Marketing Your Financial Services Company Online

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The amount of financial information available online is phenomenal. A recent search on AltaVista for "stock quotes" returned 532,926 relevant Web pages. Every site seems to offer the same things -- news feeds, personalization and investment advice. If you're a marketing professional in the financial services industry, how do you break through the financial clutter and make your company stand out?


Here are a few suggestions that might help:


* Niche marketing. One of the problems with financial sites is that they try to appeal to very broad audiences. How do you get around it?


Imagine that you are trading stocks for the first time. You need to get as much information as possible, not only about that hot stock your brother-in-law told you about, but general investment advice such as "What's a limit order?"


Now imagine yourself as the veteran, serious investor. You have different needs, such as real-time quotes and analyst reports. If you go to a site that has community features, as many of them do, you will be turned off by novice investors seeking answers to basic questions.


The situation is reminiscent of what has happened to proprietary online services and Internet service providers over the past few years. When people first get online, they sign up for an AOL account, thinking they have gained access to the best the Internet has to offer. This feeling lasts only so long. Eventually, as users become more sophisticated and Internet savvy, they tend to graduate to an ISP.


The Internet has democratized the financial world, giving anyone access to information previously available to a select few. That is the way of the Internet -- the more accessible and useful the information, the more people will become involved online.


This accessibility of financial information online has resulted in more sophisticated online investing. The sheer number of folks getting their financial information online provides an opportunity for niche marketing, a winning approach whether you're targeting hobbyists or serious investors. One company that has caught on to this fact is InsiderScores.com. It is focusing its marketing efforts on attracting more sophisticated investors who have a particular interest in what executives in corporate America are buying.


* Search engine optimization. It is becoming more evident each day that the majority of site traffic on the Internet -- 70 percent, in fact -- is being driven by the major search engines and directories. So what are you waiting for? Drive people directly to the information that's of interest to them. And you can accomplish this only by having quality rankings within the online search facilities. This is not an easy feat though, especially for financial companies.


The Internet is flooded with online financial services. And this is why I mention niche marketing. By combining all facets of your marketing effort, you will be able to develop your niche and establish a firm seating in the search engines and directories. Whether your focus is investment, insurance, or just valuable content, it is crucial to optimize your site based on your specified niche. Otherwise, you may never reach those individuals who are actually looking for your site, and not the other 532,925 financial sites that are coming up before yours.


One-to-one marketing. With the help of the Internet, the distance between businesses and consumers is getting smaller. We now have information that will close the gap between what we, as providers, believe consumers want, and what individuals, as consumers, truly desire.


By developing personalized campaigns through narrowcasting -- targeting individuals rather than groups -- you may be able to achieve marketing nirvana: loyal customers for life.


Search engine optimization; grass-roots and e-mail marketing; and contests, promotions and games are all part of the narrowcasting mix. We must find creative ways to utilize new technologies for distributing messages. Once this is accomplished, a standard will be set that will separate the innovative marketers from yesterday's marketers, sitting on the sidelines.


* Viral marketing. Ranging from "refer a friend" programs to desktop branding tools, viral marketing initiatives will gain you eyeballs and extend your brand to areas you thought unreachable. You can create a downloadable, executable file that resides on one's desktop and provides personalized info, such as real-time quotes, news stories and other relevant information. Or you can implement a program that encourages your existing customers/users to refer their friends and colleagues to your site. (This initiative involves some form of incentive.)


* Internal marketing. One thing you should never forget is your current customer base. If you have not been keeping a database of all the individuals who register on your site, then you better start thinking about doing so now. This is your best marketing asset and you are missing out. Plus, your costs diminish as you re-market to your members.


* More personalization. There are various methods of developing a more personalized relationship with your members and site users. Not only can you implement a "my.site.com" feature, but you can also push e-mail of interest to them based on their profiles. For example, if I want to know when IBM changes a quarter of a point on the bid price or when the volume reaches 6 million, I should be notified by my investment/financial site. Taking this a bit further, financial sites will begin to integrate their content with wireless devices, such as pagers and cell phones. So if a member is out to lunch, he or she won't miss that critical stock quote.


* Measuring effectiveness. When was the last time you clicked on a banner ad? Banner ads average a click-through rate of 0.4 percent and portal deals showed an even lower return on investment.


It's no longer good enough to have a business model without sound revenue streams. The stakes are high, with pressure to build brand, drive traffic, increase ad impressions, double the number of registered users and increase sales.


This is where direct e-mail campaigns come into play. With click-through rates as high as 7.5 percent, e-mail campaigns are unquestionably better than banner ads. It's all about return on investment, and that is what e-mail marketing does for you.


So the next time someone is looking for financial information online, make sure your site is the one that comes to mind. Think about what your goals are, whom you are trying to reach, what differentiates you from the rest and, most of all, what it is that your company is trying to accomplish.
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