Marketing made simple, with Roger Edwards
When it comes to marketing, there’s an awful lot of BS out there.
There’s a huge gulf between ‘practical marketing’ and what’s taught in business schools. Thinking about the Boston Matrix or Porter’s Five Forces still leaves me with a glazed over expression.
My podcast guest today is at war with marketing complexity.
Roger Edwards has been helping people with their marketing for over 25 years.
He started out in Big Corporate and eventually worked his way up to Marketing Director, heading up some of the biggest brands in UK financial services.
In 2013, Roger decided to leave Big Corporate and set up his own business to help smaller companies to use digital marketing to grow their businesses.
Right now, Roger is putting the finishing touches to his first book, and in this conversation, we discover why he’s so passionate about simplicity in marketing.
If you switch off the second you hear marketing buzzwords or ridiculously high-level strategy with no grounding in reality, then this episode is for you.
Here’s Roger Edwards, in season two, episode two of the Financial Planner Marketing Playbook.
Welcome, Roger to the Financial Planner Marketing Playbook podcast. For those of us that don’t know you – and I’m sure most people in the financial services profession do you know you – but for those that don’t, perhaps you could start by just telling us a bit about you and about your background and who you are.
Well, thanks Martin for inviting me on the show. Really good to be here. Well, my career is been in financial services mainly, but I’ve mainly been focused on the marketing side, so even though I’ve always been working for predominantly product providers with props, a bit of a focus on either investments or protection. The roles that I’ve been taking have been the marketing roles. I’m not an actuary by training, in fact sums as I call them numbers is not my strong point. It’s been marketing right from the start. And I left university, I did a degree which had a marketing element but, and I said, I want to get into a marketing role.
And the interviewers will say, Oh, the trouble is you need a bit more experience in marketing before you can get a marketing role. And your degree was that only a subsidiary. So you’re in a bit of a catch 22 situation. You need the experience but you haven’t got the experience and the only way you can get the experience is to get the job. So the plan was to get a job in a company doing something else, learn about the industry. And then I got a job working for an insurance company in the Lake District. It was called Provincial Life, Provincial Life and Pension, actually it was called Prolific Life and Pensions. I worked there for about 18 months and an opportunity came along and I moved into the marketing department, gradually working myself up from I guess marketing assistant to marketing director right at the end before I left big corporate.
I sort of got a bit fed up with all the bureaucracy, Martin and all the complexity and, and most, most what I got fed up with was the politics and an opportunity came this is actually six years ago now to leave what I call big corporate now set up on my own as a marketing consultant and focus on helping probably smaller businesses to embrace marketing, digital technology.
And I know outside of work as well you’re in the fitness industry. So that’s another side to that was brings your bro.
That’s right. I I teach I teach a class called Body Combat which is like an a, an exercise to music class based on martial arts and also a yoga version called Body Balance. But I am also a qualified, fully qualified yoga teacher, which often takes people by surprise because it’s such a completely different thing.
But I originally got into that, Oh gosh, 15 years ago I, because I was traveling up and down the UK doing that marketing role, spending a lot of time on airplanes or trains, eating a lot of rubbish, not exercising. My wife dragged me along, says body combat class one day and I sort of really fell in love with it and set myself a challenge to become an instructor and it just sort of became a second career, which is a bit weird. So sometimes I’d be, I’d be working in a marketing room all day in and out of meeting rooms. And then at 5.30pm I’ll be out the door, down the road to Bannatines teaching a combat class. It’s a bit a bit weird, a bit weird but interesting as well. You mentioned a moment that one of the things you didn’t like about big corporate was the complexity and bureaucracy and things.
So I know you’re on a bit of a mission on you to combat complexity within the marketing. What’s on, tell us about our mission.
Yeah, this goes right back to when I started. One of the first projects that I got involved with was the development of one of the first critical illness policies in the United Kingdom. Now of course critical illness policies are well established now pretty much everyone offers one. But in those days it was quite a limited market. I got involved in the project and the company bought in this fairly expensive consultancy firm, you know, one of the big global consultants. And this I, the guy who did the, the project was almost like a caricature of what you would expect one of these global consultancy people to be, you know, the big braces, the flashy suit. It was like Gordon Gecko, sort of lunches for wimps type thing.
And honestly, Martin, there’s the language that came out of this man’s mouth all the time was just jibberish. It was jargon, it was management speak and you know, it was all about idea showers and strategic staircases and, and all. And I remember at the, towards the end of the project, we’ve been brainstorming, we’ve been doing SWOT analysis and pest analysis, millions of posted notes on the wall over there and then moving them all onto flip charts over here. And he stood up and he said something like, we’re doing well, but we now must finesse the paradigm to achieve maximum alacrity and still thinking what? And, and it just seemed, it was that one moment I, it sort of set off this sort of radar thing in my head. And ever since that day I’ve almost like had this BS detector built in. And as you know, financial services is a relatively complicated industry to start with.
You don’t need all of this clap trap next, sort of lay it on top of it. And, and, and ever since then I’ve almost just have this radar for, for this complexity and jargon and it’s been a mission for me to try to eliminate it from communication, from product and from process. Go along to a conference and somebody stands up and says, we must change the paradigm and what the hell does that mean? It’s a product I guess or an offer, isn’t it? But we just seem to be blighted. And I know it’s not just financial services, the it industries and other example. But complicated language to me implies that everything else will be complicated as well. Processes will become complicated, the products will be complicated. Just getting stuff done will be complicated. And, and I’ve always used the language that is used as a pro, as a proxy for everything else so she can get the language simple.
It’s likely, it’s not a guarantee, but it’s likely that you’ll be able to get everything else as well.
Yeah, and I, so that’s a really good point. I studied marketing at University as part of a business degree and I remember it was always about Boston Matrices and sort of theoretical stuff and it’s enough to put you off the subjects of marketing because we know day to day the practical elements of marketing and not about the theoretical bits and not about what they teach in business school.
It’s about doing it joy and that the simpler you can make it often the more effective it will be. Particularly when you layer it with that financial services complexity. You see examples all the time of financial services marketing done in a complex manner. Yeah, I mean you, you only need to open a website or you know, even even companies that still send out brochures, some of it is just impenetrable now and obviously policy conditions arguably have to be legally watertight.
I guess we could even challenge whether that’s actually required. There’s no, there’s no awareness that this is actually going to be confusing for the customer. I always tell this story. One example is I put together a brochure, I think it was, it was, it was advertising, some sort of investment vehicle. And we took it out to research and the, it was one of those rooms where you have a one-way mirror and you can watch the peep or King, but they can’t see you because you’re sat behind the mirror and they just hated it. They said it was jargon-filled, it was complicated, it wasn’t engaging and they just didn’t understand it. And so I took it back and said, well, we’ve really got to work hard on this. Look to help from the plain English society, got copywriters to have another go at it.
And we then took it back to research and consumers actually said, yep, it’s engaging. I do understand it. I might even think about taking one of these hours. And they’re right at the last minute. This was the executive team came back and said, we don’t like the second version. It’s too chatty. It’s not professional in inverted commas. And we don’t want you to use this. You’ve got to use the first version. And you’re sitting there thinking, well, people told us the first version was claptrap. It was impenetrable, couldn’t understand it. The second one they said they would engage with it and maybe even buy and you want me to go back and use a Roach. That’s what we did. And of course it wasn’t very successful. I’m not saying it was just down to the brochure, but that was obviously part of the problem.
What, why, why do you think it is?
And the, it’s often a bigger companies. I know in some smaller regulated firms to see this, that there’s this disconnect between what the consumer wants and would understand and would appreciate what we think is professionals we have to put across in our messages and our communications. I think there are, there’s, there’s all sorts of things. If the company that you’re working in has many people who have to sign documents off, then you tend to get this sort of like document creep. So you might have a marketing person who writes something that’s actually quite understandable, but then there’ll be a legal person who isn’t just going to sign it off because it’s legal or not. And then you might have an accountant or an actuary who isn’t just going to check it for the accuracy of the numbers. They’ll want to put their own stamp on it probably hasn’t got the guts or the process to say, sorry, it gets signed office if it’s legal, not if it’s legal and you’ve put your own stamp on it.
You know, I remember having conversations with legal people saying, I’m not signing this off. And I’ll say, well, is it legal? Yes it is, but I wouldn’t have said it like that. Well, that doesn’t matter if it’s legal, it gets signed off. So I think that’s one of the problems. The other is, is that word professional, you know, what does professional mean? I guess in some cases, unfortunately in financial services, professional means lots more verbose language, jargon management, speak passive sentences, which is another of those awful things that just isn’t engaging for consumers and it’s horrible, but it seems more professional. I think it’s those two things is sign off or, or copywriting by committee and this illusion of professionalism that seems to suggest you need complicated language.
We put a website live for a Financial Planner client last week and it had to go to her compliance officer in a large network before it was allowed to go live and it’s come back. It came back with zero changes recommended. I’ve got to print out and frame that email because that never happens ever. Maybe he was having a bad day or something when he signed it off, but it never happens. As you say, there’s always some input from different people, particularly compliance people, legal people that wants the message and distorts the process. [inaudible] But that’s good. That’s good. And hopefully, you know, ultimately we want people to engage with us, buy our products and surely if the language is easy to understand, then people are going to be more engaged with them. And if it’s complicated and even from a compliance point of view, you know, sign it off if it’s easy to understand, as long as it obeys the rules, it’s fine. And it doesn’t have to be complicated to obey the rules. Now you’ve very kindly shared with me a beta copy of your new book.
So the dropping your new book, which, which I’ve started reading love some of the stories in a lawful process, but tell us a bit about this process you’ve developed, this model you’ve developed, which is offer-goal-activity.
Okay. And running with the theme of keeping things simple and I guess compressing what’s the quite complicated maxing process into a more simple framework? Yeah, I think the whole idea started again, it’s, I suppose it goes back to that consultant guy who said finessing paradigms all those years ago and he’d been through the, what would I would call the academic model of marketing. And you’ve already alluded to some of it there. You know, the academic model of marketing includes customer orientation. You’re going to do consumer research, you’re going to come up with a position for that particular segment. Then you’ll go away and think about your your strategy, the goals that you’re going to put around that segment.
You’ll work out how you’re going to distribute it and then you’ll come up with some promotions or communications, advertising, whatever you want to call it. Now that really does sound complicated and it’s fine. It absolutely works. And you know, multinational companies use that academic model and it’s legitimate. But I think that it scares people away, especially people who haven’t got a background in marketing and approach and running their own. Com isn’t thinking about doing the marketing side that either themselves part time or, or hiring somebody to do it. Who might, who again may not have that academic background, so the challenge for the book was really to say how can I turn all of those things that I mentioned starting with consumer ending with Brown and really the first part of that is coming up with the offer I. E. working out who your customer is or your client working out what their problem is and then coming up with solutions to that problem, which is hopefully better or different than everything else.
Now answering those three questions I’ve just said, there is the same as PEST analysis Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Boston grids that you’ve mentioned before and all the academic stuff, but you can get a really good grounding by answering those three questions. Now again, a lot of people don’t set goals whether it’s we want to make X amounts of profit, we want to have X amount of market share, we want to get certain number of people, a certain number of units, whatever it might be. A lot of companies don’t sell, set the goal, but if you’ve got an offer and you’ve got a goal, then you can move on to what I called the activity phase and the activity is the advertising, email, digital, whatever it might be and what I’m hoping will happen as a result of this book is that on the one hand people will realize that it can be done easily and you can, you can squeeze all of that academic stuff into a simpler model, but also that marketing isn’t just about the communication.
There’s and, and this is something that I guess maybe you share this as well given the fact that you did a marketing degree yourself, Martin, but to me these days you go to a conference, you know, big marketing conference and it’s all about Twitter marketing they say or or video marketing podcast Mar, it’s all really just how do we use this platform to communicate or or worse, how do we use this platform to bombard our potential customers with loads and loads of crap when in fact marketing is all about understanding the customer, working out their problems. Coming up with a product or service that meets that need and then start to communicate with them. And I do, I do worry that these days the marketing profession is almost becoming devalued by this and this intense focus on just the communication element.
It’s difficult though, isn’t it? Because the communications bit, the tax six, that’s the sexy, exciting stuff. And the strategy, and I put, I admit that’s a weakness of mine. That’s why I’ve hired people in this business who are good at the strategy, who are good at coming up with the big picture. And I love jumping in and, and you know, launch into podcasts and building the websites and doing the social media and things because
That’s the bit where I see the immediate results and get the real like gratification from. So I understand why there’s a draw.
So that side of the marketing equation, I absolutely agree and I’m the same. You know, I love the, I love doing the video. I love doing the podcast as you know. I mean I carry my camera around with me everywhere I can. The Bright Grey days. We had a, we had a blog called the Uncovered Blog, which was, I didn’t even know it at the time, was probably one of the first examples of content marketing in the financial services industry, and it wasn’t after I’d been doing it for a few years, I realized, Oh, this is what Marcus Sheridan has been going on about or whoever it was. This is content marketing, so yeah, I mean if a new app comes along, you know, I’m in there, what’s tech talk, what’s, what was Snapchat few years ago.
Yet we get seduced by the toys that unless you’ve got the strategy, then the tactics ain’t going to work. And if the solution is what you’ve said, get somebody else to do the strategy for you. Fantastic, but never, ever don’t do the strategy. That’s a very good point that you see lots of examples of Financial Planner, financial services, marketing, so types. You could share with us some of the stuff you’ve seen that you think, yep, they get it. That’s what it’s about. That really works. And then the bits you really love out there. Yeah. Again, I think that if you look at a lot of Financial Planners, marketing, it tends just to be what I would call a a shop window website which may well just be, you know, the name of the company, perhaps a few photographs of the, of the, of the people who work there and a contact telephone number or contact email and that tends to be it.
Identifying who the customer is and going through that process of working out what their problem is and what their solution to that problem is and then creating a marketing campaign around that particular product. For those particular people, whoever those people are that you’ve identified are going to have all sorts of questions about your product and the product is always going to be financial advice, financial planning or financial coaching and building your, your marketing around that concept. Answer those questions by putting together videos or blogs or articles or eBooks or whatever it might be, populate website with that stuff and it’s engaging because it’s not actually in your face. Appetising it’s telling people in a engaging way what you do and hopefully you won’t scare them off by doing the alternative, which is just to badly target a load of emails or adverts that just interrupt them and annoying them.
And to me there are the, you know the, there are more and more Financial Planners out there doing it really, really well. Pure Financial Services up in, up in Yorkshire. Now it’s interesting because they’ve gone through this whole identification of the customer. Now they are a protection specialist and a lot of people would say actually, you know, the true protection market is a very small part of financial services, but these guys are gone even deeper and targeted only people who’ve basically been redacted by life insurance companies for whatever reason, how’s it as occupation or preexisting illness, something like that. They’ve made it their job to focus on that path of the market and they’re doing remarkably well because they’ve identified that particular customer, their entire offer around Mar and then they’ve gone out and they’ve produced videos, they’ve produced articles, they’ve done social media all around that particular offering.
And it’s remarkably successful. And I know that some people might say, Oh yeah, but if we all do the same sorts of thing then it’s like there’s no point launching a podcast. Cause Martin already does a podcast and Roger already does a podcast and the Pete Matthew’s got absolutely so not well if you focus on your particular area, there’s loads of people that are going to be engaged by it. It’s just a question of saying who is it that I want to target? And then building your offer and goal and activity around that.
Yeah, that’s a really key point. Oh I heard that. Last year at a conference and some financial planners and they were saying, well I was going to start a blog, but I realized it would be three more years before I had enough content to make it worthwhile it. Well there will also proverb, you know, the best time to plant a tree was a hundred years ago.
The second best time is today, and I just, if you haven’t started already, it’s never too late to start.
Particularly if you can find that niche to service to really identify the clients who are going to provide value for and do something meaningful for them and do it consistently and do it well. It’s never too late and I think as well, going back to the whole conversation about complexity of language and all of those sorts of things, when you work in an industry like financial services, well actually when you work in any industry, whether it’s cook cakes, motor manufacturing or financial services, there is a language of that industry and when you work in that industry day in, day out, you learn how to speak that language fluently, so we always have to assume an absolute zero level of knowledge. Now if you say, okay, I’m going to assume that the next client that walks through my door knows absolutely nothing, then the question, what is financial services might seem like the bleeding obvious towards the work in the industry every day, but to the man on the street, they probably haven’t got a need, a definition or what is an investment bond or what is a a critical illness policy.
These are the relatively jargonistic terms. Even creating a piece of content or a blog or a video, whatever it might be, unstring that basic question, then that’s going to be engaging. So I don’t buy this idea that because of the people who are doing content and other people are doing videos and podcasts that I can’t do it. I think there’s plenty, plenty to go out. I think if there’s one takeaway from this conversation, stay there. Monetarists financial planners listening, don’t assume anything is too simple. You know, if you want to write a blog about the absolute basics, go for it because there will be an audience for that. They will appreciate that you’ve stripped the complexity out and you’ve taken it back down to the foundations and made it very accessible for them because very few people do that. Absolutely. And, and I think that you might get accused by somebody of teaching granting [inaudible] well, the fact that you might be able to engage people who would never have been engaged by a financial services company before has got to be worth the risk of upsetting the odd person who might get a bit grumpy because they think you’re, you’re telling them the bleeding obvious because most people, it isn’t the bleeding obvious.
Roger, thank you for joining us today. Before I let you go, we’re going to finish up with a bit of a rapid fire round. Just sort of, Hey, get inside that brain of yours and see what’s going on there. So firstly, what’s the best book you’ve read recently?
This is it. It’s called Exactly What To Say by Phil M Jones. I saw Phil speak at the Youpreneur Summit just at the end of last year. Now it’s a little bit sort of Jedi mind trick. He uses words in the dos and uses words in emails to sort of just influence what people, people’s reactions to them. So you could argue that he’s playing with people’s minds and he’s, you know, he’s, he’s using language to calm people, but actually it’s very, very subtle. And, and to me it just opens up a whole conversation about how we use words and it goes, it’s going back to what we were talking about.
If you can use words to put things across simply then and it will make people take action. And I think that’s a very good thing. Know it’s okay to psychology as long as you use it for code.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Once upon a time, somebody who was very kind said that they thought that I look like Bruce Willis. This was when Bruce went into his sort of bald headed stage. I never really bought that. So probably not Bruce Willis, but there was a British actor who looks very similar. It’s called Keith Allen and he’s got a British accent and he’s actually got more of a Cockney accent. And I think that probably would be the one other job.
iPhone or Android?
iPhone. iPhone. Every time.
Good man. What’s your favorite brand at the moment?
At the moment, my favorite brand is Easyjet.
I like the orange color. I always have done and I do quite a lot of traveling still and I’ve gone for about, it’s getting on for about 95 flights with easy jet now without any problems, delays or issues. So to me, for a 25 year career of traveling where British Airways have happened, be diverted, canceled, whatever, you can say I’m on a roll with easy jet, which I’ve probably ruined by naming them. But you never know. I hope not. It’s actually what they can see. Oh, she lost last few times with them. I’ve had a good experience to touch with us and to consider you.
You’ve given us loads of insights in this podcast, but if you could give just one piece of advice to our listeners, what would it be?
I think actually listeners, the word is, listen, when you ask that question, who’s our customer and what their problems are, it’s all about sitting down and actually listening to what they say.
Now. I think actually the most Financial Planners would agree that they’re incredibly good. You sit down, you ask questions, and then you allow the client to tell you about their circumstances. What you tend to find is that people will ask a question and as soon as the customer opens their mouth, their mindset is has either moved on to the next question or they’re only hearing what the customer is saying without actually listening to what the customer is saying. And it’s when you listen that you hear the insights. If you only hear what they say, you’re going gonna be missing the insights. So always listen.
Great stuff. Roger. Thank you for joining us. Where can we find out more about your work and get in touch with you, that sort of thing. The website is rogeredwards.co.uk and I’m mainly on Twitter and social media. I am on LinkedIn and all the other stuff, but Twitter’s my favorite and that’s at roger_edwards.
Lovely. I’ll make sure we put in our show notes, links to your website, links to the Twitter. Of course when the book comes out later in the year as well. We’ll share details that Wallace miss too. Fantastic.
Great stuff. Martin. Really enjoyed our chat today.