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Seven Steps to Better Cyber-Marketing

A simple design and a focus on service may be your best website allies.

By Lynn Vincent

Whether you’re avoiding internet marketing because of full-blown “channel conflict,” or you’re looking to launch or fine-tune your website, the following seven steps can help you lock onto a trajectory for cyber-success:

1. Analyze your business.
As with any marketing venture, you have to nail down your objective: What are you selling and how are you selling it? When executives at pension system giant TIAA-CREF decided to turbo-charge the firm’s online delivery channel, “We asked ourselves, what’s our business?” says Jim Harkness, vice president of TIAA-CREF. “What do we do here? How do we do this? What do our customers ask for and what do we do for them on a daily basis?”

Once the self-analysis was complete, TIAA-CREF probed further with two key questions: How can we use the internet to do, in a more cost-effective way, something we are already doing? And what are we not doing that the internet might help accomplish?

“The great danger for someone starting down this road,” Harkness says, “is in thinking that by leveraging the internet, they’re going to become a dot-com.” Instead, the attitude should be that the web is just one channel among many that can help a firm do what it does better.

2. Hire a professional.
The default thinking on launching a new business seems to be: start small and work up. But when it comes to the web, that thinking will yield approximately the same result as setting up an office in a trailer in Citibank’s parking lot. “When you get on the web, your competitors are the big guys,” Harkness says. “If you have a skimpy, amateurish website, you don’t just suffer by comparison; you’re aced out by comparison as well.”

3. Avoid brochure-ware and cheap, noninteractive designs.
Web designers come in many shapes and price ranges. Harkness advises hiring as much sophistication as you can afford. “All the financial service expertise in the world won’t make up for a substandard site,” he says.

The attitude should be that the web is just one channel among many that can help a firm do what it does better.

4. Keep it simple.
Once your website is up, test its usability early and often. This doesn’t require a high-tech eye-scan lab to see where surfers rest their gaze first. It doesn’t even require a focus group.

Simply parade people into your office, watch them surf your site and ask them what they think. Are they satisfied with the site’s speed and order? Is the layering logical, or do they have to click through 10 levels of sediment to find gold? Are the types of data on your site the kinds they’d hoped to find? Monitoring usability can help ensure your site doesn’t become a digital ghost town.

5. Focus on service.
When MetLife began to soup up its website, “customer service became a big focus for us,” says Shailendra Ghorpade, MetLife senior vice president for marketing and e-business. As a result, the insurer integrated into its site a host of features it calls “view and do.”

“View” features include enabling clients to check the status of their own products-account balances, policy designations and the like. “Do” features are transactional, such as changing an address, changing investments in an annuity and changing fund allocations.

The resources MetLife has invested in online view-and-do features have not only improved customer service, but have also made the firm’s advisors more efficient. “Since we’re leaving our low emotion/high transaction services to the internet, our advisors are no longer functioning as data providers,” Ghorpade says. Instead, they are becoming a client’s point of contact for more emotional decisions—including buying additional life insurance.

6. Keep it fresh.
Before you leap into digital marketing, remember that today’s internet isn’t the internet of the mid-1990s. Surfers will not put up with static sites or those that change only once in a while. Access to an ever-changing content mix is critical. “What people don’t appreciate is that putting up a website is simple,” Ghorpade says, “but keeping it populated with interesting content is a nightmare.”

Ghorpade advises partnering with other firms and services that can keep content fresh. Ready allies come in many shapes and sizes, but look first at those companies whose products you sell. Mutual fund companies and insurers often publish web content they’re willing to share in the form of how-to articles, advice and analysis. In addition, news and information services add snap and currency to a site.

The more information a site offers, the more choices are available to the customer, but Ghorpade gives another reason for varying and cycling through fresh content: diversity of opinion. “As an advisor, you want to make available various opinions from various sources,” he says. “That way, clients can be assured you’ve had the advantage of comparing opinions, as opposed to just promoting your own agenda.”

7. Integrate your message.
Once you’ve launched a website, you should mention it in all your marketing material, from business cards to brochures to stationery. But you also need to view your site as an extension of your marketing message. Are you running year-end print or broadcast ads? Update your web content to match. Have you added a new fund or insurance product to your offerings? Add them to your site. As you fine-tune your marketing message, make sure you update your website.

These steps will help you launch or fine-tune your cyber-marketing efforts. But one parting observation may be the best measuring stick of all: “The best sites are not those that are the most complicated,” Ghorpade says, “but those that deliver what the customer needs.”


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