Differentiation through Vertical Integration and Personal Interaction
July 17, 2019

Notes from the Show

In this episode Susan Tatum sits down with Craig Hall, Founder of Marketing Wiz to discuss differentiation in the Wealth Management Space.

Craig shares his expertise and discusses the role of automation in branding a business, focusing through positioning, and a narrow targeting which leads to a more human interaction with your clients.


Intro: You’re listening to Dare to Differentiate, a podcast for business owners in crowded industries who want to learn how to rise above the noise. In this show, we focus not on doing everything for everybody, but on doing a few things for the right people with excellence. So, if you’re ready to leave the herd, then you’ve come to the right place. Let’s get into the show.

Susan: Welcome back. I’m Susan Tatum, and today I’m talking with Craig Hall, the founder of Marketing Wiz. Craig, welcome to the show.

Craig: Thank you for having me.

Susan: It’s a pleasure. So, we’re talking about differentiation and focus, and you have what I think is a well-differentiated marketing agency. So, can you spend a few minutes here just telling us about Marketing Wiz and how you started the business and how you ended up focusing and what you’re doing now?

Craig: Yea. Yeah, so, it has been a journey and I think that’s the key point to make. So, today, we’re a small boutique agency that specializes in the wealth management space. And, you know, you and I started connecting based on the subject of focus. That didn’t come overnight. For many, many years, we were working in multiple industries like a lot of agencies similar to mine. We were working in healthcare, higher education, technology, and man, and many other verticals, including financial services and wealth management space.

And, you know, I was just struggling to kind of find that path to say, “Here’s a model, here’s what our buyer looks like, here’s how we can differentiate ourselves,” and fortunately, I was working with a couple wealth managers and registered investment advisory firms at the time and I just really liked it for one, and I said, “You know, here’s an opportunity.” And so, I basically made a commitment about three years ago to say, “We’re going to focus all of our efforts on building our capacity, our team, and becoming experts in wealth management marketing.”

And it was a really tough decision to make, and even after making it, there were many times where I was potentially second-guessing myself and doubting it. But now, we’ve kind of reached a point where the decision is who we are, and we are differentiated within the wealth management space for being highly focused on helping independent wealth management firms. You know, we help them with their marketing, we help them think through who they are, how they differentiate themselves, strategy of marketing execution, but focus is extremely hard for all of us, and it is definitely something that I can say is worth the investment, so to speak.

Susan: What do you see as the advantages of being focused?

Craig: Well, I think there are a few. I think one is positioning and differentiation within your marketplace, but one of the things that I didn’t necessarily I guess realize that would help us focus is just in our team. You know, when we’re bringing on content developers, when we’re bringing on graphic designers, when we’re getting people in social media, it helps us really identify who we need to bring on, and content developers have to have an experience in financial services, right? Or else this just isn’t going to work.

So, just our entire service model side, it has helped us significantly. And that wasn’t something I really thought of when I said we’re going to focus on this. I was focused on, A) I really, really liked and aligned with the people I’m working with, and B) I saw it as an opportunity because it wasn’t a highly crowded space.

Susan: So, you got your first clients in that wealth management area by accident or luck? You didn’t start off saying, “I want to go after these guys.”

Craig: No, we didn’t start off that way. I’d say really it was through – so, I guess whether it was accident or luck, but through personal relationships that we had, and then we started working with one and then we started working with a couple and we said, you know, we really enjoy working for them, they align very closely with my worldview. For those of you who may not know, the independent wealth management space is, we’ll call it 30, 40 years old. It was born out of some very successful wealth managers in the wire houses, which are the UBS’s, the Morgan Stanley’s, the Citi Bank’s, the big names that we all kind of know, and they decided to leave.

So, back when I was, you know, a kid basically, they decided to leave and go a different path, and it was one to pursue what they called fiduciary standard, which is you have to legally put your client’s best interest first. I don’t want this to get about the nuances of that, but that’s not true across the larger financial services industry. And that’s something that’s really, really important to me: adding value and doing the right thing.

So, we aligned well philosophically in worldview and, so far, all of our clients are just really nice people to work with, so that’s an added bonus, and there’s a mutual respect that they have for professionals.

Susan: Interesting. So, what do you find the biggest challenges then with the customers that you’re working with and helping them to differentiate?

Craig: Well, I think the biggest challenge is potentially this idea of the fact that it’s somewhat of an early market, right? The investments in all business operations (not just financial or not just marketing) are kind of new in the sense that industry, this subset of a larger industry hasn’t been around really long. So, original founders, they built their business off of lots of relationships, networking, client referrals. The second generation is coming in and they’re starting to make investments in all this. So, one of the biggest challenges is just getting them to understand that you need to make investments in this.

But kind of back to the whole idea of differentiation, it’s teaching them that they are their differentiator, right? The people, their ideas. And it’s true for my firm, it’s true for your firm, it’s true for anybody listening. What differentiates us in what is a fairly commoditized world – our clients are commoditized, our services are commoditized, right? Or they can be unless we differentiate on some value that’s different than the commodities that we service or deliver. And that true differentiation is in our people, our ideas, how we think, and our worldviews, and that’s the thing I find really exciting because we all connect with people in weird ways and you just either connect or you don’t.

Susan: That’s really interesting because you’re right. I mean, especially when you’re selling a service, it is all about you, and so, personal brand becomes extremely important, doesn’t it?

Craig: Oh, for sure. And that’s where digital is, I think, amplifying that because having that human connection and that human experience is in some ways becoming much harder and harder to get with so many organizations large and small trying to hide behind the technology, trying to automate everything. And I’m a big guy for automation and I love technology and we’re constantly helping clients with how to figure out how can you automate aspect of your sales process and your marketing and whatnot. But it’s got to be done to support people.

And I think that’s one thing that’s really getting missed in a lot of organizations, which is I think an opportunity for everybody listening, and it’s how do we put our people and our ideas out there to be human in our interactions? Social media, I mean, your expertise on LinkedIn, how much of that activity is not human? And I’m guilty of it sometimes. I mean, we post things because we know we’ve got to be active, but is it our true, authentic voice? I’d be lying if I told you it always was.

Susan: You know, you hit on certainly something that’s near and dear to my heart. It gets worse every day I think with, you know, the posting on status updates of blog articles and things like that. I get that. I mean, it’s broadening of your awareness and reaching more people or whatever, but these applications that are now automating, sending out connection invitations, and the messages that are supposed to be one to one messages that you’re sending to people is just beyond me. I’m like you, Craig. I appreciate technology; I grew up in the technology industry. But you can’t replace human interaction when it’s a one to one thing.

Craig: No.

Susan: And so many people are trying to do that. I’ll stop going on here in a minute.

Craig: No, please.

Susan: But I did have a sales consultant say to me that we’ve actually reached the point where being human becomes a competitive advantage. And I agree.

Craig: Yeah.

Susan: I think he’s right. But let’s delve into. Little bit more about – you’re talking about you, or the firm owner or the subject matter expert, as really being the point of differentiation.

Craig: Yeah, and I think that kind of also might extend to your core team immediately around you. But I do think that, yeah, in a small agency (and that is a varying statement, but let’s call it anywhere from six to 20 people), the founder, the owner, the managing partner – whatever phase that agency’s in – is the one driving the marketing, is the one driving the perception from clients. You know, you’re on a lot of calls, you haven’t grown to a point where you’re not actively engaged in client services, so you’re shaping strategy. You’re infusing what you think, and oftentimes, we’re the ones that close the deal.

So, people bought us and how we think and the way we’ve structured our team and the people we’ve put around us. So, yeah, the owner, the founder, whatever we want to call it, managing partner, their ideas and who they are and how they differentiate themselves is what makes you unique. The fact that we do web design and we do graphic design and we do print design and we do email marketing and we do data analytics, I mean, we all get about a dozen emails a day from somebody trying to sell us that, including me. So, it’s all very commoditized and you’re kind of like, “Ah, another one?”

So, how, when you talk and connect to people, are you different? And one of the ways we differentiated was also going down the path of a vertical. So, we can become very, very deep and knowledgeable within, you know, one specific industry set, and that’s been helpful as well.

Susan: Yeah, because then your clients perceive that you know their industry better and you can speak their language. I find that the more narrowly we target and audience, the more you really can connect with them because you don’t have to be – the broader you get, the more generic you tend to get it seems to me, in a conversation anyway.

Craig: But, you know, the interesting part about that is – so, for other people listening, and I know one of the big things is focus and that’s kind of out we got connected and started talking a little bit, is it’s really hard – I don’t care if you’re selling marketing services, accounting services, architectural, whatever it is. It’s really hard because, as small business owners, you know, you see a project and you see revenue and you’re like, “Oh, man. I can do that and we’ve got a relationship.” So, there’s always that idea of, “Hey, this is a $30,000 gig. We could get it,” and it’s always kind of pulling at you up to a certain point to say, “Should we go and pursue that?” And keeping that focus is really, really hard.

And I think it’s hard for a lot of pragmatic reasons for small business owners, too. It’s just, you know, you’ve got to make a decision to cut people off and pursue one thing and be really comfortable with that decision and committed.

Susan: Well, so, if an opportunity comes to you and it’s outside of the realm of what you’re focusing on but you know you can do it – like, take the example you had: it’s a client from way back that you had a relationship with. Do you say no, or do you say, “Okay, it’s opportunistic. We can help these people, we know that we like them, let’s work with them.”

Craig: We maintain relationships that we’ve established and we have a number of them that before making this – you know, one thing that I can say is that we’ve been very fortunate with long-standing relationships. So, we maintain those relationships, but at this point, we don’t pursue engagements outside of the wealth management space.

Susan: Right. How does that affect your referrals from, say, existing clients that are outside of that area?

Craig: I think most of them know at this point, you know. We still add a lot of value in that, but those outside of the wealth management space, they’re not sending us referrals. We get referrals within the wealth management space, and I think that’s a reflection of our marketing and the fact that we really have gone all-in on it. So, it hasn’t really impacted us, per se, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be some conflict or challenge for others.

Susan: Yeah, it just sort of popped into my head about what happens if one of your existing clients does refer somebody that’s not in wealth management. I guess you just kindly explain to them that, “This is where we’re headed. Thanks, but –“

Craig: I’m trying to think. It might’ve happened early on. It seems like there might have been some and, you know, I do remember the first time that I kind of replied to somebody and said, “No, this is outside of our area of focus,” and, you know, I considered that a big moment because it really was the fact that we had really committed and I was living up to that commitment. Because initially, I said we were doing it and yet, I’m still exploring other opportunities. And it really took a point, and I can’t remember the exact point, but I was just like, “You know, we’re going to build this and focus on this and continue to build our capacity and our ability to be deep, deep experts in this one channel,” and that’s what we’ve done.

Susan: I guess it helps if you’ve got clients in that channel that are saying, “Here’s why we chose you,” or at least who are working with you and you begin to build your expertise in that area and get more comfortable with it.

Craig: Well, and I can say that I think that’s the toughest part is how do you go from saying – because it takes a while to really ramp up within, you know, one specific vertical, both from a capacity point of view and from a name recognition and referrals. But I can say now that we continually are validated in our decision because we hear, “Hey, we decided to go with you guys because you know our business.” Right?

And knowing their business isn’t just knowing marketing; it’s knowing all the different things they deal with on a day to day basis. Their time is split across multiple business functions that aren’t like what you would see in even my business. And we know that they have compliance concerns, they have regulatory concerns, they have investment management issues, they have a technology stack that’s kind of unique to their business, and we don’t pretend to be experts in those areas, but we do know those challenges they face and where they intersect with how we help them.

Susan: Yeah. You’re dealing with people who are not dedicated salespeople, right? I do that in my business as well.

Craig: All the time.

Susan: They go and they bring in the new business and then they’ve got to deliver, which –

Craig: Yeah. No, I think that’s an interesting point. Yeah. You know, they’re financial advisors first. They’re investment managers first. So, they’re not necessarily salespeople, right? I mean, successful ones know how to sell, but their first responsibility is typically to their clients if they’re good, and as a fiduciary, that’s the first responsibility. So, as they grow, they’re more and more focused on client services and they’ve got to balance that new business development piece and, you know, that’s where it’s a challenge for overall growth across I guess probably every industry because taking care of clients is the number one priority. Finding new clients is equally important but it always somehow gets, you know, pushed to the side.

Susan: Yep.

Craig: If a client calls me versus calling a prospect, I’m going to call the client back nine times out of ten, especially if it’s something where they’re like, you know, “We really need your insight,” right? I’m going to prioritize –

Susan: Yep.

Craig: And my clients would do the same thing. You know, you’re going to prioritize taking care of your clients before chasing new business.

Susan: So, I have a question for you. I’m just thinking about when you were talking about the subject matter experts or the owner of the company or whatever being the really differentiating factor. Do you think that and expert, a thought leader, that someone else can create content for them? Or do they have to do it themselves?

Craig: I think someone else can create content for you, but under a caveat that you have to take the time to spend with that content creator, right? So, it’s not like, “Write me an article on how data can be used to make decision.” Would you just post that on Upwork or nDash or some of these other platforms and say, “Write me an article?” You’re going to get a very generic article.

Susan: Yeah.

Craig: But if you take the time to be interviewed and to shape the article so it’s your voice, I think you can have people support you in the creation of content that reflects who you are. But you still have to invest time, right? I mean, you just might not have to invest all the time or then you can have resources, whether that’s internal or external. But I do think you have to be a part of that planning process and part of the editing process, too.

Susan: I agree. I think because you’re saying that differentiating factor is this person and their point of view and their experience, and I understand and I agree with what you’re saying about where another writer or content creator can help you, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to have the guts to say what it is that you think and that’s really got to come from you.

Craig: For sure.

Susan: And that can come out of the editing phase, I guess. I don’t know. I think you’ve done a great – that’s sort of a great example of explaining why so much of the content that we see now is blah.

Craig: Oh yeah, and I think – and I think our clients think so, too – we’ve done a pretty good job of helping clients do that. And one thing I find, even we’ve written some white papers and I’ve done some stuff and kind of tried to, you know, eat our own dog food. Dog food in big technology is, you know, doing podcasts and doing things like that is part of that. Through that process and being part of the editing, you can get your voice infused in it, but it’s always easier to start if you’re working from a draft.

Susan: Right.

Craig: And we’re busy people, right? Business owners or anybody who’s servicing clients at a high level, we’re busy people. So, you need somebody who can talk with you, and typically, most of us who work with clients in this environment, you could ask me questions and I can fire off very quickly. And even though I’m a good writer, I set down to write – and I think we all run into this with the exception of maybe there are a few people who would operate differently.

But I ask a client a question, they’ll go on in great detail and great exposition about their points of view and their experiences. I say, “Wait, write that down.” They’ll kind of like stutter and they’ll say, “I’ll do that later,” right? And they’ll never do it. But if we take and try to – and I have done this sometimes for myself – let other people kind of do what we’re doing: take and write it down, and then as long as it’s close (if it misses the mark, it’s really, really difficult), you say, “I can work with this. I wouldn’t say it this way, I’d say it this way.” And you can make quick work of it.

Writing from a white sheet of paper can really be a barrier to getting your ideas out into a written form anyway.

Susan: That’s interesting. You know, I find myself going back and forth because I’m definitely more of a writer than a talker, but like you said, there are certain things, topics that I can just riff on for a long time. But sometimes, you know, it just depends on how your mind works, doesn’t it?

Craig: Well, and I think that’s the important thing. We each are different in that way, and we process our ideas differently and I think that there’s no one-size-fits-all and that’s where the human element comes in.

Susan: Absolutely. So, what kind of advice or maybe just some tidbits that the listeners could take if they want to start getting on the path of focusing or differentiating?

Craig: Well, I think those are two different. So, differentiation I would say – and again, this is hard, too, but differentiation is starting to find a channel and, as small business owners, it can be challenging. Even marketing firms. You know, for many years I would argue we weren’t doing a lot of what we’re preaching, where at least now we’re making time to do some podcasts and get some white papers and do some videos and do those things. But differentiation, you’ve got to share your ideas. I mean, you just have to find a way, find a channel, find a voice. For some, it’s podcasts. For some, it’s writing a blog. For others, it might be doing short articles on LinkedIn and just finding a way to get those ideas out there and then share them with people who you would service.

I guess that bleeds into focus, right? So, who would you share them with? You know, and that’s why focusing is so important because when you write generic articles or you create a generic piece on whatever, it’s tough to say, “Ooh, well I think –” when I look across my – just take LinkedIn. Across my LinkedIn connections, they’re not all the same, right? I find like everybody has the same need and the same industry, struggling with the same challenges. So, who is your audience? And I think it’s brave to focus, it’s hard to focus, it’s challenging to focus, but pick an area that you really enjoy, that you wake up in the morning and you say, “I have fun working with these types of people, helping them solve these types of problems.” Whatever that is to you, right?

Like, start there is really what I would say. You know, who do you like to work with and what challenges do you like to help them solve?

Susan: That sounds like great advice to me. So, if the listeners want to get in touch with you, if they want to keep up with your content and what you’re doing, how is the best way to do that?

Craig: I think probably the easiest way is to go to our website, MarketingWiz.co, and then you can certainly connect with me on LinkedIn. I’m pretty responsive. Maybe tag that I was on Susan’s show because I don’t necessarily always accept people I don’t know. But there are a lot of as you say automated sales activity that sometimes I may ignore, but I’m always open to connecting with people regardless of what industry they’re in, share ideas, experiences.

Susan: Craig, thank you so much. This has been really interesting and eye-opening, and I know our listeners are going to get a lot out of it. So, I appreciate your taking the time. Thank you.