It’s the Little Things That Matter

A few weeks ago, I posted a note on LinkedIn about Goldman Sans, a new font from Goldman Sachs. A financial services organization thinking through digital readability. Interesting.

The other day, I was strolling through a newly reopened, neighborhood Starbucks. Looking down toward the floor and around the area, I noted green and white striped directional tape, green traffic cones and directional green dots. Interesting.

The commonality between these two ideas?

Little things matter.

Even in the loud world of reopening, Starbucks, a master of experiential branding, thought through how their brand experience would shine through – even without the coffee shop vibe in their stores. Of course, they would create green and white directional floor tape!

Little things matter.

These days, I’m mailing more thank you notes and treats than in previous seasons. In my mind, it’s an opportunity to provide a bit of joy and a warm-hearted hug, via USPS. It’s a small gesture to create a connection and stand out from all the digital disco in our inboxes. To make even more of an impact, I ordered branded packaging tape​​; Amazon has it, why can’t I? (BTW: Be careful of that Sticker Mule link, you’ll be there for hours! It’s stickers and beyond.)

Little things matter.

In March, your lights, camera and audio equipment seemed like small things. Poor audio was easy to ignore – even if it did make us all sound as if we were all shouting. But now? The world has changed. The way you engage and connect has changed. And your virtual brand is heavily influenced by our design-driven nation and is comprised of a growing list of little things.

Doing business in the Zoom-obsessed economy has made it even harder to stand out.

Schedule a 15-minute discovery call and let’s talk about your virtual presence, your sales, and the little things that will keep you memorable and your pipeline healthy.

💖 Make kindness part of your customer experience

My father made kindness his life.

For much of my adult life, he volunteered in food kitchens, manned the master gardener booth, painted signs, led scout groups, cleared park blocks, and gave out free rides to those in need.

His heartfelt acts of kindness were commonplace. (Though, it’s unlikely he would have named them as such.)

As he grew older, his movements became more constrained and isolation began to take a toll.

“O.k. Dad, go through the drive through at McDonald’s,” I prescribed one afternoon. “Order yourself some coffee and then simply pay for the car behind you.” That small act of kindness would ripple love through my dad’s day, the recipient’s day – and even the day of the person behind the window.

Witnessing kindness inspires kindness.

I hereby prescribe the same for you. Take a break from marketing and selling this week and celebrate National Random Acts of Kindness Week. Instead commit a daily act of kindness for your clients, prospects and community.

Here are 10 ideas to make someone smile:

  1. Get your own custom stickers printed and send them with hand-written notes.
  2. Send a meaningful referral out of the blue.
  3. Tip the housekeeping team at the next hotel you visit.
  4. Give someone a hug.
  5. Leave a sticky note of encouragement in a random place.
  6. Tell someone they inspire you.
  7. Help your client deal with a difficult situation. (Business or personal.)
  8. Donate to a charity.
  9. Write a note of appreciation on a dollar bill – and put it in the next tip jar. (I paint random rocks of kindness and leave them in tip jars!*)
  10. Call someone special and tell them you love them.

💡 Are You Ready to Out Care the Competition?
Discover how to make your firm stand out by offering a strong client experience and developing a powerful and appealing brand. I can help. I offer a workshop, Out Care the Competition, how to use the power of brand and client experience to differentiate your firm. Book me here!


* My random rocks of kindness.

Happy National Fiduciary Day! Or not?

For those living under a rock, there was a big ruling last week regarding the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule. You can read all about it here.

Since I’m in no way qualified to discuss the technical merits of the Fifth Circuit’s decision, you’re safe. This isn’t another article about the regulations themselves – or the possible Supreme Court showdown between the Fifth Circuit ruling and the Tenth Circuit’s opposite view of the rule.

This is about trust.

We, the financial services industry, already have a bad rap. Each year Edelman – a global marketing and communication firm steeped in helping their clients create lasting trust with their communities – studies the tides of trust in the world. And each year, for the last ten years, the financial services industry has been the LEAST trusted of the bunch. 😢

Let’s not even discuss Millennial’s distrust of Wall Street.

If I understand the issue correctly, the product distribution folks see a bright line between sales people and advisors. Bottom line: Sales conversations are sales conversations only, and do not contain the trust and confidence of an advisory discussion.

What? We’re selling Americans financial products, solutions and services every day. If you ask me, when it comes to money and financial security, trust is an essential part of every conversation.

This is about authenticity.

Imagine, if trust is gone, then what? Interestingly these same organizations that wish to steer clear of trust and confidence still pursue branding and marketing messages that that point toward fiduciary-ish relationships. So now we say one thing and do another? That’s not gonna work in our hyper-connected, social media-savvy Age of Authenticity; they’ll just head on over to Google for something Better(ment).

This is about opportunity.

No matter. Even if the some organizations want to tuck fiduciary away, it’s there. If John Oliver did a piece on the subject, the memes of a client’s best interest and fiduciary will not disappear.

I remember being a 401(k) sales person back in the early 2000s. (Would I be a fiduciary now?) Anywhoo…the organization I worked for was quite skeptical of ESOPs, as many organizations were/are. My thought? Run toward ESOPs! Don’t be scared. Be different. Be valuable. Be really good. And charge for it. Ditto for fiduciaries. Be different. Be valuable. Be really good. Be a fiduciary! And, charge for it.

So, Happy National Fiduciary Day! We have millions of Americans to help; we need you.

FYI: Michael Kitces, this is entirely your fault! Your fantastic article about the ruling and the surrounding issues was extraordinarily helpful. Thank you!

The Trouble with Turtles

We all know the financial services industry moves a bit slowly. We say that with regularity. Somehow we seem to think that being risk-averse and moving slowly is fine. (Then there’s compliance, which intensifies our turtle-like approach.)

But this slow pace isn’t gonna work as the most connected, personalized, multidimensional generation steps into leadership roles.

Since day one, Millennials have had a remote control, a microwave, cable, computers. Not to mention the younger members and their own cell phones. Whether they’re Millennials or Xennials—Gen X/Millennial hybrids—they’ve seen their access to technology, flexibility, speed and control compound every year. And they’ve grown to expect it. No more checking a smart phone for the weather, just ask Alexa.

Since day one, Millennials have also been given choices: “Do you want to wear your blue shoes or your red ones today?” (We were told choice eliminated the morning-shoe meltdown.) “Do you want to play soccer or softball? Or both?”

This is a whole new world, and we have to change the way we market to this generation. We have to change the products we offer and the messages we send. Even the way we depict the American Dream.

The slow, one-size-fits-all approach we’ve taken in financial services just won’t fly with Millennials. We have to provide efficiency, convenience, choices, innovation, personalization, with a splash of color. Millennials believe they can have whatever, whenever, however they want.

Then they encounter the turtles in financial services.

How’s that gonna work?


Don’t get me wrong about compliance. I know and respect their efforts. At times I’ve shared my love for them. (I couldn’t do their job.) We all must work within our industry’s guidelines. I get that.

But I can’t help but think about the Fosbury Flop. (Stay with me for a second.)

Dick Fosbury had challenges with the high-jump in high school. He was unable to compete with the scissor-kick, the straddle or the belly-roll. Then he invented the Flop. “The advantage,” he said, “from a physics standpoint is, it allows the jumper to run at the bar with more speed and, with the arch in your back, you could actually clear the bar and keep your center of gravity at or below the bar. It was much more efficient.”

The Flop looked very strange at the time. Track coaches were worried as young athletes began to imitate Dick’s Olympic Gold-winning moves; afraid their athletes would break their necks. Then it stuck.

Now the standard is the Flop.

No one did it, because no one did it. Until they did.

Now, think about the four-minute mile. No one did it, because no one did it. Until they did.

That’s the trouble with 🐢. They aren’t engineered to Flop. Yet.


I recently joined Ed Kless, host of the Sage Advice Podcast, to talk about all things digital marketing. (Well, an eight-minute dive into digital marketing.) Listen in!

Happy National Sock Day!

If you’ve been in the audience when I speak or train, you know I love a question-asking-question-answering-all-in-engaged audience. And one of the ways that I “reward” people for their participation is to give away socks—they’re brightly colored, polka-dotted, cozy and high quality.

They’re unforgettable.

During two sessions I recently presented about the client experience at Schwab Impact 2017, I passed out about three-dozen pairs of socks. Yes, three dozen! (Well, the sessions were three hours each.)

Since I can’t give you socks today, I thought I’d share some of the homework and treats from that presentation, titled Out Care the Competition: How to Use the Power of Brand and Client Experience to Differentiate Your Firm.

  • AP Stylebook Cheat SheetI’m a fan of consistency in all things related, including words and punctuation. A clear set of rules makes all the difference. (Not unlike an Investment Policy Statement.) Professional writers and journalists use a style guide that outlines the “rules” about grammar, punctuation and more. I’ve grown up using the AP Stylebook, which contains the nit-pickiest writing and punctuation rules you’ll ever need to know. No need for that book just yet. To help you get started, I’ve created an AP Stylebook Cheat Sheet. Use it to put the final touches on your RFP responses or pitch book. As an example, are you consistent with your use of serial commas? What about setting numbers, such as “ten” or “10”?
  • If something is worth doing, it is worth doing intentionally. Even the quality of paper you select for your business cards matters. (What does a wimpy business card say about your organization?) Early in my career I was a graphic designer. I always knew that the feeling of paper mattered, I just didn’t have a scientific reason why. And then, when researching material for my client experience seminar, I found some very interesting work on the neuroscience of touch.
  • Finally, I love a good hack. To get you off to a good start for 2018 and beyond, I’ve created My Favorite Things, a short list of resources to help you hack your visual brand. In it I list some of my favorite marketing resources, such as Canva and iStock, just for starters.

Here’s to a lovely December. And here’s to celebrating National Sock Day wherever you are.







Boo! Marketing is Scary

At the Excel 401(k) Conference this past week, I taped an upcoming episode of the Retireholi(k)s. If you’re not familiar with them, think TPAs, ERISA and beer – discussed by a group of passionate and prepared Southern California types from Plan Design Consultants. The show is there way of adding value to the advisor community – without another boring webinar.

They’re a disruptive force in our world of 401(k) marketing.

As we chatted about two specific marketing concepts I’ve been exploring – on being unforgettable and out caring the competition – the topic of marketing and fear was discussed. As an example, every time I push the send button on one of my these emails, to a list of 7,000+ industry professionals, it takes an act of courage.

Courage to be different, courage to think different and courage to act different; courage to feel like an impostor and keep doing good work. The impostor board meeting in my head goes something like this:

  • Who am I to put myself ‘out there’ as a marketing expert?
  • Why would anyone care what I have to say?
  • What might happen if I make a mistake?
  • OMG, what happens if someone doesn’t like me?

But I take a breath and just push send.

I often hear that compliance is the biggest hindrance to doing good marketing. My challenge for you is to peel that onion a tiny bit. Chances are, you might be wondering if your work is good enough to share with the world.

There are two books that tackle this subject head on; about feeling the fear of creating and creating anyway. Check them out.

The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? by Seth Godin

War of Art, Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield

During our taping, JD Carlson shares a very similar feeling regarding marketing and courage. I’m certain you’ll enjoy the conversation. Once the episode is live, I’ll post a link here on


See you soon?

I’ve been on the road a bit, speaking at a variety of industry events and meetings. In a few weeks, I’ll be in Chicago discussing all things branding and client experience. I hope to see you there. (Or, book me for one of your events.)

Schwab Impact 2017: Out Care the Competition: How to Use the Power of Brand and Client Experience to Differentiate Your Firm

Happy National Coffee Day!

Starbucks didn’t create the coffee culture; there were plenty of places to get a cup of coffee before they started. What they did was turn a once-upon-a-time purchase into a daily ritual for many of us. (Short Flat White anyone?) When Howard Shultz bought the Seattle-based firm, he shifted our idea of what coffee could be. No longer simply slopped into a cold white cup as an afterthought; its preparation was handled with craftsmanship and care, the star of the show. Now, those drinks with the fancy Italian-sounding names – once thought to be available to the rich, famous and educated – were available down the street.

When speaking about the world of branding and client experience, I often use the Starbucks example of moving from a commodity to an experience. They welcome you into a hip “third place” – sometimes knowing your drink as you walk in – usually with a hand-selected play list in the background, greeting you with a scripted request, “What can I get started for you today?” It is evident Starbucks thinks about every inch of your journey.

And, you’ve likely seen that happen in other industries – computer retailers, book sellers, shoe peddlers and theme parks come to mind. Even banks understand the significant and value of focusing on client experience.

Have you considered your client’s experience? Have you mapped their client journey?

What do they experience the moment they engage with you? As you plan for 2018, my recommendation is that you begin to map that experience.

Here’s a starting point: Do you have a client welcome package? Rather than simply throwing paper at them to sign, is there a way to acknowledge their trust in you and your services before digging into the work? For now it could be simply a handwritten thank you note. You could eventually move to a sweetly packaged gift that includes a note. (Hey, maybe an artisan coffee mug with some locally roasted beans?)

What about having your phone number on the front page of your website, rather than behind a Contact Us button? How does your inbound voicemail message sound? Do you help them beyond their financial lives?

While compliance can be a hindrance for some marketing efforts, many of these “wow”able moments can happen outside of the compliance bubble. Need inspiration? Look outside of financial services. Pay attention to your own customer experience. Look for an extra special interaction. They are often tiny and might even seem inconsequential until you see how they add up to create a unique connection.

Need even more inspiration? Download my Brand Touchpoint Audit Checklist.

See you soon?

This fall I’m headed out and about to speak at a variety of industry events and meetings. I’ll be discussing all things marketing from branding, digital and client experience. I hope to see you there. (Or, book me for one of your events.)

Excel 401k | Las Vegas, NV | October 22-24, 2017: Behind the Curtain, A Day In The Life of a CMO and Next Steps Discussion: Elevating Branding & Marketing

WIFS 2017 National Conference | Minneapolis, MN | October 25 – 27, 2017: You Are Who Google Says You Are

Schwab Impact 2017: Out Care the Competition: How to Use the Power of Brand and Client Experience to Differentiate Your Firm

Dear Ary: You’re right, except…

Recently ERISA attorney Ary Rosenbaum wrote a great post, Marketing For Plan Providers: What It Can Do And What It Can’t. In the article he mentions a variety of not-marketing tasks and tactics that every business must consider before marketing. These include ideas such as finding a target market, creating a company culture, providing an exceptional client experience and more.

And! I agree wholeheartedly with the ideas he outlines with one exception: EVERYTHING is marketing. Well, let me explain.

Recently, I presented a two-day Deconstructing Digital workshop for a group of advisors at Cetera. Yes, two full days of helping them get their arms around the world of digital marketing and social media. And, I’m certain they were expecting we’d start the first day with a predictable PowerPoint presentation about Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn. Nope! In fact, the first full day was discussing everything that Ary points out in his article (as not marketing). And, you know what? He’s right. It isn’t marketing; it is branding. But they are two peas in the same pod.

On the first day:
• We discussed the necessity of a heart-centered message.
• We dove into the courage it takes to serve a niche.
• We explored the experiential economy and how customer service links to client experience.

If brand clarity does not exist at the outset, marketing will not succeed. It will simply be noise—and noise gets you nowhere.

I say this to many advisors and organizations who seek my help: Branding must begin with asking yourself, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” Deciding this, and having the courage to see it through is a deeply introspective and soul-searching experience.

Great branding starts with your customer’s story—not your own. It appeals to their heart rather than their head. It makes people feel like they belong. It gives them something to believe in.

Out of this work comes creating your marketing strategy and tactics to find the right people; creating and delivering the right message; and developing solutions that serve them in the right way.

Marketing’s role is to help an organization connect to people in an emotional way to build influence, elicit trust and serve sales.

Marketing is pretty much everything.


If you’d like to get a list of the homework I give folks to help them think through their brand and marketing strategies, simply text the word SHOEFITTS to 33444. I’ll send along some treats and inspiration from my presentation Your Brand, Your Business, Your Bottom Line.

One other tip: How did I know Ary mentioned me in his story? Google Alerts, of course. I have one set for my name and my firm name, in addition to other hot topics. Need help on creating your own “listening channel”? Here’s a helpful article I wrote for NAPA-net.

A Study in Disruptive Marketing

JD Carlson’s LinkedIn profile photo looks like a mug shot; long hair, lots of facial hair, no smile. The hero image on his profile is a photo of him surfing. In the world of same same same, he is different. In fact, he is unforgettable.

I’ve followed JD and his firm for some time. Obviously when someone’s profile photo is radically different it stands out. (I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a mugshot for everyone, but for JD it works.) More importantly, I’ve admired his use of the social world from afar. His firm, Plan Design Consultants, is a content creation powerhouse with a video series, an ongoing blog and a very active social media presence.

Several weeks ago, while at the Excel 401k Conference, I had the opportunity to see JD and his team in action. Video camera, microphone and lights in tow, they marched into the opening night cocktail reception with a ready-made quiz, filming contestants and awarding tickets for winners as a way to drive traffic to their booth. (1. Great idea for some fun content. 2. Great idea to drive booth traffic.)

Their booth was also set up for video – somewhat like an Ellen DeGeneres set – cozy couches, lights, cameras. During the event, they filmed interviews advisors and industry influencers about various topics; likely their favorite one, “Why Your TPA Sucks.”

Here’s the interesting bit, many folks at the conference asked me, “What do you think about them?”

“Frankly,” I said, “Guess what? They’re disruptors. They’re conversation starters. They’re asking different questions. And you’re talking about them.” “That is exactly what marketing should do.”

Marketing should make you unforgettable.

Obviously I’m a fan. But, let me outline, from a marketing geek perspective, what they’re doing right.

Authentic Branding: Dr. Seuss said it best, “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Their brand is true and unique. Absolutely JD could show up in a suit and tie. But that isn’t who he is – or how he chooses to move around in the world. (Note: He did wear a stylishly hip jacket and jeans at the event, he wasn’t in-your-face surfer.)

Tribe Clarity: They are uber clear on their tribe. Financial advisors. They aren’t trying to be all things to all people. They aren’t marketing to advisors AND CPAs AND employers. Nope. Only to advisors. And their content and singular intention shows.

Thought Leadership: In his book, Influence, Robert Cialdini lists six ways humans influence other humans. Authority, consistency, two of his principles that come into play with a thought leadership strategy. Rather than simply saying they are thought leaders, JD and his team consistently show up in a teaching and smart-sharing capacity; bringing useful information and new ideas to their tribe. (Oh! FYI: There is nothing worse than a singular blog from 2014. What does that say about one’s ability to be consistent in their business dealings?!)

The content they create is valuable and insightful. It isn’t just for show. It is helpful, thoughtful, and credible. And smartly, they distribute their content through a completely separate website,, focused entirely on the most important link in their distribution chain, financial advisors.

In addition, their consistency helps builds upon Cialdini’s similarity principle. Similarity is the “know-like-trust” principle or my favorite word, propinquity; the more you’re around someone, the more they like you and trust you.

Multichannel Approach: In a nutshell, they are creating content in a variety of formats, a website filled with hands-on resources, videos (which also speak to the second largest search engine in the world, YouTube), a blog and social media activity. Social activity not only in the form of pushing their own content, but supporting others. Their video series, Retireholiks, is equally as authentic and disruptive. The team gathers on a couch, discusses issues facing advisors and the retirement plan industry and drinks beer. (Along with a bit of additional fun and games.)

Sure they could create white papers and webinars. (Yawn.) But those aren’t disruptive or innovative in any way! Sure their efforts take time and energy, and likely a bit of bank. Are they serving their tribe?Are they creating buzz? Are they having fun? Are they appealing to their ideal client? Likely so!

What might you do to shift your marketing to the status of unforgettable? How might you step out and be bolder with your brand and your messaging? Or, how might you show up more human and authentic – as a full person, beard, surfboard and all?

It’s Not Business. It’s Personal.

I’m sure you’ve seen them. Posts on LinkedIn where folks admonish the individual to move their comments to Facebook – or another more ‘appropriate’ social platform. “LinkedIn is a business to business (B2B) platform,” they write. “Personal content belongs somewhere else.”

Surprisingly, the B2B world should be more personal and create more emotion.

In a recent research effort brought together by Google and CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council, marketing research firm Motista surveyed over 3,000 B2B buyers looking for insight into whether they purchase in a logical manner; a manner driven by process and devoid of feeling. The research offered up very interesting results:

B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers.

This actually makes perfect sense. B2B buyer’s jobs or organizations may be on the line with a purchase. They may be taking on enormous personal or professional risk. (B2C purchases are rarely career ending.)

Over the past six months, I have been speaking on the subject of branding. Specifically how the power of an emotionally connected brand brings real value to a financial advisor’s bottom line. “A well-executed brand and brand experience increases the perceived value of the services one provides,” I tell them. Well-executed brands garner love, trust and respect. They shift clients from static to ecstatic, who are now willing to talk well of you, and even pay more for your services.

The financial services industry is obviously a challenging place to build a brand. Put simply: we are in a PR meltdown. And the recent fiduciary rule underscores the underlying lack of trust. (In fact, the Edelman Trust Barometer reports that financial services continues to remain the most mistrusted industry in the world.)

People buy from people they know, like and trust.

We’ve known for years the value of a personal introduction or referral. Unfortunately this approach to sales and marketing is simply not scalable. Advisors wishing to move from an organic growth mode to an intentional growth effort must tackle the trust issue head on. This effort begins with a deeper look at their brand and brand experience.

In an upcoming book, Brand Admiration, the authors define brand admiration as “the psychological state of mind of customers who develop a meaningful connection with a brand.” They write that, “an admired brand maps to customers’ own needs, goals, and sense of self.”

Unfortunately, that’s difficult for most financial advisors to translate. It seems that they most often focus on the F word; forms, facts, figures, funds, fiduciary and fear! This approach does not translate into trust. In most cases, it creates a disconnection. No one comes to a conversation with an advisor begging to discuss fiduciary issues.

What to do now?

  • Back up and start from the beginning. Spend time remembering why you’re an advisor in the first place. What piece of your heart sings when you work with clients?
  • Consider your brand from an alternate perspective. Walk outside your office and walk back in as a prospective client. What might you feel and do?
  • Build a foundation of messaging that embraces an individual’s emotions and stories about money—ultimately building trust. We are our stories and feelings, not forms, facts and figures.
  • Get brave and courageous. Be willing to step outside of what you ‘think’ people want to hear from an advisor. Step into what you want people to ‘feel’ about you.
  • Know that we are also visual beings. Stop using imagery that makes no sense to your target market. Considering reaching out to Millennials? Skip the compass and map. Give up on the bank columns. And, avoid Cialis commercial models at all costs.
  • Believe and trust that a well-executed brand will bring value to the bottom line. This effort will take time. In the interim, read the research! An admired brand has deep resonance—that translates into real brand equity—with a direct impact on a company’s bottom line.

Learn more ways to create an unforgettable brand

P.S. Still don’t like those personal posts on LinkedIn? Instead of being annoyed or complaining, simply click the drop down arrow in the upper right corner of the post and select hide.