result - your list of prospective clients who read your content grows not just through your own efforts to gather names, but also from those who share your content with others, and those who find your content by searching for the answers to their own problems. And of course, every additional reader has a marginal cost of $0, because there's no printing cost for a digital blog!

The Blog Cycle

By publishing content via a blog, a virtuous cycle begins to build over time. Content produced for the blog and distributed via social media (and other) channels, giving the planner or firm the chance to engage with prospects, connect through the content, and have the content shared with others. This in turn leads to new people who begin to follow the blog and see the next blog post, and the cycle begins anew. And of course, the interaction with prospects can also provide the inspiration for new blog content to reach the prospective client audience. This blog cycle is illustrated in the graphic below (thanks to CosmicVillage.net and Humble Financial Services for the Blog Cycle image!).

The graphic also helps to make the point that it doesn't make a lot of sense to do just one part of the cycle. "Just" being on social media isn't very helpful, if there's not a blog to point back to and a way to keep prospective clients engaged. New "followers" and "fans" (i.e., more prospective clients) won't follow you and what you have to say if you're not producing content to share with them. 

Yet at the same time, the graphic also makes the point that for a content marketing approach to work, it needs to grow an audience and reach new people - a significant failing of the traditional newsletter approach that is constrained by how quickly the planner or firm can gather names. In today's digital world, distributing and sharing content on social media - and allowing readers to share and distribute content through social media - is simply a radically faster and more efficient means of reaching people - not to mention an effective means of ongoing drip marketing.

Transitioning From Newsletter To Blog 

The reality is that for firms already producing a newsletter, the transition to a blog is a relatively easy process. In the case of my financial planning friend, where his firm was already producing several articles on a quarterly basis for their newsletter, the first step of the transition was simply to shift from several articles a quarter to one article a month. The total content being produced didn't even increase; it was just a shift in the timing and schedule. As each new article was produced, it went up on the blog attached to their website, instead of the newsletter. Social media accounts were created to share the content, and the growth cycle began.

Notably, the fact that a blog was started didn't mean the old newsletter had to disappear, though. Instead, producing the newsletter simply became a process of gathering together several months' worth of blog content, and "repackaged" it into a newsletter style and format. Again, because the content was already being produced, the marginal cost and effort to reproduce it in another format is often relatively easy.

Although as the firm discovered in this case, the list of blog "followers" grew so much more rapidly than the old newsletter list had grown, that they soon transitioned entirely to the blog and dismissed the print newsletter for good! Instead, they simply allowed the monthly email notification of new blog content to become their "electronic newsletter" drip marketing going forward!

So what do you think? Does your firm currently produce a newsletter for clients? Do you see the advantages of distributing the content via a blog instead? Have you already made the transition to a blog? What was your experience?


  • http://www.jessicasherrill.com Jessica Sherrill

    Michael,

    Our firm currently produces a newsletter in both paper and electronic formats but has yet to embrace blogging. However, I believe other members of the firm are starting to warm up to the idea. As I mentioned to you before, I have started a blog on my own tailored to my target audience. At first, I didn't get much support in the endeavor as the benefits of blogging are not immediately realized. As the number of visitors has grown with each new post, I am beginning to get some buy in.

    Have a gotten a new client? No. Have I answered questions from visitors and made connections? Yes. I believe you have to be patient and lay the groundwork for the future by becoming known as an advisor that knows (insert niche here) better than anyone else. A blog is a perfect way to do this.

    One benefit of the blog over the newsletter is the ability to share more personal information with your audience that makes you more relatable. There are things I have shared with my readers that I would never put in a standard newsletter due to the more formal nature of that format. When they read my blog, I am no longer a financial advisor delivering the same old investment/planning advice: I am a child with a parent suffering from Parkinson's disease who also happens to be a financial advisor and can share related advice.

    Thanks again for your work on this blog. My decision to define and pursue a niche was inspired by your posts.

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  • http://www.forefield.com Bill

    Hi Michael,

    Great post and we have a pretty strong viewpoint that's significantly aligned with yours on many parts. However, we see SM as a complementary vs. a replacement channel in many ways. We see advisors wanting to have a physical doc (whether that be a newsletter, fact sheet, greeting card etc.) on a periodic basis. We've also seen large growth in email distribution, particularly for people who want to send out newsletters and other timely materials monthly, especially to those clients that may not be using social media. Plus quite a few of our clients are not allowed to use SM as yet. With respect to SM, we allow all of our newsletter articles as well as our videos and client alerts to be shared out to SM, and provide sharing controls on our site to facilitate that.

    My main point is that different advisors can use different channels, and different clients / prospects also have channel preference, so what we see is a multi-channel approach with respect to DRIP marketing. But no doubt SM is an important channel for all the reasons you mention.

    Best regards,

    Bill Davenport, CFA
    GM / VP
    Forefield / Broadridge

  • http://www.wiredadvisor.com Stephanie Sammons

    Michael I agree with you that blogging is a critical component for driving client communications and ultimately can enhance the client experience. I've always believed this and have been preaching it for 3+ years now in the financial advisor community.

    In addition to replacing the newsletter, it can do so much more from enhancing your credibility, to driving your social media visibility, to attracting qualified leads into your trusted network.

    We developed the following visual architecture almost 3 years ago now to help financial advisors understand how a professional blog serves as the core component of a successful digital marketing strategy: http://www.slideshare.net/stephsamm/wired-advisor-social-media-portfolio

    Stephanie
    Founder, Wired Advisor

  • http://yourmoneytalks.com Pacific Financial Planners

    I agree it's a new age today and the internet is where people are nowadays that it's really better to just create your own blog, let your fans subscribe and that's it.

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  • http://onlineadvisorcentral.com Kevin Condon

    Since blog's attract attention by content change frequency, SEO terms, video content, and comment activity, a blog can benefit from a well-managed social networking discipline. 15 minutes twice a day when fully implemented, targeting specific markets. We also need to look at syndication together to get frequency and at monetization. If you attract a lot of people, what will you do when someone asks for advice? This is the path we will all trod, narrowed somewhat by mandatory compliance procedures and archiving. We are constructing it now, brick by brick. Pioneers need to aggregate at this point to find best practices.

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