#ItzOnWealthTech Ep 26: Reanimating Lifeless Brands with April Rudin, The Rudin Group
“Today’s messaging is more about strengthening relationships between advisors and their clients and less about financial expertise or market returns that were value props in the past.”
— April Rudin, The Rudin Group
Founder and President of The Rudin Group, April Rudin is widely acknowledged as a top marketing strategist for the financial-services and wealth-management sectors. Distinguished by her ability to forecast and leverage critical trends and her expertise in digital and traditional media, she leads a firm, now in its tenth year, that designs bespoke marketing campaigns for some of the world’s leading wealth-management firms, fintechs, and family offices; campaigns that strengthen brand value and drive client acquisition.
April is recognized by IBM as an “Influencer” in wealth management and fintech, and is a regularly-featured source of expert commentary to international news and business outlets, trade publications, and broadcast media. She is an annual contributor to the Capgemini World Wealth Report; produces the CFA Institute’s Annual Outlook for U.S. Wealth Management; and speaks about wealth, next-gen, and fintech at conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa.
April has created an extensive repertoire of thought leadership that has appeared in Huffington Post, American Banker, CFA Enterprising Investor, Family Wealth Report, Fundfire, Wealthmanagement.Com, and heads the editorial board for NexChange, a global fintech start-up based in Hong Kong. A member of the Private Asset Management advisory board, she also serves as a judge for the FT Wealthtech awards, Family Wealth Report’s Annual Wealth Management Industry Awards, and Canada’s Wealth Professional Awards.
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This episode of Wealth Management Today is brought to you by Ezra Group Consulting. If your firm is evaluating new technology or looking to improve your current wealth platform, you need to contact Ezra Group. Don’t spend another day using technology that doesn’t offer an elegant user experience. Your advisors and clients deserve better and you can deliver it to them with the help of Ezra Group.
Topics Covered in this Episode
- What April recommends for firms when they’re segmenting their customer base [06:16]
- Why having a specific segment just for women isn’t the right way to go [08:52]
- How legacy firms that have been in the industry for a long time and are now getting hit by all different sides with competitors can revitalize their brands [12:46]
- How April helps firms to understand why differentiation from repeating the same message as everyone else is important [16:22]
- How established firms can turn their business around and change their marketing and messaging to reach new generations of financial consumers [18:26]
- “Finding your voice” – is it the same as branding and messaging, or is that a different way of expressing your company’s values to your customers? [22:10]
- Discussion around how marketing differs between the advisor level and the enterprise level, or the advisor level and the firm level [23:34]
- April speaks on how companies can build their brand value statement without making them sound stuffy and old, like the old mission statements we used decades ago [25:13]
- Best practices for AB testing [27:30]
- Thoughts on how legacy wealth management firms can build their own communities and create that sense of community around their products and value [29:33]
- April explains why content marketing so important [31:10]
- How firms and advisors can choose the right combination of the different digital channels available to push out their message, brand, and value statement [33:13]
- April talks about how advisors and firms can make connections with their clients on Facebook without seeming creepy [35:28]
Companies & People Mentioned:
- Acorns [29:07]
- Onalytica [03:05]
- Ellevest [08:41]
- FinovateFall [37:28]
- FT Wealth [37:57]
- In|Vest [18:06]
- Informa [37:48]
- Invest in Others [20:31]
- J.P. Morgan [18:09]
- The Rudin Group [02:58]
If you are interested in more information about some of the topics April and I discussed, these blog posts would be useful:
- 18 Enlightening Fintech Demos from In|Vest 2019
- Learn the Secret Behind Why 4,000 Advisors Attended the LPLFocus 2019 Conference
- 14 of the Absolute Best Ideas From Pershing INSITE 2019
- The Ultimate Cheatsheet from the T3 Advisor Conference
Complete Episode Transcript:
Craig: Here we are with this episode of Wealth Management Today, and I am pleased to have with me on the program April Rudin, the founder of The Rudin Group, which is a wealth marketing firm. Hey April.
April: Hey Craig, how are you?
Craig: I’m stoked that you’re here because I’m so happy to have the number one wealth management influencer according to Onalytica on my program.
April: Well, I’m happy to be here. That was quite an honor, but what I think was most exciting about that actually is that it validates online marketing, influencer marketing in wealth and wealth management. So I think there are a lot of takeaways for everyone from my own honor.
Craig: Yes I think there are, there’s a lot you can share. That’s a great title, number one wealth management influencer. And an even more important title, queen of selfies.
April: Well everybody’s got to have a schtick, and that’s my shtick. It’s not bad. I mean, now when I show up to speak at conferences, many times CEOs at firms will ask me if they can take a selfie with me. It becomes something that is branded and recognizable, so that’s how that works.
Craig: We need an April Rudin Snapchat filter.
April: Ah, now there’s an idea. Always thinking there Craig.
Craig: Always thinking for you April, you know that. So we’re good friends and all, I want to congratulate you on your business. In October of this year, it’ll be 11 years you’ve been in business.
April: Yes. I founded my business 11 years ago, around three pillars that I saw intersecting: wealth, next gen, and technology, knowing that the way wealth management and other financial services, the way that they were bought and sold would change. I went to a friend of mine (here’s a little anecdote for you) who was CEO of one of the very large banks and told them what I was going to do, which was to start a wealth marketing firm. And he said to me, 10 or 11 year years ago, “April you’re a nice girl but number one, you’re too old to be an entrepreneur. Number two, banks will never hire outside firms. Number three, high net worth people will never be on the internet, and social media is a fad.”
Craig: So basically wrong on everything.
April: Yeah. So after hearing all of that and thinking about that naysayer I went home, made my own website, and launched my firm.
Craig: And the rest, as they say, is history.
April: And then we met.
Craig: And then we met, that’s right. And we’ve been friends ever since.
April: It was over a little branding, too.
Craig: So we want to talk about segment marketing. How do you recommend firms think about segments and segmenting their customer base? I know most firms don’t do a good job of it and they think in very big silos rather than more granular, and more of the newer way things should be thought about. So what do you recommend for firms when they’re segmenting their customer base?
April: That’s a great question. I love to think about segments, and I think you’re absolutely right that they’re sort of bar-belled Craig. People either don’t think about segments, where they’re lumping all their clients together and merely offering products and services at large. And then the other thing that I see that needs to be improved on is people who over-segment, and over-segmentation can even be worse. Examples of over-segmentation might be firms that have a particular offering only for millennials. Most or some Millennials could be a cohort, and niching is important, but you certainly can’t have one offering that goes to an entire base of people based on their age. I mean I have two kids who are Millennials, but they certainly don’t have the same wants and needs. How about you?
Craig: Yeah I’ve got two who are Millennials as well, and they’re certainly very different. And when it comes to wealth, that’s sort of like talking to them about bubonic plague; they don’t want to talk about it, they want to think about it. So understanding how to approach them and get them interested in it is certainly an art as much as it is a science.
April: And that’s where marketing comes in; marketing should speed the plow towards sales and should be client and prospect communications that gets people interested in things. The other area that I see over-segmentation in is women. For me, I don’t think you can have specific products and services for women. I think that sometimes it’s borderline pandering, and some women don’t take kindly to that. And then boomers on the other end, where you see the gray-haired couple on the beach – certainly that’s not what retirement looks like for everyone.
Craig: Oh no, it’s way different. And understanding how to present to them is important. When we talk about over-segmentation and over-segmentation with women, there’s still a lot of firms out there, I mean Ellevest is the most prominent, that still believe women are a separate segment. Is there a reason why you think having a specific segment just for women isn’t the right way to go?
April: I think that the better way to go, let’s put it this way, is simply having multiple entry points. People want to cobble together an offering that feels customized for them. And I think that if brands think of things more along the lines of the way luxury brands appeal to them, with customizing the client experience, that that will be a more successful way of meeting client’s needs. Rather than thinking about particular segments and offering products and services for that segment. Certainly I know you know a lot of women, and all women can’t want the same thing; they’re not at the same stage in life, they’re not all the same. I know this is not breaking news for the listeners of this podcast, whether they be women or men, but I think if you take a grain of salt and think about things on a practical level, marketing to a segment that is 51% or 52% of the population doesn’t make sense either. On the other hand, what you can do is offer products and services that can be customized so that people can find themselves in your products and in your offerings, and be spoken to in a language that appeals to them. So you certainly can have multiple entry points, and what I think Millennials have done for us is to make things a little bit more transparent and authentic. That’s something that many brands are embracing today, and that is a positive change.
Craig: Yeah, transparency and authenticity I think are also hallmarks of the robo-advisors. It’s definitely a trend that has impacted the rest of the industry, which didn’t have a lot of transparency and authenticity beforehand.
April: Agreed. And there’s another misconception right there, that only Millennials want robo-advisors. And certainly other segments of the population are very digital and want to have self-serve tools. So linking Millennials to robo-advisors is also a mistake. When my oldest son graduated from college I sent him to a financial advisor who tried to have him use a robo-advisor. He did have some assets and he explained to the advisor, I don’t know anything about investing; that’s why I came to see you. And of course he only knew robo-advisor from his mother, but I think it’s important to, as I said, have a variety of offerings and not say that as a firm level, we’re going to offer this robo-advisor low-end offering to Millennials, because they don’t have assets. Some of that can be fallacious.
Craig: He may be more interested in a subscription-priced advisor.
April: He could be, or he might be more interested in meeting with a person. So giving people the freedom of choice I think is where we are today in terms of products, services, offering, and then that leading into segmented marketing – just laying out what you have, and letting people choose. Give the people what they want, Craig.
Craig: That should be obvious, you’d think, but a lot of firms don’t realize that. And a lot of these older firms, I think they really need your services because they need to revitalize and they don’t understand how to do that. So how can these firms that have been in the industry for a long time and are now getting hit by all different sides with competitors, how can they revitalize their brands?
April: That is something that we’re obsessed with at my firm, is how to help old brands (I’ve given it the term) “millennialize” themselves, meaning that these old brands are very valuable and have a lot of brand equity. But as you point out, they struggle with how to reposition themselves for new buyers in a new market. What many firms tend to do is to lean on their legacy by saying things like, “We’ve been in business for a hundred years, or we’ve been in business for 50 years.” And these are turn-offs for people rather than turn-ons. When firms are more insular they think that these are great attributes or value prop to put in front of people, when in fact, many people might think, if you’ve been in business for 100 years you might be irrelevant to what they need. And certainly, if you take a look at some of the data that’s come out, many Millennials would rather trust a company that’s been in business for 15 minutes than 15 years. So what it comes down to is how firms message, which is another obsession of mine. The messaging, in terms of how they’re approaching the market place, how they position themselves, what language they use, what images, and how they target is key to millennializing their brand. So the idea is, which is more of an art than a science, of taking the attributes that have made these large or big or legacy firms successful in the past, but making them relevant to today’s audience,
Craig: That would be brilliant, because you’re basically taking their strengths that have become weaknesses and turning them back into strengths.
April: Exactly. That’s where marketing comes in. And the most important thing there is an exercise which is called messaging; helping firms to do what I call sharpening the pencil to a fine point, so that they’re describing in a very explicit language what it is that they do and what it is that they enable, and how investors can benefit from them as opposed to other firms. The impetus for me starting my business was taking a look at different websites and collateral, and thinking that you could basically swap out the logos between firms and the copy might read exactly the same. So how were people supposed to figure out what the differences are?
Craig: Yes, all wealth management firms start to look alike. There was a presentation at a conference I went to that a PR firm did, it was sort of a satire. They did a little video representing all the clichés you hear in every wealth management website presentation. “We’ve been around for 100 years, we have a thousand years of experience, we’ve got an anchor and a boat on the front page with a lighthouse, which means we’re stable and you should work with us.” Everyone’s got the same. So that leads me to my next question, which is a lot of these companies, not just the wealth management firms but fintech firms as well, they tend to cluster around the same messages. How do you tend to differentiate, and how do you explain to them why differentiation in that sense is important?
April: That’s a great question, and that’s the zillion dollar question for firms. Many firms, as I said, are insular. Everyone has a marketing team, but the benefit of hiring an outside firm is exactly that; they can bring the expertise to show what others are doing and what best practices might be in the marketplace, instead of having one internal team that is charged with coming up with ideas. Because many times they are trying to eat their own cooking, right? So they aren’t sure of what’s happening in the marketplace. I think that’s why a lot of the messaging seems to be cliched. People have sort of the herding mentality, they start looking at their competitors. And instead of free-thinking and thinking what they can do on their own, what they do is they tend to use other firm’s marketing as a guidepost, and that never ends up well. On the side of fintechs and wealth techs, sometimes I find that they haven’t allocated as much or any money towards marketing, and sometimes can have a DIY approach, which also never turns out well. Engineers should not be doing marketing, and vice versa.
Craig: Engineers should not be doing marketing, that should be a t-shirt or a billboard somewhere. There’s lots of things engineers shouldn’t be doing, but talking about the legacy firms and how you can take their attributes and turn them into positives. You did a great fireside chat at the In|Vest conference last week with Dr. Kelli Keough from J.P. Morgan. And in terms of legacy firms, J.P. Morgan is probably one of the most legacy of the legacy; 50% of all Americans have an account with J.P. Morgan. So how do you turn that type of business around and change their marketing and messaging to new generations of financial consumers?
April: I think Kelli has done a great job of leading the charge, and has a multi-disciplinary team set up to be able to actually do that. She has a lot of different people that are working on this project, from the engineers to marketers to other operations type people that help with the implementation. And that’s what’s needed, is to take a fresh approach. I don’t know if you remember, but one of her slides, the blank slide during the presentation, showed what was actually at J.P. Morgan Chase when she started – which was nothing. That was my idea, to show a blank slide. The idea was that when she started, there was nothing. For some people, that’s a thrill of a lifetime, to build something from scratch. For others, it can be the most frightening experience. She’s led the charge at J.P. Morgan Chase to develop something from scratch that supplements their business. And again, it’s just another offering to their clients.
Craig: And J.P. Morgan has 14 lines of business, so there’s lots that they can offer their clients. So adding one more thing is a delivery channel for all their other business.
April: Exactly, and they’re not over-segmenting it by saying, ” Oh, you millennials come try our app.” In fact, Kelli told me that Jamie Dimon uses the app for some of his trades.
Craig: And I know for certain he’s not a millennial.
April: He’s not.
Craig: I want to take a little break from this episode to talk to you about one of my favorite sponsors, the Invest in Others Foundation. Invest in Others is a non-profit, you can find them at investinothers.org. They look to raise money and give out awards to charities that are sponsored by financial advisors, so it’s financial advisor’s favorite charities and charities that they spend a lot of time supporting. Invest in Others looks to get sponsorships from the industry and funnel that money to advisor’s favorite charities. I like this non-profit, I think you should take a look at it. Again, that’s investinothers.org. They have a couple other programs: one is a Grants for Good program, delivering money to different needy organizations and needy groups. They’re also starting a corporate awards program, which is going to be a little bit different but still within the industry and another way for financial services and wealth management corporations to help donate money to people in need. I like Invest in Others, I think you should take a look at them at investinothers.org.
Finding Their Voice
Craig: So back to marketing, branding, and communication with some of these firms. Messaging is one way of looking at their brand and how do you message yourself, but what about this other term called “finding their voice”? Is that the same as branding and messaging, or is that a different way of expressing your company’s values to your customers?
April: I think finding your voice is just another cliché, honestly. I sort of bristle when I hear clichés like that, like finding your voice. I know that many marketing firms tend to use clichés also, and try to sell people on “finding your voice” as being a particular activity. I think everybody knows what that means, and that’s messaging. And for some people, that’s easier than others. Some firms know exactly what their mission is and who they want to be and what they want their brand to represent. For others, it’s a sort of a work in progress (as we discussed) from an old brand to a newer brand. All of this can also occur at a firm level and then needs to trickle down at an individual level. So individual advisors need to find their own voice; they need to be able to figure out what their own value props are at a local level, as well as a brand or enterprise level.
Craig: Indeed. So you’re mentioning different levels: the advisor level and the enterprise level, or the advisor level and the firm level. How does marketing differ between those different levels?
April: At an enterprise level, brands need to think about globally what it is that they want to represent, and make sure that those tenants that they come up with resonate and hold true across all of their organization. And that can be obviously a greater and much larger exercise than with individual advisors need to do. Individual advisors need to think about themselves in their own local market, and figure out what it is that they want to offer. How is it that based on their skills and experience, it lines up to be able to serve the sort of clients that they want to service? What is it in their individual background that allows them to understand or have the skills to be able to service these clients? And that’s where marketing can help, which is to be able to weave these details and these messages into brand value statements so that end clients and investors, prospects, center of influence, people can read these websites, look at the collateral, read the content that’s developed, and truly understand where the sweet spot is for these individual firms, individual advisor groups, and then at an enterprise level.
Brand Value Statements
Craig: So you mentioned brand value statements. How do companies build their brand value statement, without making it sound stuffy and old and like the old mission statements we used to do decades ago that don’t provide any value, hat is something that you put on a piece of paper and send out to all of your employees?
April: Exactly. That’s where the hard work comes in, and I mentioned before about sharpening the pencil. Just when you feel like your pencil sharp, as you know you can put it back into the pencil sharpener and give it a few more turns, and sharpen it even more. That’s where real good marketers can distinguish themselves and firms, is to help to sharpen that pencil so that indeed the statements and the language is descriptive, and not back to the same old clichés that you mentioned, like a mission statement that doesn’t resonate with anyone; that is a bygone day. One other big change that I think is website copy and messaging, it should be more about what the clients and investors are looking for and less about what the firms offer. When you have too much messaging and information about what firms offer, you sometimes get less absorption and it doesn’t resonate with people, because then they need to figure out and translate what those products and services may mean for them. So I think that’s where wealth management firms and banks need to do the heavy lifting, and do that work upfront for their clients.
Craig: Indeed. And then that’s something they would look to an expert like yourself for, to understand how much text is too much text.
April: Exactly. How much text is too much text, what are great messages, or what resonates. And thank goodness for digital, it allows us to be able to do a lot of good AB testing and change language if we feel it doesn’t resonate as well. So that’s easy these days rather than in bygone days.
Craig: Oh, clearly. So with AB testing, what are some ways that firms can use it rather than just throwing stuff out and seeing what sticks? There’s got to be some best practices for AB testing.
April: Well traditionally, people use focus groups where they gather a group of either like-minded or diverse cohorts, and they will contest the language to see what it means to people and for people. That’s something that we can help firms with. And I think that’s the value of using, an outside firm also, is to be able to even give the outside perspective from ourselves, as opposed to internal people that might be used to reading some of the rhetoric. And then even you touched upon before about the images, I’ve written about that since the very beginning. There’s nothing worse than, it’s not just the language, but the images can be very cliché – like a lighthouse. We’re guiding people to show them the way, right? Like a chess piece, we’re making the moves. Today’s messaging and images are more about creating relationships and community between advisors and our clients, and less about the expert advice or even financial returns that were the value props of the past.
Craig: Creating a community I think is another key point that a lot of firms don’t understand. One of the companies that I love in the space that’s a startup and all mobile is Acorns, they’ve done a great job creating a community. It’s very different when a large bank says, we have X millions of customers, but those millions of customers don’t think of themselves as a community, whereas Acorns’ customers do. So how do legacy wealth management firms build their own community and create that sense of community around their products and value?
April: I think that’s where content marketing comes into play as well. My firm I think is an expert at creating very compelling content marketing that comes out of many of the messages that firms have. And I think it’s also important to include relevant third-party content, so it’s not just all about the brand. So that’s where firms need to embrace the idea of providing value beyond whatever the product or service is that they offer, but offering content that is valuable; whether it’s teaching people about something, telling them about something that they didn’t know, warning them about something, praising them, having the sort of interaction that makes it a satisfying experience, rather than that old fashioned telling that we’ve been talking about, right? Like, we know this and here’s what you should do; sort of that big brother. More about how to engage people and more holistic financial planning, leading to more holistic relationships with a wide variety of topics, rather than just how did my portfolio do this quarter.
Craig: Less of a lecture and more of a conversation.
April: Ah, excellent Craig. Good distillation.
Craig: So April, tell me why is content marketing so important? Why do we need that? We have all these other things, we’re doing all this other marketing, why content marketing as well?
April: Content marketing is the backbone for professional services marketing. It is so important because it gives firms and financial advisors their own platform to be able to demonstrate what they know and what their value is. But many times firms will think that their inside writers can write things or financial advisors will think, I’m a good writer and so I can write. And that might be true, they could be a good writer. But there’s a different sort of tone, voice, and approach that you need to take in content marketing. So the way that we do that is sort of more like an art than a science, by creating a content marketing calendar for firms or for advisors on topics or keywords that we think they should be talking about, creating content around that, putting it out, and seeing it if it resonates and returns with lead gen, which is key with what the ROI on content can be. That’s why content marketing is such a big boom today but I think again, sometimes people make the mistake of the DIY approach thinking that they could do it themselves, when in fact they probably can’t do it themselves as well as an outside firm. And just like advisors will rail against DIY investors, that’s how I feel about DIY marketers.
Choosing Content Channels
Craig: I was about to say that, it’s the same as advisors complaining about their clients going out and doing their own thing and they don’t understand – well then why are you doing it in your own business? So it’s not uncommon. Advisors are overwhelmed and so are wealth management firms, with all of the content distribution channels now, especially all the digital channels. So how can they choose the right combination of these different digital channels to push out their message, brand, and value statement?
April: There ARE a lot of channels. Starting 11 years ago when I first founded my firm, Facebook was more of a personal platform, LinkedIn was more of a professional platform, and Snapchat didn’t exist, or was very nascent. Today we find that it’s more about the whole person and the whole message, right? There is a blurring between personal and professional, and the people who do it well bring those two things together. Sometimes people can have a better relationship with clients on Facebook; I think that can be one of the most under-utilized platforms, because people think it’s so personal. But you’re able to see life-cycle events; you’re able to see client’s life cycle events, you can see if they’re traveling, and you can get to know them on a much more personal level. And I think that that is appropriate today, if people think it’s appropriate. In other words, if your clients like it and you like it, then go for it. LinkedIn I think is the must-have channel, and I’m still surprised by how many firms and advisors ignore it, do minimal work on it, or even just put out corporate messages on it, which don’t resonate with anyone. LinkedIn is a two-way street, while we’re on it let me just say that; it’s not just about posting information and going away, but you want to engage in conversations, you want to engage others in conversations, and not just be a one-way street where you post something and you go away.
Craig: It’s a community, and a community requires interaction; you can’t just spew. Back to Facebook, so how do you make these connections with your clients on Facebook without seeming creepy?
April: So again, what people are looking for today is that authenticity and transparency. So if you are active on Facebook or firms are active on Facebook, you can certainly have it as part of your onboarding process, by asking people whether or not they’d like to connect on Facebook.
Craig: April, I think you’ve imparted a lot of great information during this podcast. I think people would be loath to miss it if they are concerned or interested in marketing and understanding how they can do better marketing their firm in the wealth management space. So where can people find you online?
Craig: And where will you be appearing? You are a big on the conference circuit with your selfies, great fireside chats, interviews, and panel moderation. So what’s your upcoming conference calendar look like?
April: Let’s see. I am chair for FinovateFall on the very first wealth tech day, so that’s exciting. That is September 26th in New York City. Before that I’ll be at Robo Investing, which is an Informa conference in London the week of September 9th. I’m thrilled about appearing there and speaking. Following that, in October I have an FT Wealth Management event with a great host of characters in wealth management.
Craig: Excellent. I would encourage everyone to go to those conferences and here April speak, you will always learn something. I know I always do hearing you speak and hearing you impart your wisdom, from the number one social media wealth management influencer. Thanks April.
April: Well thank you, I’ll see you soon. Take care.