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Driving Digital and Communicating Effectively with Samantha Russell and Matt Nollman

In this episode, Jack Sharry talks with Samantha Russell, Chief Evangelist at FMG Suite, and Matt Nollman, VP of Marketing at LifeYield. The two share their expertise on all things digital communication.

Six years ago, Samantha’s husband stumbled upon a problem with seemingly no solution. Every advisor at a firm had an identical web presence. So he created Twenty Over Ten, an easy-to-use website platform for financial advisors. Sam hopped on board to lead sales and marketing and when Twenty Over Ten sold to FMG Suite, Sam shifted to Chief Evangelist, or, as she likes to think of it, Chief Educator.

Matt began his career in tech startups before joining LifeYield and working to expand the company’s digital reach and online presence. Matt also aligned LifeYield’s marketing and sales with its strongest revenue stream and spearheaded LifeYield’s shift into enterprise. Both Samantha and Matt understand the importance of reaching people through effective communication and taking digital risks.

Samantha, Matt, and Jack discuss why advisors should become educators, why marketing can no longer be an afterthought, and the most impactful (and surprising) marketing strategy for firms, advisors, and beyond.

What Samantha has to say

“Digital marketing no longer should be a line item that kind of gets whatever is left in your budget. If you want to grow and grow intentionally and find the clients that will be the best fit for your business, you need to put your money where your mouth is.”

– Samantha Russell, Chief Evangelist at FMG Suite

Read the full transcript

Jack Sharry: Thank you for joining us on WealthTech on Deck. This is where we talk with industry leaders about the future of digital and human advice. Much like I do every day with people around the wealth tech space, you’re about to listen in on a conversation where we are going to talk about enabling advisors and their clients and firms to enjoy improved financial outcomes for all. So today, we’re here with Samantha Russell, who’s the Chief Evangelist at FMG suite. She’s one of the leading industry voices on marketing for financial advisors and firms. We also have our own Matt Nollmon. Matt is the VP of Marketing at LifeYield and has dramatically elevated the digital experience that light field provides our investors, advisors and firms. These are two people I pay very close attention to when it comes to conveying a message in our financial world through digital means. So Samantha and Matt, thanks for joining us today.

Samantha Russell: Thank you so much for having me. Glad to be here.

Matt Nollman: Thanks, Jack. It’s nice to step out from the producer role once in a while.

Jack Sharry: While you’re wearing two hats, but glad both are happening.

Samantha Russell: And Jack, I’m sure people tell you this, but you have such a good podcast voice.

Jack Sharry: Well, thank you. Thank you who knew? Who knew it as we like to joke and Matt was ever the millennial and I am ever not that actually one of our colleagues said when we talked about doing this idea. I said, But Jack, you’re not a millennial. So I guess only Millennials are supposed to have podcasts? Well, I’m a baby boomer that has finding that trend. So but thank you, I appreciate it. So Samantha, tell me like to hear about your journey. I know it’s interesting. We chatted a little bit before, how’d you get your start? What led you to go from 20 Overtown, your prior company to FMGS? We’d like to learn about that. And what is your role as Chief Evangelist at FMG suite look like? Post-acquisition. So, tell us about yourself.

Samantha Russell: Yeah, so a little bit of backstory for those not familiar 20 over 10 was started just about six years ago, my husband Ryan Russell was one of the co-founders. And he is a professor of design at Penn State University and really just sort of fell into discovering this problem. It was actually probably about eight years ago that he noticed it when he was working on a design project it with a financial services institution that all of the individual reps or advisors affiliated with that firm had basically the exact same web presence. So the same website, same photos, same verbiage, just a different logo slept on it. And he thought that was really weird and started digging into it and learned a ton about compliance and how it was really difficult, especially you know, almost a decade ago, to have a digital presence and remain compliant. And this was right about the same time that Squarespace if anyone’s familiar with that or Wix or Weebly, all of these kind of drag and drop modular approach website builders were coming on the market. And he said, you know, this would be amazing if we could build a model where it was this really easy to use website, platform, but for financial services and keep them compliant. And so he set out to do that it took about two years, with some of his co-founders to create it. And then when they were ready to go to market, I came on board to help with sales and marketing. So we were really small team. But just in about five years, we grew from the four original co founders and myself to a team of 36 people. And just this past November of 2020, we ended up selling to one of our biggest competitors FMG suite. So my new role at FMG is Chief Evangelist. And really what that means my mom was joking, she was like, Wait, did you leave marketing to join some religious organization? She was so confused. But you know, if you look at a lot of the tech companies out there, they have these Chief Evangelist roles. And it’s because when we’re talking about emerging technologies are emerging markets. There’s a lot that people don’t even know, right. So to get them to think about using your technology to solve a problem, they first need to learn about the problem and learn about possible solutions. And there’s a lot of learning that goes into it. So my job is to educate, to talk about these emerging trends. And then take a lot of the feedback we hear from advisors on the ground, their home offices, and bring that back to our product team so they can develop better products to serve our audience.

Jack Sharry: Great. I’m gonna ask you some more questions and a little bit but just a note to our audience who are used to hearing people that are developing strategy for wealth tech platforms or for wealth management firms. We purposely invited Samantha and asked Matt to join along because as I mentioned a moment ago, to the brightest lights I see in the industry about communicating about all this stuff. We live in a digital world, especially in this time of COVID. I mean We’re all online staring at our phones and computer screens about what we’re going to watch for that night for Netflix, where we’re going to order out, but it’s all online, everything’s online. And, and these two really get it in a business where I think that’s going to be really important as people embrace and adopt more holistic solutions to help their clients. But it all happens online and how we communicate? Well, we’ll talk some more about it in just a little bit. But for those tuning in St. Where’s the strategy while you’re listening to it? So Matt, talk a little bit, if you will, you have an interesting background, you’re relatively new to financial services after having done a number of startups, but you’re definitely a digital native. So when he does a little bit about your background as well.

Matt Nollman: Sure, thanks, Jack. So I got my start working at a few different tech startups and different industries. Those experiences really gave me a solid foundation of marketing knowledge and a real understanding of the technology systems that we need to succeed in marketing today. So more recently, I managed social media and a pretty high paid content, promotion budget across all social channels at Putnam Investments, which is where I got my start in financial services and where I got my real understanding of the advisor audience. And that’s what led me to life field where now at lead field, I lead our marketing efforts across our brand, our website, email, and newsletters, social media content, paid ads, Account Based Marketing. And as Jack alluded to earlier, our entire digital experience. And so far, it’s been an amazing ride. And I’m really excited about the work that we’re putting out this year.

Jack Sharry: And we’re going to talk about a shift that we’ve made it life healed from have largely focused on the advisor to one focused on the enterprise, which serves the advisor. We’ll talk more about that in just a little bit. But we have to if I could back to you, as you merge with FMG suite, talk a little bit about that organization. I know there’s some history behind that some people might be familiar with that might provide some context and talk about the transition some of the things you’ve learned, and then where do you where’s this all going? This communication thing, this digital experience thing, talk a little bit about what you found and what you’re learning and where you think it might go?

Samantha Russell: Yeah, so some listeners might be familiar with a company called Emerald that was around forever ago, Craig Faulkner was the CEO and founder of that, and that platform was actually sold to Broadridge, which some of our listeners might use, or their advisors might use, and which is a competitor of FMG suite. So after Craig had sold that company, a few years later, he started FMG suite. And the idea was to go beyond just providing websites, but to really think about all of the tools hence the name suite, the suite of tools that people would need to have an effective digital presence, we’ve really pivoted a lot. We work with a lot of enterprise organizations still, but we also work with a lot of just individual advisors. And I think one that’s such a huge benefit to us. Unlike some other organizations where they’re really thinking always about the enterprise, you Well, that’s a good thing, obviously, you want to think about the enterprise. Ultimately, the enterprise is trying to best serve the individual advisors that make up the enterprise, right. And so when we’re able to hear and work with a lot of those individual advisors who actually have to use the software, we get the best feedback on not just what’s going to make the home office’s you know, compliance easiest, but what’s actually going to move the needle in marketing, because a lot of the strategies firms have used for a long time. You know, they they’re not working anymore. People are too smart on social media, they can identify when something wasn’t written by the person sharing it. And it seems really canned and not authentic. So we’re seeking to solve that problem to make communications both compliant, but still impactful and producing ROI.

Jack Sharry: It’s really just a follow up if I could, as I’m, my whole life is digital. At this point, I even text my wife when she’s sitting next to me, this little bit of a joke, but not far off. But that’s where we live. That’s how that’s where we are in terms of our communication, if you just expand on a little bit about being effective in communicating, I mean, that’s ultimately what this whole Confluence is we call comprehensive digital and human advice. It’s about being effective in communicating complex topics. So how do you advise advisors? Matt, I’m gonna ask you a variation on that for enterprises, but specifically for advisors, how do you be effective in communicating so that it moves the needle? So the investor has a better outcome? The adviser offers a better offering, comprehensive offering. So talk a little bit about that. How do you how do you advise on that? How do you show them how to do that?

Samantha Russell: Well, yeah, people will sometimes ask me, like, what’s the number one hire I could make for my marketing team? And I’ll often tell them a great copywriter because writing copy that engages your audience is one of the biggest parts of the battle. And I think when we’re surfing social media, when we’re looking in our inbox when we land on a website, think about our own behavior. We know Long we don’t read texts online, the way we read it in a book or magazine, we don’t read every line, we do the scroll and scan, as I call it. So you need your copy to be incredibly engaging, short and sweet. It should be written so that a sixth grader would understand it, because you don’t know that people are going to sit there and take a lot of time to read it. So you need to catch their attention. You need to always be writing with the What’s In It For Me mindset. So as I’m on social media, I’m thinking why does this pertain or matter to me, and that’s what you’re thinking about Max thinking. So always put yourself in the mindset of what the other person is thinking. So instead of, you know, I just wrote this blog post about market volatility, you would say, does all this market volatility? have you wondering what to do with your 401k? And I might say, Yes, it does. I want to read that, right? So always thinking about how can I craft my message so that the person scanning social media, their inbox, whatever is going to say, Oh, yes, I was just thinking about that this morning, this person is talking to me spot on.

Jack Sharry: Brilliant. So Matthew, talked a little bit about that, because you when you joined us, it’s been a little over a year at LifeYield, you’ve accomplished so much so fast. Our initial orientation was data, we drive at advisors, and we signed up for 400 RIA firms, we really had great success. We found though, that it’s there’s a lot of complexity to the need a lot of hand holding, given the complexity of what we do and how we do it, and so forth, just the nature of a holistic approach to manage your wealth. And so what we determined is to focus on enterprises who have the wherewithal, the capital, the staff to build platforms to make it better whether those platforms are called Morgan Stanley, or Merrill Lynch or Orion, or invest that we want to make it easier for the advisor to be able to do what they do, using our capabilities, along with many others, because we’re not the one and only although we would argue we play a vital role. That all said, I know you’re a big fan of being effective in communication. I’m sure you have some thoughts on copywriting. So talk a little bit about that. And the different ways that LifeYield communicates its value and engages its audience.

Matt Nollman: Sure, actually, Jack, it’s been 18 months now. So it’s been flying by faster than faster than either of us, I think realized. But through, you know, our enterprise shift that we just went through really was about aligning our marketing and our sales efforts with our strongest revenue streams. That’s what it comes down to. And that’s what we did with everything in our marketing rebrand, our website redesign. And I would say, most importantly, our messaging revamp, we basically did it for clarity and conciseness. And like Samantha said, you want to be explaining it to a sixth grader, because people don’t just go there and read your paragraphs and paragraphs on your website, they scan and they find the bold items and the most important items that that are trying to solve their problem and whatever they came to your website to find, and then they move on. So for us, we wanted to highlight those problems that we solve more clearly, and in a concise way, and bring those to the forefront of our website, most importantly, and secondarily, all the content that we produce, and in a way that we’re now in a position to define a category, the term unified manage household or UMH has really been used throughout the industry for years for a long time, but only recently has it actually come to the top of all of these big firms, technology roadmaps, and everything that we create now maps back to this core problem that we solve and shows how we enable a unified manage household for firms and the advisors that work there.

Jack Sharry: Great, great. I’m gonna talk a little bit more about that communication channel thing that I know you’ve been working on. So I want to come back to if I could and talk a little bit more about this communication. I think we’re onto something here, I think this might matter. But talk a little bit about what you’ve learned what you share with your clients in terms about being effective and in communicating value and, frankly, winning business. How do you coach and advise and counsel your, your various constituents?

Matt Nollman: Yeah, so you know, there’s two things that I’ve really just taken off like a rocket ship two trends, I should say, especially over the last, you know, 18 months or so 2020 just put so much fuel on things that were already happening and made them so front and center, you can’t ignore them anymore. The first is what I call the digital referral shift. So for so long, even you know, even just a couple of years ago, people would still say things to me, like, I don’t have a website, or I haven’t updated my website in 10 years, or my websites not important because all of my new business comes from referrals. So it’s just going to be it just needs to be professional looking so people could bet me. What people don’t realize is that the way referrals happen today is completely digital, for the most part. Yes, somebody might get your name from a friend. But a lot of times somebody goes on Facebook and they post to their community group, hey, I’m looking for a financial advisor or somebody you’ve used and trusted, you know, who do you recommend? And then People will leave comments on that post saying, Oh, I use Jeff over here or I use Tina at Russell Wealth, and they’ll link to their websites or to their Facebook pages, and that person is not going to go and set up appointments with 30 people who’ve been recommended, they’re going to look at the websites or the Facebook pages for the firms that have been recommended, maybe look and see who’s doing the recommending that they trust the most. And then they’ll pick a few to set up meetings with right so that first impression that your digital presence makes, it makes such a difference, and whether or not you even get out of the running before the before the competition starts. And the firms that get this right, do something really specific, they make sure that all of their digital presence places online, their LinkedIn page or Facebook page, their website, most importantly, say the things that they would say, in a first meeting with a client or a prospect, right? So they don’t hope and pray like, oh, it’s not that important, they’ll call me and I’ll get to explain it, they make sure they explain it on their website and on their Facebook page so that they can even get that meeting. The second thing is, there’s a real trend right now, at least in the perception of the average consumer, that a lot of investment management specifically is really commoditized. Now, you know, doesn’t matter who you go to work with, you’re gonna get the same returns, whether or not that’s true, and I’ve been held to task on that. That’s a perception, right? And so what does it matter so much is whether it’s true or not, but whether people perceive it to be true. And so a lot of what firms are still trying to win business over is returns or how well they invest, or some novel way they do financial planning, where everybody’s saying the same thing. And so you really need to hone in on experiences, that is the big differentiator and the way to communicate, why someone should want to work with you?

Jack Sharry: Explain that a little bit more. When you say experiences, what is it that you’re, what does that look like?

Samantha Russell: Yeah, so like a great example, just the other day, I had an advisor tell me that for every one of his clients, he automatically offers now financial planning services for the clients, children until they’re 26, to coincide with when they get kicked off their parent’s insurance, right. So that is a benefit. How many of these parents are you know, talking to their kids about money and debt, and they’re not listening, or saving for the future or putting a certain amount of way. But to have a, you know, certified financial planner, or a professional person sit across the table from you and do it in a very adult way, is such a different, you know, model and mindset for these young people. And whether or not those the kids go on to be your client, you can bet your bottom dollar that those parents are going to be forever grateful to that advisor, and go tell all their friends about it. Right. So those are the type of things we want to hone in on.

Jack Sharry: Very smart, very smart, not surprised. So Matt, I know you and I have talked a good bit about this. We’ve identified eight communication channels life yield, as we know, hearing from Samantha and we know from others in the marketplace, so people get different information in different ways from different places. So talk about the importance of these channels that we’ve identified and what it means and what are we doing about? Sure.

Matt Nollman: So, for us, we have a very small lean marketing team. Two of them are talking on this podcast right now. And we only have one more. So for us, we really had to focus our efforts from the start and realize that we couldn’t be everywhere. But the reason that we’re able to be on eight channels is because we figured out a pretty scalable way to communicate across them in a way that works for us that and our audience is receptive to so I live fields, we really invest in organic, social, but mostly from our executives. As Samantha knows, it’s really important to enable your team and your people to talk about your brand, because people want to hear from people. And that’s one thing that we’ve adopted throughout all of our channels, and tried to put together in every communication and thing that we do. Additionally, we have this podcast, we have three monthly newsletters that all communicate to separate little areas of our niche audience. Some of them are only, you know, 50 or 200 people on the email list. But those are the exact people that we want to be talking to in a specific way. And so we’ve determined these little niche little channels and using the newsletter as a way to communicate to our three small, separate audiences. Additionally, we have our PR efforts. Were in the news fairly often, for a small company, I would I would say we’re investing a lot in SEO and developing our blog, paid media, webinars and hopefully soon events. So we’re really playing in pretty much every area and we kind of consider an air cover for all the things that we’re doing on the sales side. But the key thing here is that it’s not eight individual channels, you know, putting out their own marketing message. It’s all of them working together to tell our story and get our message out to the audience that we want to reach you.

Jack Sharry: And if I could amplify a little bit about what Matt’s talking about this is instructive for any talking for those that are in a b2b situation with us we’re our client list includes Merrill Morgan Stanley, Ameriprise, SEI, Northwestern Mutual, New York Life, we can go on and on, we have an extraordinary client list. And our focus basically are the C suite folks that make the decisions, the very senior level folks, it’s the people that are what we call the architect builders. They’re building the platforms that we work with on a day to day basis to include our, our software and their capabilities as part of a unified, managed household. And we’re also appealing to private equity investors and investment bankers. Maybe someday, we might be part of another organization, not unlike what Samantha was able to do, she and her partners. But the idea is where we know who our audience is, we know what they are interested in what they’re trying to achieve. And we speak to that. The way we characterize that our marketing position is that we play in traffic, we want to be in the middle of it, we want to be in the middle of the dialogue that takes place online takes place in social media, we want people to come to our website, when they get there know what we’re talking, you know, what we do and why it might be a value to them. We’re not trying to be all things to all people just to the people that matter to us, and why don’t we have a meaningful relationship and that way, another thing we do, that Matt touched on is that we find ourselves speaking a lot of these days webinars, but before conferences, and soon to be conferences. So we’re very actively involved with a number of organizations, the MMI, the next chapter, which is part of a magazine, Investment News, I chair the future of advice summit at investment news. So we’re, we’re in the middle of it talking and always trying to add value in whatever we do. How can we add value, whether it’s an advisor, it’s a firm, or it’s an investor, how can we add value, and that’s really all part of what we do. So part of that brief commercial, but frankly, it’s fun and cool, and we’re making a difference for our clients. So as we wrap up, I want to thank Samantha and Matt for sharing their perspective. Smith, if you would just share with us three key takeaways, what would be useful for our audience to to leave this maybe apply in their in their day to day, so if you chair have three of them the mat if you’d go next?

Samantha Russell: Yeah, the first thing I think, is just to really embrace the idea that this digital referral ship is actually here, it’s not going anywhere, it’s just going to amp up. And so digital marketing no longer should be a line item that kind of gets whatever’s left in your budget. If you want to grow and grow intentionally to find the right clients that are going to be the best fit for your business, you need to put your money where your mouth is, right. So we see a lot of financial advisory firms, the average is spending one to 2% of revenue per year on their marketing budget. But the growth firms, the firms that are actually adding new clients, more than they’ll they’re losing them, they’re spending about five to 10%, right. So it’s a huge difference in percentage. So that’s the first thing is, you know, be prepared to really put some budget behind it. The second thing is to get comfortable with it, whether it’s your own firm, or if you’re back at the home office, with your individual advisors, sharing more personal information online. So again, Matt spoke to this idea that people connect with people, not brands. And so whether it is an individual advisor, if it’s the CEO of your own company, you need to get people in front of the camera or on a podcast, you need to allow them to be sharing things on social media leaving comments, there’s still so many firms that I work with that the advisors will message me saying I’m not allowed to leave comments on any social sites, because they can’t be regulated and monitored, you know, you’re never going to grow if we don’t get with the times here. So that’s really important. And then the third thing would be just remembering that mindset with any of your communications, whether it’s for your own company for the advisors, you serve, have that. What’s In It For Me mindset that we all have when we’re being inundated every day with messaging and switching all of your messaging to be from a selling type of information sharing to a teaching type of information sharing,

Jack Sharry: Yeah, map before you go on, I can help reinforce something that Samantha shared. And I was just talking with a friend of mine who runs one of the largest digital agencies in the Northeast. And marketing was always sort of an afterthought, or over the past many years, it’s been almost an afterthought. And it really is, it’s a business driver. It’s really, I think, the most important business driver, it’s more important than sales. It’s more important than product. It’s more important than performance. It’s, it’s positioning, the value of your solutions in that orientation. So pardon my soapbox there. But Matt, when he talked a little bit about your three key takeaways from our discussion today?

Matt Nollman: For sure. So as marketers, we’re probably a little biased there, Jack, but at the same time, you know, it talks a lot about executing a lot of these market The activities right and measuring is important. And we’re definitely measuring as we go. But I think that the most impactful marketing activity or contribution that we did or created this year, won’t show up on the marketing monthly scorecard. And it is the clarity of messaging and the reworking of our messaging that we did. So my number one key takeaway from today is write for clarity, and not for buzzwords. The best feedback that we’ve received after launching our website is we really understand what you guys do now. And that was the whole point and the whole goal. So write for clarity, not buzzwords. Number two, even if you can’t directly measure or quantify the results, it is okay to start an experiment with a new marketing channel. This podcast is probably the next most impactful thing that we’ve imparted on or done this year for marketing. But the analytics are light, you know, we can only quantify downloads and listeners to it. But the conversations that it’s leading to and the insights that we’re able to uncover and what we’re able to learn from an about the executives and people that we’re talking to, like Samantha, the value of it goes far beyond what can be quantified and an Excel document. And then lastly, especially for small teams, you don’t have to be everywhere all at once. So start with one or two channels, and focus on developing those to the best of your ability. And only when you’re have a scalable process and more time and more resources. That’s when you branch into all of the other channels and start to have the full marketing, air cover across everything. But you definitely don’t have to be everywhere all at once. So don’t feel like you need to boil the ocean.

Jack Sharry: Great. Well, thank you both. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation and cap it off as we do. Each time we do a podcast, I’d like to have you both tell us something interesting or unique you do outside of work that people may not know about you and would find interesting. So Matthew, you want to start us off?

Samantha Russell: Sure. I don’t think I read that you’re gonna ask me this. So now I’m not prepared for I guess probably the thing that fills my time the most besides work is my two kids. So I have a five year old and a three year old and we love, love to be active outside. So we fish we hike, we just hiked Mount Whitney here in our hometown State College, Pennsylvania, we have a bicycle set. So we go bike riding. So we do all kinds of outdoor stuff. And then if I’m not doing that are working, there is a book in my hands, I read. I read 50 books in 2020, a little more than a book a week and all kinds of stuff. And it is definitely a passion of mine.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. Thank you for sharing that. And sorry to catch you off guard, but you recovered so beautifully.

Matt Nollman: That’s really interesting that so many books that you’ve read, definitely tops mine, I would say but anyone who knows me and who’s worked with me for longer than five minutes knows that I’m a huge Patriots fan. But my favorite sport to actually play is soccer. And I was a goalie for almost 15 years when I was younger and even won a state championship when I was younger. So played this sport for the majority of my life. And I have to say it definitely made me who I am today.

Jack Sharry: Great. Great. Well, thank you both so much. This has really been a blast a little bit unusual for our podcast. It’s still emerging, but we want to look at all angles of digital and human advice and how we all can be effective. So Samantha Russell, thanks so much for joining us today, Matt. Great to spend time with you guys. Look forward to the next time.

Samantha Russell: Thank you.

Matt Nollman: Thanks, Jack.