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Tribal warriors

Intermediaries should consider new marketing tactics to engage with target clients

Everyone who owns and runs a business will know they must give regular thought to which clients or customers they want and whether they have the resources and skills required to satisfy the needs of the target client base. Once you know this, you can set about truly understanding them, their needs and what it takes to engage with them, earn their trust and do business with them.

This principle of knowing your specific market and engaging deeply with it is one that has been adopted by more than a few successful businesses.

The old world of mass advertising or interruption marketing was pretty much the only game in town for many years if you wanted to make it big. Interrupt enough people – however you do the interruption, posters, TV, radio, magazines, etc – and you will hit your target because an appropriate (often small) percentage of them will go on to transact.

It is a costly and poten-tially dangerous model to pursue at a time when people increasingly resent and do not have to accept the interruption.
The more sensitive and, for many businesses, more profitable, approach is to secure the permission of a specific group, tribe or hive to tell them about the things you have that you know, through your engagement and understanding of the tribe, they are likely to want.

I read a piece in the Financial Times recently describing how Jack Wills, so-called university out-fitters, took just such an approach to target reasonably affluent teens and those in their early 20s. The company shuns advertising in favour of social media and organised events and its approach is far removed from the interruptive blatant brash TV campaigns of mass market products.

To its credit, one of the company’s founders states that it adopted this route because it did not have enough start-up cash to pursue the more common mass advertising model. If it did, it says, it probably would have.

However, having experienced the power of permission marketing – a phrase coined, I believe, by marketing guru Seth Godin – it is not about to go back.

Another part of the strategy founded on developing a tribal following – see also Tribes by Seth Godin – is to put grassroots at the centre of everything.

Jack Wills set about being seen as part of the fabric of the group it identified as its market, thereby gaining permission to market to them. In particular areas, long before it opens a shop, Jack Wills engages with those who are likely to be in a position to influence and who are part of the segment it wants to eventually do business with.

For example, three years before it opened in the US, a group of eight cool, young boys and girls were paid to hang out and drive around in branded Jack Wills jeeps. The company also set about organising and sponsoring the right events that its crowd would be interested in.

About 220,000 Facebook and Twitter fans apparently tune in to watch the sponsored events online. Jack Wills appears to have taken a seriously long-term view with its non-marketing campaigns and is not seeking to, as one client said to me, “boil the ocean”.

For financial advisers aspiring to do business with business, this kind of approach may have some useful lessons. Knowing how business works, knowing what business needs and knowing what business cares about will be a critically important starting point. And this should not be difficult.

The person seeking to understand (the financial planner) will often have the most valuable empathy possible – these concerns should also be their concerns.

Many will also seek to become, or will already be, part of the business community in the geographical area where activity is to take place.

Taking the effort to be visible in the local business community, and perhaps leading thought with relevant articles in the local press or at events, can properly position the business owner as someone to trust. As a result, all important permission to communicate with the tribe is likely to flow.

The business seeking to communicate through this permission needs, however, not to be seen as overtly self-serving. So a strong degree of subtlety and authenticity is essential.

In the context of many of the financial planning strategies, a financial adviser may be equipped to talk about, this will be helped if advisers can honestly talk to clients or potential clients about similar issues they have faced and how they dealt with them.

This will be particularly necessary in relation to business insurance challenges. The need to inspire clients to take action through the creation of justifiable anxiety over the financial damage that could occur if precautionary action is not taken will be strong.

Using your own business as an example is often a great starting place. I would encourage all you business owners wanting to do more business protection to start by auditing the sufficiency of your own provision. It is possible there will be at least two valuable outcomes from this.

First, you will either expose risk in your own business or be reassured you are protected. Second, you will have a legitimate and realistic starting place to communicating with your target business clients.

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