With research showing that 34 million people in the UK have access to the internet, it is a marketing channel that cannot be ignored. This, plus the huge growth in the use of email, means that today's technology provides a powerful new medium on which financial advisers can promote their businesses and generate leads.
The internet has 9,000 new users a day according to the above-mentioned research, which means a large and growing number of people who can use it to shop for financial products. The same survey showed that 57% of people searched online for motor insurance, 36% for a mortgage and 20% for an ISA.
However, given the complex nature of financial products such as pensions, mortgages and investments, most consumers tend to use the internet to source information before seeking professional advice and a face-to-face appointment. They also use the web to source financial advisers through websites such as IFAPs.
These days it's essential for financial advisers to have their own website. Creating a site can be as small or large a job as you want. For a few hundred pounds you can set one up yourself or for a few thousand, a specialist agency will do it for you. Once set up you will also have ongoing financial and resource costs to keep your site fresh to attract visitors and potential customers.
Website design should be driven by the target audience with the products and services you offer capturing and sustaining their attention. Navigating the site should be simple so visitors are able to get the information they want quickly.
Also, be sure to make it clear how potential customers can contact you – by email, telephone and post. You could also make it easy for customers to ask you to call them by giving you their details and a convenient time to call.
Once your website has been developed you need to make sure it attracts as many people as possible through search engines and directories. It's free to register with all the major ones including Yahoo, Excite UK, Google and MSN UK.
There are no set criteria as to how a search engine will index a website and each one has its own rules, so by including key words early in your opening paragraph you stand a better chance of being high up on the list.
You can also attract potential customers by placing banner adverts on other relevant websites with 'click through' links to your website. Avoid pop-up adverts as research shows these are not popular with consumers.
Email can be used at every step of the marketing process: retaining and cross-selling to existing customers, acquiring new customers, generating referrals, providing online servicing and undertaking research. The potential of email marketing should not be underestimated, it can be highly effective at the same time as being easy on your pocket.
Email offers a number of key benefits which differentiate it from the more traditional forms of marketing, including the ability to dictate the day and time the email arrives in the customer's mailbox. Email marketing also gives you increased knowledge of your customer and their responses. You can track if they received the email, whether they opened it and which links they clicked through.
If the customer has 'opted in' to receiving email marketing, they will be warmer to your offer than those simply given the option to opt out.
When building a list of email contacts you must collect data within the guidelines laid down in the Data Protection Act. It is important that customers agree to be marketed to in this way. With regard to email marketing, you can only use the data for the purposes indicated by the customers when they opted in. Customers must be able to opt out of receiving email at any time.
When designing your e-mail there are some important aspects to consider. Where possible, personalise the 'To' field with the customer's email address. Don't include details of the whole distribution list as this will impact on the privacy of the target group. Make the 'Subject' field interesting to capture the customer's attention and make sure the customer recognises who the email is from by including your business name in the 'From' field. You should also try to make your headline grab the customer's attention quickly and make the main copy readable, interesting, relevant and succinct. As a general guide, electronic copy should be 50% less than a printed version.
Include a call to action on your first and last screen offering a number of ways to contact you such as email, phone or in writing and encourage referrals (or even incentivise them) by asking customers to forward the email to other people who may be interested.
You can also personalise the email with the correct salutation and offer an 'Unsubscribe' option so customers can opt out from future emails.
The beauty of email marketing is the level of key management information that can be obtained. If you use a third party to send your email campaign, they should also provide summary reports on who received it and who didn't, who opened the email and who didn't and what sections each recipient opened. This essential information is not normally available in the more traditional forms of marketing.
As email is relatively inexpensive as compared to other forms or marketing, you can allow yourself the flexibility to test, measure and refine your communication to ensure you get the maximum response. Try different copy in the subject line, for example, or vary the time of day you send it.
Look at your competitors' websites and ask your existing customers what they would be looking for from the internet Don't forget that a website is a form of marketing and you need to keep it legal and comply with FSA guidelines Avoid lots of graphics and photographs as they can take a long time to download and this could put off potential customers Make sure you register with all the top search engines and include key words in the first paragraph on your website to ensure potential customers find you fast The law surrounding e-commerce, and email in particular, is constantly being reviewed and it is therefore important to keep up to date with all relevant developments Why not do an online newsletter for your customers, keeping them up to date with new products and services? This is relatively inexpensive and helps generate customer loyalty Avoid SPAM – Sending persistently annoying mail