Episode 8: Eric Lee

07.22.19 | 0 Market Transform

My guest today is Eric Lee. Eric is the Creative Director behind The Model FA, the man with a wealth of out-of-the-box ideas to disrupt and elevate marketing for the financial services industry. When Eric is not helping advisors re-imagine the future of their firm, he can be found in the kitchen preparing a world-class meal for friends, traveling the world, or working as a cast member in a local theatre production.

In this episode, we discuss how to establish trust by simplifying visual elements in your branding to tell your story and target your ideal audience. 

Don’t miss one of our favorite moments, when Eric shares some of the critical questions that will help you make sure your brand’s message is on point.  As you listen, ask yourself: Who is the hero in your firm’s story — the advisor, or the client? We hope you will find some practical ideas to try — and walk away inspired. 

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Patrick: 00:05 What is our typical time frame as far as go to market? How long is it?

Eric Lee: 00:10 Oh, that's a great question. It could be as few as a day and as much as a few weeks. I mean ideally we would have a few weeks, but I mean the reality is, in this space, if you spend weeks or even months planning out something, I mean it may no longer be relevant.

Patrick: 00:30 Today on the show we have Eric Lee. Eric Lee is the creative director, a Renaissance man, be fully bearded, looking excellent most of the time. Eric, how are you doing this afternoon?

Eric Lee: 00:44 Hey, Patrick. I'm doing well. Thanks for having me.

Patrick: 00:47 Absolutely. Excited to have you on the show. I feel like there's a lot of really good stuff that we're going to be able to cover today. So, before we get started, I have to know. Tell me a little bit about what you do to help advisors on the creative side of the business.

Eric Lee: 01:03 A great question. I think, in general, the financial space is sort of a wasteland of creativity. I think it tends to skew very corporate and sterile in the sort of design elements that people pump out. And so what I really have found useful is kind of getting back to the core of humanity in a way, in the way that we market financial services.

Eric Lee: 01:30 And so part of my job, as the creative director, is really to help advisors connect with people, connect with their stories, connect with the reality of their lives. That advisors can help sort of change and improve.

Patrick: 01:48 Yeah. You mentioned something really important there. The idea of connection. I feel like that's being lost in today's environment. There's so much noise on every single social platform. Everybody wants the latest tip and tactic in order to get somebody's attention and get a new client, but I feel like the idea of human connection is being lost in social media and interaction, and people are just starting to almost rebel against it. Are you bullish, to use a financial term that you're probably not familiar with? Do you look favorably upon the idea of human connection being a critical aspect of the financial advice process and business moving forward? What are your thoughts on the idea of the human connection?

Eric Lee: 02:30 Yeah, I think it's not only a good thing. I think it's a crucial thing, honestly. I think as we have grown “more connected” via technology and social media platforms, in reality what we've really sort of setup for ourselves is these isolated islands of life in reality that actually are very disconnected.

Patrick: 02:55 Yeah.

Eric Lee: 02:55 And so I think, part of the goal is to help advisors really connect with people. I mean this business was started as a personal thing, as a connection between a person and their advisor, and taking that into the digital age, I think it's skewed really far the other direction. What we found, as a company, is we've got to reharness that connection with people, so that they have the opportunity to actually connect with people and to actually build a meaningful relationship that they can actually leverage in their business.

Patrick: 03:38 Agreed. I feel like the idea of the relationship. Building the actual relationship through social, through design, through the written word is something that a lot of advisors frankly don't understand and don't invest enough in. What are your thoughts as far as a lot of advisors want to redesign their website, or they're looking for the best website they can possibly have? What do you feel advisors need to be thinking about when they pay someone, or they, let's say, do it on their own and design a website that could potentially build a relationship with someone in the financial space?

Eric Lee: 04:13 Yeah, you probably saw me cringe when you said do it on their own. I think really the biggest advice I could give to an advisor that's either rebranding, or rebuilding a website, or building maybe from scratch to begin with is simplification. I think we tend to put way too much information, particularly in the form of text and copy into websites that frankly people are not going to read.

Eric Lee: 04:42 I mean people don't read really at all, and more and more people are consuming content on mobile devices, and on iPads, and iPhones, and whatever else they may be using, and ultimately you need to have visual elements that tell the story of who you are as an advisor. Who you are as a team of advisors, and as a financial firm.

Eric Lee: 05:06 And ultimately, you're looking for ways to include elements on there, particularly visually, that connect with your target audience. So if that's a specific demographic of people, if it's a specific company, whatever it may be, it's an opportunity that you can quickly, before they even have to read anything, connect with people. It helps them sort of insert themselves into your business and say, "Oh, this is somebody that gets me."

Patrick: 05:36 Yeah. Using effective storytelling and imagery to get somebody to actually understand where you're coming from and not put yourself front and center. Because what I found, being in the industry, is a lot of advisors and firms, they want to position themselves as the hero of the story. We have CFAs, CFPs. We've got a million years of experience, and we can solve all your problems, but they don't do a good job of explaining why those problems even need to be solved in the first place. Right?

Patrick: 06:03 What are your thoughts on story? Because I know for our website, with SurePath, you and I had collaborated on this a couple months back. We were thinking through how do we best demonstrate what we do? What's a way that we can layout the process that we use to help folks? Without sitting there and saying, "We do this, then that, then this," and making their eyes roll back in their head. Right?

Eric Lee: 06:28 Right, exactly. Yeah.

Patrick: 06:29 We settled on this idea of fictional stories. So what are your thoughts on like case studies, fictional stories as a way to convey information and those types of things?

Eric Lee: 06:37 Yeah, I think story is powerful. I mean there's all kinds of camps. And, you know, especially I think story is a very sort of buzzword right now in the marketing space, but I mean there's a reason. I think at our very core, we're all looking to have a meaningful existence. You know, a meaningful story of our own.

Eric Lee: 06:55 I mean you referenced the new SurePath site, and when we did sort of develop the copy for that, we did think about ways... You know, how can we explain sort of a stereotypical, or an example client, experience working with us. And what that does is then that allows somebody out there who's maybe looking for an advisor, or someone who has an advisor that they're not really connecting with, it gives them an opportunity to sort of insert themselves into that story, into this sort of hypothetical situation, and really see the value that we can bring to the table, and so I think that's why it's so powerful.

Eric Lee: 07:39 Story is just powerful. I mean period. And you're right. I think in this space in particular, people have positioned themselves as advisors, as the hero of the story, and that's not what people want. People want to be the hero of their own story, and they don't necessarily want somebody... I think, yes, obviously, they want help, but ultimately they need somebody to help guide them, not to like take over and make them feel like a loser.

Patrick: 08:05 Well, that's another thing. Like when you and I first started working together a couple years ago, when I was telling you what I did, you really had no idea. I mean most advisors think that the consumer audience has a sense of what a fiduciary is, or understands what financial planning means. Or investment management, what that means, and how that term is relevant to them. I told you that I was a financial advisor, and I said one more word, and you were already like [crosstalk 00:08:31]-

Eric Lee: 08:30 Yeah, my eyes were glazed over. Yeah, I remember that. And still to this day, it's so funny. I carry around some earmuffs and just put them on if we're in meetings that we don't need a... it's like topics that I don't necessarily... And I think that there's value in that for me as an outsider of the industry. I mean I really do have eyes that are what the average consumer has. I mean, yes, there's going to be people out there that have... you know, they know the lingo, and the acronyms, and all this stuff that's just like... For me, it just makes my skin crawl.

Eric Lee: 09:02 But there's value in kind of having that outside perspective and really trying to simplify this enough that Joe Blow on the street can connect with it and realize, "Oh, okay." I mean it's kind of the idea of can you give them enough to know that they don't know, and then help them see that they need help, and then there's a lot of value in that.

Patrick: 09:25 I agree. Pardon the interruption, friends, but I got some cool stuff to share with you. It's available on modelfa.com. It's a podcast, a blog, videos, resources, and all this really cool stuff that you don't even know about because you're not there. It's available at modelfa.com. Make sure that you check it out and watch some stuff. You're going to learn how to grow your practice, scale it, and just generate more profits, so that you can do whatever you want with your time, so we'll see you there.

Patrick: 09:51 I feel like we've been tremendously successful in that for a couple reasons. One is I am in the industry, so I can understand where they're at from a financial perspective and where the transition points lie, so we can create an effective marketing strategy or attraction process. And then I take, you, and the copywriters, and everyone else and pull that together in a... You know, create a strategy that combines the context that you need in order to get the business message across, but also meet the person where they're at because they really don't understand the nature of the business. So taking those two and combining them together.

Eric Lee: 10:29 Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's why we're unique in this marketing space for advisors, and really why we've seen the powerful success for our clients that we have. I mean we have the kind of best of both worlds. We have the best in the marketing industry period, whatever space we're in. But then you're right, you do have the perspective of having that financial background, and we have a place to test everything that we offer people, and it's-

Patrick: 10:59 Yeah, you got the lab.

Eric Lee: 11:00 Yeah, exactly. It is very much like a lab. I mean you know, this, but we constantly change things. I mean on the fly. You know, if we throw something out there in the marketing space, on a social platform, or wherever that's not working, we can quickly... On a dime, we can adapt, whereas most people have to go through sort of the proverbial hoops. You don't have to jump through the hoops to make changes, and we can just do it in an instant, and there's a lot of power in that.

Patrick: 11:28 I agree. Yeah, the flexibility to be able to pivot and test new things most firms could spend, what? Weeks, months thinking about ways where they might be able to go to market and test something. But if you can pull together the resources and get a product out there... And that's another thing that I think we should talk about is this idea of quickly testing ideas and not getting so committed that you're doing a strategy. You're walking down the path of doing a strategy for three to six months that may not convert. What is our typical time frame as far as go to market?

Eric Lee: 12:06 Oh, that's a great question. It could be as few as a day and as much as a few weeks. I mean ideally we would have a few weeks, but I mean the reality is, in this space, if you spend weeks or even months planning out something, I mean it may no longer be relevant, and it may no longer even resonate with people. And so the value of being able to turn on a dime is... I mean it's huge.

Eric Lee: 12:29 I mean I'm confused several times where you're like, "We need to get an ad out tomorrow." And so, I'll sit down, and wherever the creative juices come from, they show up, and we pump something out. And sometimes those are the best things is those items that we have come up with on the fly. I guess necessity is the mother of invention, as they say. But, I mean, it's true. I mean sometimes in the heat of the moment, we can really create something that connects with people, and that they actually resonate with.

Patrick: 13:00 The other thing is when we first got started, it was really just you and I trying to figure out what ideas would be best and create.

Eric Lee: 13:06 Right.

Patrick: 13:06 Cobble things together. So it was like you and I working multiple hours a day, piecing things together, testing ideas, and then it started to expand into copywriting. Now we have design services. Now we have copy editing. We have funnel experts. We have all this stuff. And what I've realized is, if you don't have a team, it's almost like a fool's errand to try and do marketing because it requires such a complex skill set.

Patrick: 13:35 You need strategy, you need execution, you need creative, and then you need like a badass project manager to tie everything together and actually get something that works, and you can get out to the marketplace.

Eric Lee: 13:48 Yeah, for sure. I mean it's definitely... It is not for the faint of heart, or for the unorganized, or sort of the people who are unwilling to be flexible because it is a ever changing thing. And you're right. I mean when we would sit down and crank out ridiculous amounts of copy, and then I would take it and throw some design on top of it. And I look back at that and think, "How in the world did we even survive?"

Patrick: 14:15 I know.

Eric Lee: 14:16 Those months. But here we are, and it's incredible just to see... You know, you're right. Bringing in people that have expertise and things that maybe you can do, but they can do it better than you is... I mean I think that's... First of all, it's a sign of a good leader. It's a sign of somebody who's not afraid to say, "Hey, I need help. I mean I'm not the best at everything." Because you're not, nobody is. There's a lot of value in that. Really allows you to sort of have the flexibility to actually do what you do best and really soar.

Patrick: 14:57 Yeah. I think you're trying to butter me up on the air here. You angling for a pay increase, or what's the-

Eric Lee: 15:02 Always.

Patrick: 15:04 I think that's a really important... If we could segue there, the idea of trying not to do everything yourself. Because I feel like the flavor of the month in financial advice right now is leave your current company, setup your own firm, stand up a website using a WordPress template for two grand, write your own web copy, try and build a funnel, fail miserably, start blogging, fail miserably.

Patrick: 15:27 And eventually once the bank account starts to get to a point where... Maybe the point of no return, let's call it the HELOC point. Your options become really limited. So what would be your advice to a financial advisor who has either started a business recently or is thinking about leaving where they're currently at and starting a business? How should they think about creating their brand and investing in marketing?

Eric Lee: 15:54 I think the first step is really what I mentioned earlier. It's admitting that you need help is step one. I mean there's a reason that advisors became an advisor, and it's not because they like marketing, and it's not because they like to build websites, or they like to write copy, or any of those other things.

Patrick: 16:12 If they do, they can come work with us.

Eric Lee: 16:14 Exactly.

Patrick: 16:14 We're hiring. Let's go.

Eric Lee: 16:15 Exactly, exactly. Exactly, but you know, there's room for somebody to step in and help, and I think that's the beauty of what we've built as a consulting and coaching company, is we can give them the tools that they need to maybe do those things that they're not the best at.

Eric Lee: 16:35 You know, we have the opportunities where they can step in and sort of give the reins over to us, and they can let somebody else sort of... I don't wanna say drive their ship, but they can let somebody else hold the wheel while they're navigating, I guess, is a way to look at it, so.

Patrick: 16:53 We've encountered some strange situations, even when advisors choose to, let's say, invest in their brand and their website. One in particular, I'll call it the plastic surgery effect.

Eric Lee: 17:03 Oh, man.

Patrick: 17:04 Plastic surgery effect.

Eric Lee: 17:05 Yeah.

Patrick: 17:05 Where they write the check, they decide to hire someone to help them with their website, put together their brand. They get a finished product. It's amazing, and then the plastic surgery effect sets in.

Eric Lee: 17:16 Yeah. And the problem is if you hire people that claim to be experts in lead magnets, or claim to be an expert in web copy, or whatever it may be, they may or may not be great at what they do. Chances are they're probably not, but even if they are, if you're throwing that into the mix of a bigger strategy for your business, it's not going to all work together.

Eric Lee: 17:43 And so you're exactly right. We've seen clients where we've built... I mean, to this day, it's like one the best things I've ever created. It was beautiful-

Patrick: 17:50 Tore it down.

Eric Lee: 17:50 It was like beautiful web copy, simple, direct, absolutely amazing, and it's gone. I mean it has literally been destroyed.

Patrick: 18:00 If I was cultured, I would create some type of a metaphor to explain it. But I [crosstalk 00:18:06]-

Eric Lee: 18:05 I mean I think your plastic surgery metaphor works.

Patrick: 18:07 Okay.

Eric Lee: 18:09 They saw, or somebody told them probably that something was... Well, could be better, and so then it changes.

Patrick: 18:16 And you start [crosstalk 00:18:17].

Eric Lee: 18:17 And it starts this snowball effect, and then before you know it, we've got this like mangled mass of marketing that it no longer... It doesn't say anything. It doesn't connect with anyone, and it's just garbage really. It's absolutely ridiculous. And so that's the danger in pulling little bits and pieces of ideas from multiple sources, particularly multiple sources that are not experts in this industry. Because there's a lot of "marketing experts" out there, but they have no idea how to connect with people in the financial space.

Patrick: 18:51 Oh, it's hilarious. I mean the flavor of the month right now is this idea of I can provide 50 or 100 leads. What does that even mean? If we're talking about the human connection and relationships, you can't even talk to 50 and get to know a 100 people a year. I have like five friends. Five, literal, five friends.

Patrick: 19:11 How am I going to talk to 50 to 100 people and get them to a point where they're comfortable enough with me as a human to give me their money in any given month? I mean it's ridiculous, but advisors fall for this every single day. What do you feel is a reasonable expectation around, let's say, what a brand, a reasoned marketing strategy, and solid advice and tactics... What can that deliver for a financial advisor if they were to set that up the right way?

Eric Lee: 19:39 I mean I think to start off, you're looking at... I mean if you're getting one to two meaningful connections a month, I think it's huge. I mean down the road if you're getting five or six... But you're right. I mean the idea of really getting to know and really building a meaningful relationship with 50 to 100 people a year is crazy, so.

Patrick: 20:00 I wouldn't even want to talk to someone if they didn't know who I was about their money.

Eric Lee: 20:02 Right.

Patrick: 20:03 If they had no context on who I was or any of the stuff that I could potentially do and how I could help them, that would just be an awkward conversation.

Eric Lee: 20:10  Yeah.

Patrick: 20:10
It'd be like arm wrestling match during the meeting. Stupid.

Eric Lee: 20:13 Exactly.

Patrick: 20:14
So we're going to go ahead and wrap-up. Eric Lee, creative director, thank you so much for being on the show. You are the man, the myth, the legend, the Renaissance man, the bearded bandit. I could go on. Thank you again for coming on the show, sir.

Eric Lee: 20:28 My pleasure, Patrick. Thanks for having me.

Patrick: 20:30 All right.