WASHINGTON -- In a crowded market like financial services, the truly successful professionals are those advisors who can cultivate a fiercely loyal, devoted client base, says advisor marketing guru Maribeth Kuzmeski.

"What you need in your business is not a couple thousand more fans of your business, it's a couple more," Kuzmeski, president of Red Zone Marketing, said in a presentation at the Financial Services Institute's Financial Advisor Summit. "A couple people who know how good you are and are willing to go out and tell everyone about it."

Kuzmeski focuses on how advisors can differentiate themselves from their competitors, eschewing run-of-the-mill selling points like years of experience, certifications and client support. Not that those marks don't count for anything, but to Kuzmeski, they fall into the category of features, when what clients really want to hear from their advisors are the benefits they can expect from the relationship.

"The problem with suggesting that you're going to do it better is that nobody believes better. It goes in one ear out the other. ... That cannot be our way of differentiating ourselves," Kuzmeski said.

"We are not describing ourselves as good as we actually are. How do we do it better?" she added. "The question is what makes you unique."

The answer, the way Kuzmeski formulates it, is what she calls a "simple, repeatable statement of value." Put another way, it would be the rare answer to the inescapable question, "So, what do you do?" that would actually spark a conversation, rather than abruptly ending one. Kuzmeski cautions against self-identifying simply as a financial advisor, instead urging people to develop a pithy descriptor that identifies the focus of the practice in a way that's relatable for investors.

Based near Chicago, Kuzmeski offers the parochial examples of the advisor who explains that his practice manages investments for some of the wealthiest clients in the Windy City, or the one who says he specializes in high-level executives with Abbott Labs who are nearing retirement, which would likely resonate with similarly situated employees of, say, Motorola, or other area businesses.

One of Kuzmeski's terms for this marketing approach: "exploit your uniqueness."

"You've got to answer the question why should the person care," she said. "If you don't do something different, you will be a gray suit against a gray wall."

Likewise, for smaller, independent advisors, she cautions against taking the generalist approach in the marketing materials promoting the practice. For instance, firms that advertise that they cater to "individuals, families and businesses" aren't making a pitch that's likely to resonate with any specific investor.

"When we say that, 'you work with individuals, families and businesses,' whom have we left out?" Kuzmeski asked rhetorically. "I want to know that you can work with me. I don't want to know that you can work with everyone."

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