Lessons learned from 20 years in the business, Part 2

Tina Haapala |

This is the 2nd installment of musings on the 20th anniversary of my firm, Personal Money Planning. Today I want to talk about marketing. Even if you don’t run a business, marketing impacts you. We are all the targets of someone else’s attempt to connect us with things we need or want. That’s marketing.

Back when I was relatively new to the investment business and to the area, I was confident that what I was offering (financial planning and investment advice) was something that many in the area would want.

It appears that sentiment was correct. Today, I manage a lot of money for a lot of people, and since they pay me for this I think it is safe to assume that they want what I am offering. But these clients didn’t come out of nowhere.  As with any business, you must get your message to your potential customers, otherwise you are going to fail. So, instead of being a retirement planning and investment management firm that markets, we act like a marketing firm that happens to help people with retirement and investing. That’s how important marketing is.

There’s a saying that 90% of all the money spent on marketing is wasted; the catch is that no one knows what the magical 10% is. At least not ahead of time. For instance, can you tell me the last 10 television commercials you saw? Or did you get a snack or fast forward the DVR during them? How many direct mail pieces did you open, and of the ones you did, how many did you discard once you realized it was an ad? And tell me, did you look at any of the displays from merchants on the previous page of this paper?

Still, you got information about your current car from somewhere, decided to shop for clothes at that particular store for some reason, and went to your dentist because somehow you determined they were the right match for you. That magical 10% may have landed on you.

The next problem is the same for businesses as it is for consumers: knowing your potential marketing match will work for you. In a business’s case, numerous marketing services appear constantly, assuring us that they are the ones that will work best. It’s up to us to discover which ones will deliver, which ones won’t and which are just rip-offs. No one has the time or money to try them all and few have the resources to even test them all. So, we do what we can with the time and the staff we have, and pay attention to the results.

So my lesson here is to know that no single aspect of marketing is the answer, either as a consumer or as a business. Any answer you find true today will not be sometime in the future. Even with all that confusion and probable waste you’ve got to make your best guess. Give it time to work and keep monitoring and adjusting. And enjoy the time when the marketing match works.