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The principles of drip marketing are not new; the concept of marketing by sending a series of messages to prospects over time to build familiarity and remain top-of-mind so that you're likely to be contacted when a need arises has existed for decades. In fact, drip marketing has only gained in popularity as the costs of distribution have declined - from the increasing efficiency of printing postcards, catalogues, and newsletters, to the almost negligible cost of sending messages via email (sometimes taken to its abusive extreme, "spam email"). Unfortunately, though, the challenge of most drip marketing is that it's still very impersonal, and it can often be a challenge to even identify a list of people to whom the messages should be communicated in the first place. Yet the growing world of social media creates the potential to take "drip marketing" to a whole new level, because it is more social - making it more personal and more engaging, with sharing tools to help the people who receive your content to refer you to their friends and family, and for those you want to reach find you!

The inspiration for today's blog post is a continuation of last week's discussion about "Building Trust With Potential Clients You've Never Met (Yet?)" where it was noted that in the end, trust is built in a relationship over time... but that the success of people like Suze Orman make it clear that it is possible to systematically build trust at a distance with people you've never met. The key is drip marketing - where familiarity is built over time, and prospective clients are "dripped" with periodic communication to keep you top-of-mind until the prospect is ready to do business.

Drip Marketing In The Past

Historically, if a financial planner wanted to develop business through drip marketing, it was first necessary to get a list of people to mail to. Purchased lists were often ineffective, as the content would often be so unfamiliar to the target audience the mailings would be thrown in the trash without a glance. Even worse, the odds that a random person would happen to get a mailing at the time he/she was ready to take action - even with a series of drip marketing mailings over a period of time to a somewhat targeted mailing list - were rather low. After all, if the mailing was going to generate action, it had to be pretty specific, such as a message to job changers about how to roll over a 401(k). But what were the odds that the mailing arrived in a timely manner to when someone was leaving a job in the first place? At best, it would require a large volume of mailings to both build the familiarity, and reach someone at the exact time they needed to be reached... and in most cases, that simply required more money than the planner budgeted for marketing.

The next step in the evolution of drip marketing was instead to conduct a mailing to solicit an actionable event, like a "transitioning into retirement" seminar, and then add any/all attendees at the seminar to a future drip marketing mailing list. After all, if the prospect had enough interest to come to the seminar in the first place, there was clearly some interest in the services you have to offer, and the seminar could be the first in a multi-step process of building familiarity and a relationship with the potential client. Hopefully, anyone who didn't become a client at the seminar would eventually convert into one by receiving a quarterly drip marketing newsletter at some point down the road, when the client had an urgent problem that needed to be solved while the newsletter kept you as a top-of-mind potential solution. For some firms, the process was adopted even without the seminar - the approach was simply that any/every prospect who contacted the firm could be invited to "join the newsletter" and agree to be drip marketed over time.

This approach became increasingly popular as communication shifted from paper mail to electronic mail - driving down the cost of distributing a newsletter to the time it takes to click "Send" to a mailing list as both printing and mailing costs were eliminated. In recent years, it has become standard practice for firms to have some kind of regular newsletter that is distributed to prospects (and/or clients), to help keep the firm top-of-mind and maintain a relationship with ongoing contact. And every now and then, an old prospect would receive the latest newsletter at the exact time he/she had a problem... the end result being a new client.

Social Media As Drip Marketing In The Digital Age

Just as the world evolved communication from paper mail to electronic mail, social media and its platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, are emerging as the next communication medium. And just as email didn't entirely replace snail mail, so too will social media encroach upon and add to email communication, but not fully replace it. What's notable, though, is that just as email increased the efficiency and drove down the cost of drip marketing compared to traditional mailings, so too does social media have the potential to revolutionize the nature of drip marketing.

What makes social media unique in its capacity for cultivating relationships with prospective clients is the social nature of the communication. This leads to two major opportunities in the context of drip marketing: social engagement, and social sharing.

Social Engagement

While pulling mail out of the mailbox is entirely impersonal, and getting email in the electronic inbox often doesn't feel much better, the world of social media is far more interactive. It becomes both an opportunity to share content and ideas, and a chance to engage with those who receive the content.

For instance, posting content on a blog invites the opportunity for readers to respond with comments, that the author can in turn reply to, and is one of the 3 primary reasons a planning firm should consider a blog. Sharing content via a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter similarly provides both the opportunity to get the content out, get feedback on the content from those who see it, and then reply as the author to those comments. The content, and your interactions around it, give others the opportunity to get to know you, your views, and see how you engage. In other words, it's a chance for people to begin to get to know you, interact with you, and develop the foundation of a relationship with you!

At the most basic level, the value of "drip marketing" in the social media context is that it gives you the opportunity to engage not just with your content, but as a human being. With perhaps the notable exception of Ben Stein - who is engaging because he is dry and monotone - nearly every other popular and successful person builds relationships because they engage not like a professional automaton, but as a human being! Social media gives you the opportunity to be the popular and successful celebrity - both professional and human - in the eyes of your followers.

Social Sharing

The second reason why social media is a powerful new medium for drip marketing is because of the phenomenon of social sharing - where platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ give users the opportunity to share compelling content with others. 

From the perspective of drip marketing, this means that in the process of creating and sharing content and engaging with your prospective clients, those people in turn will have the opportunity to share content with others they know, converting those others into new prospects on your drip marketing list! In essence, your prospective clients will have the means and opportunity to refer you to their friends and family, even though they're not yet clients! In fact, if your content is clearly targeted to a relevant audience, your prospects may even share your content with people who are better prospects - simply because they were trying to share something interesting to them with their friends!

In addition, through the systems of "Likes" and "+1s" and "Retweets" there is an opportunity for the most popular content to rise to the top - and those who enjoy the content can then connect with the original author to receive more in the future. This creates a potential for total strangers to find your content as well... and if it connects with them, they too will sign themselves up to be on your drip marketing list!

The bottom line is that in the digital age, growing a firm with drip marketing is evolving into growing a firm with inbound marketing - a form of electronic drip marketing on steroids that has the potential for a dramatically greater reach, at a drastically lower cost, than more traditional forms of drip marketing. And when done well, it may not even feel like drip marketing at all - it will simply feel like networking, being social, and engaging with people who may potentially become clients, or refer you to some!

So what do you think? Do you use any form of drip marketing in your practice? Would you consider social media to be a form of drip marketing? Do you use it that way already? 

  • Jessica Sherrill

    Thank you for another great post about social media. I do agree with you about the potential for a blog to become a form of drip marketing IF you have defined your niche.

    I have recently started a blog not so much for the marketing aspect but for the general desire to help people facing a particular situation. So far the posts have been rather easy to compose because (I think) I have defined my niche. (Niche: Adult children caring for parents – my mother has Parkinson’s Disease) I am able to share financial and personal topics with my audience which makes it easier to determine each post’s subject matter.

    While my niche could use further refining, I know that drilling down even to the level I have has really helped me focus. I think a blog about general financial planning would quickly become too vague (or irrelevant) for an end reader.

    Thank you again for all of your work in this area.

    • Michael Kitces

      It sounds like you’ve already got the basis of a great niche market. The fact that you can define both financial and personal content that would be relevant to your reader base makes it clear that you’ve got a pretty well defined niche.

      The key is to be certain that you’re finding ways to connect with visitors to the site and invite them back to build a base of followers over time!
      – Michael

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Michael E. Kitces

I write about financial planning strategies and practice management ideas, and have created several businesses to help people implement them.

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