So many of us have been waiting a long time for the SEC to modernize the rules around how advisors can market their businesses. After all, it has been decades since the current rules were adopted and they’ve remained largely unchanged. Just think about that 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 from a physical newspaper.
So when it was announced on Dec. 22, that the SEC had adopted a new ad rule to allow RIAs to utilize testimonials and endorsements in their marketing, it felt like a major win. All over my social media feeds, RIAs were rejoicing.
And then the questions started rolling in. “What does this updated rule actually allow for?” “Can I start emailing my clients now to gather testimonials to use on my website later?” and “What new marketing opportunities will RIAs have once the rule goes into effect, and how can I take advantage?”
I immediately got to work and outlined the five key marketing opportunities for advisors to come out of this new rule, but I also consulted with Max Schatzow, Legal Counsel to RIAs, BDs and fund managers.
Max agreed that the five marketing strategies below will be game-changing for RIAs, but before I dive into each, I must repeat Max’s disclaimer:
- Always consult with your compliance team before establishing any new marketing strategies.
- The new rule goes into effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register. As of writing this, that has not happened yet.
Five Key Opportunities Created by the New SEC Rule
1. Google Reviews
All the excitement and focus around the original announcement has been centered on testimonials—using them on your website, in ads, and on social media—but people are missing the point, because the biggest opportunity by far is from good old-fashioned Google reviews. Of all five of the marketing opportunities listed here, this is by far the one that will have the most impact. Here’s why:
- Third-party review sites are completely objective—you as the business owner are not in control of the review, and consumers know this—so they trust these reviews by other clients much more than they trust hand-picked testimonials on your website.
- Getting Google reviews can help boost your local SEO (search engine optimization) ranking. This is because Google is in the business of providing people with the best results possible 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. Prospects are able to read why your firm is a good choice from people who themselves have tried your service and can vouch for it – what we refer to in marketing as “Social Proof.” According to a 2016 Pew Research Center Report:
About 82% of American adults consult online ratings and reviews when making a first-time purchase. 40% of Americans indicate that they nearly always turn to online reviews when buying something new. Almost 50% of Americans feel that customer reviews help “a lot” to make consumers feel confident about their purchases (46%) and to make companies more accountable to their customers (45%).
Google reviews live within a section of Google called “Google My Business.” If you would like to start managing your reviews, responding to them and “liking” them, you’ll need to claim and optimize your GMB listing.
2. Client Videos
Videos are hands down one of the best forms of marketing and have been for the last few years, but the changes to the SEC advertising rule opens up the opportunity to now leverage client videos.
Functioning as testimonials, client videos are an opportunity to showcase the services you provide, as told by a real person. From a compliance standpoint, videos must be pre-recorded and cannot be live (no asking a client to join you for a LinkedIn live, or hosting a live Q&A webinar), and you’ll want to get the transcript approved as well. Of course, you’ll also want to archive the video like any other piece of content.
When creating client videos, keep these tips in mind:
1. Choose clients who will connect with your audience
When watching something, whether it’s an ad, a webinar or even a movie, we often become invested in a character. We identify with this person in some way and see things from their perspective. Remember this when choosing a client to interview. Who shares similarities with your general audience? Will this person resonate with your viewers? Remember to highlight your client’s pain points and show how you’ve resolved their concerns.
2. Keep it casual and conversational
The quickest way to lose viewers on any video? Sound robotic and scripted. Instead, ditch the script and allow your client to share stories in their own words. Of course you can (and should) create an outline with talking points, but don’t type up every word and expect it to be a video worth watching.
3. Social Media
For years, I’ve had so many financial advisors send me DMs on social media instead of commenting on a post directly, citing that they were unable to comment because of compliance. The new SEC ad rule opens the door for advisors to start actually being social on social media: engaging with others’ posts by commenting, liking and sharing, connecting with your clients and commenting on their posts, and asking questions and inviting readers to answer in the comments.
Additionally, if a current client of yours leaves a comment or says something nice on social media—you can now actually respond!
And because social media algorithms largely determine the success of a post based on engagement, this alone can be a real game-changer for those firms trying to grow their social media presence. The more people that interact with, share, comment and click on a post, the more the social platform will show that post to additional people.
4. Testimonials on Your Website
Nine out of 10 of the advisors I’ve spoken with are eager to get started updating their marketing by collecting client testimonials to use on their website.
There are several ways to integrate testimonials into your website, and you can certainly use more than one, however it may be easiest to simply create a dedicated testimonial page to start, with a photo of the client and their quote below it. If you are using video testimonials, you could add those on this page as well.
Be sure to include different types of testimonials. Some might focus on your actual services, while others could highlight how friendly your team is, or how easy the onboarding process was. Focusing on the key benefits and outcomes that clients receive from working with you is always the most impactful, especially if in the testimonial they acknowledge pain points you helped solve.
I asked Max Schatzow his thoughts about including testimonials that mention investment returns, and he warned that the SEC has very specific guidelines for how investment returns can be presented in marketing materials. Specifically, the SEC rule prohibits “including or excluding performance results, or presenting performance time periods, in a manner that is not fair and balanced” as well as “discussing any potential benefits without providing fair and balanced treatment of any associated material risks or limitations.”
That being said, Max and I both agreed that an easy and compliance-friendly way to feature testimonials on your website would be to set up a page that simply feeds in reviews from Google reviews. This would help meet compliance requirements stating that you must provide access to both bad and good reviews/testimonials without you needing to constantly update your website.
5. Repurpose Reviews and Testimonials In Other Marketing Materials
I am always preaching to the advisory firms we work with at Twenty Over Ten that they should repurpose every piece of content at least 10 times. A blog post can be made into a webinar, YouTube video, podcast, slide deck, case study, social media post—and on and on.
The same can be true for testimonials. Of course, you’ll want the client’s express permission to repurpose their review and publish it elsewhere before you do.
Again, the new ad rule is not yet in effect, and won’t be until 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, which has not happened yet. But hopefully these five ideas will give you insight into how you might start incorporating reviews and testimonials into your marketing once the ink has dried.