Ever wondered how you can build a successful online brand that helps you network and promote your firm? RIA Blake Spencer has done just that!

Listen to this episode for Blake’s (@bowtieblake) unique perspective on:

  • How to feel comfortable and confident on social media
  • The power of creating your own video
  • Why advisors can’t ignore the power and flexibility of digital marketing

If you want to hear from a real influencer in this industry, don’t miss this episode with Blake Spencer!

Mike: Hi everyone, and welcome to the Market in Motion podcast for Financial Advisors. Today I'm excited to be joined by Blake Spencer, who is the managing director of business development for the Pinnacle Financial Group. How are you doing, Blake?

Blake: Great, Mike. Thanks for having me.

Mike: At Pinnacle, one of Blake's primary focuses is marketing the firm's brand for its 37 advisors. The goal is to help those 37 reps boost client acquisition, client retention, and advisor recruiting. Blake, that sounds so simple. It sounds so simple.

Blake: You'd think, right?

Mike: Yes, it's just client retention, nothing to it.

Blake: Yes, nothing to it. All you have to do is speak the words out there. [laughs] I don't even know what I do. It's so easy.

Mike: Throw a little magic pixie dust on client acquisition and they just kind of walk in.

Blake: Right. Yes, exactly.

Mike: We're going to jump right in here, Blake. Before we used to start talking about how you help reps and you've done some amazing stuff with social media and videos, I wanted to let listeners know about your Twitter handle, @BowtieBlake. It's smart, it's clever, it's quick. I want you to give listeners the story about your personal brand and how you built up your 4,000 Twitter followers.

Blake: Okay, great. I wanted something more than just my first name and last name, first of all. I felt like I needed something a little more catchy and the-- I wear a lot of bow ties, although I'm not wearing one right now. I'm sure somebody will have something to say about that. [laughs]

They're going to revoke my bow tie card. I wear a lot here in the office. I'm originally from the South. I've worn them for a long time and I wear them here in the office, here in New York. Everybody kind of gives me a hard time-- They don't anymore because they just accept it, but it became like a shtick, so I thought, you know what, that's perfect. That's it. That was really the catalyst behind it. Some of the good-- There's some good and bad and that someone always expects me to have a bow tie on 24/7. [chuckles]

Mike: Yes. I was going to say there are always benefits to a strong brand and then there are limitations to it.

Blake: Yes, benefits far outweigh the non-beneficial stuff, but it's a lot of fun. I even had t-shirts made so that I could wear a t-shirt and still have a bow tie on. We attended a conference back in October and I wore that all week, or for those couple of days rather. I got more comments on my t-shirt with the bow tie than anything. I walked into a room, that's what people wanted to talk about, was the t-shirt. It was a lot of fun.

Mike: Yes. There's a lesson in there for financial advisors, that it's that person you create that they can relate to, not necessarily the expertise. They assume that on some level, but if you're the guy walking in with a bow tie, they feel like they know you. They feel like they've got the ability to kind of make a couple of jokes. It [crosstalk] really develop a bond with them pretty quick.

Blake: Right. It's a part of-- Inline, I guess with differentiation in a commoditized world that we work in. It's fun and I think there's a lot of people out there doing very similar things. I just took a note right out of their already laid out playbook and it's been a lot of fun running with this shtick. [laughs]

Mike: Yes. Well, I agree. I latched onto it, and as we do this podcast, an advisor is listening, are they going to attach to Phil Smith or Mike Jones? Maybe. Phil, the groundhog Smith, oh, the groundhog. Well, if you have a groundhog shirt, a groundhog hat, maybe something a little different.

Blake: Right. If you think about it too, from a perspective of people that we like to interact with online, we love seeing personalities come through. I mean, I do anyway, and I think most people are like that, rather than our buttoned-up selves all the time. I would say most of Twitter is me just having fun and very-- I would say a lot less more serious things are talked about, [chuckles] if I have anything to do with it. It's just my personality. That's one of the reasons why I like Twitter so much because it allows me to kind of shoot from the hip like that.

Mike: Right. Not everybody has been in a position where their name is so widely recognized. There's only so many Rachel Maddow's, there's only so many, who do I say, Bill O'Reilly. Those people on Twitter really need no introduction, but somebody else who's got a little bit of an angle, interesting.

Blake: Yes. We have to work with what we have, right?

Mike: We have to work with what we have.

Blake: Having something is all that makes it fun.

Mike: Yes, exactly. All right. Well, let's jump into-- I wanted to talk about the LPL conference you attended over the summer. You were on the social media panel. We had several people here at FMV that went to it and thought it was awesome.

Blake: Great.

Mike: I want to talk a little bit about-- Kind of dig in here about-- Let you kind of run with it a bit, really about what do you think advisors are doing well on social media?

Blake: Well, I think they're doing a lot of things well. There's a lot of people doing a lot of really good things. You can tell that people are kind of wanting more, not just from particular people, but the advisors out there putting out content, putting themselves out there. There's more and more doing video, there's more and more doing things like this and putting them-- Finding other mediums to put out their own message. I think it's fantastic.

I really got involved in Twitter just over a year ago, and then at the beginning of the year, I attended a FinTwit. FinTwit is short for financial people on Twitter. I attended a FinTwit meetup in DC. What was really funny is that coincidentally I was the only one that came to that with a camera.

I was surprised. I'm surrounded by all of these social media people and I'm like, "Where are the cameras?" I made a video and then from there just struck up a lot of great friendships and so the comradery, the sources for information or help, ideas, everybody, I'm so pleasantly and amazingly surprised. Everybody I've met from Twitter has been just amazing.

They're amazing people from all walks of life, from all over the country. It's inspiring, it's encouraging, and to know that you have people out there that are doing things a little bit differently that you can learn from. That's the whole idea.

Mike: Got you. As you think about how the reps interact with Twitter and how they use Twitter-- Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I think, you know, I've put those in one group together. The app tool that FMG has will allow you to post on social media. A rep will put their credentials in for those three platforms and FMG will automatically post material, it will on demand post material, and we encourage people to really have a mix of that type of content coming over with their personal type of content coming over.

When you talk to people about using Twitter, or some of the reps that are in the firm that you're helping as they work on the client acquisition and retention, how do you coach them to use the tools that they have at their elbows?

Blake: Really about using what they're comfortable with. Start with one platform, start with one thing and get good at that and feel comfortable in that space. I mean, there are still platforms that I'm not on and it's really because of--

Mike: You're not on TikTok yet? You're not [crosstalk]?

Blake: I am on TikTok. I'm absolutely on TikTok. I love TikTok. I jump down the TikTok rabbit hole on a daily basis.

Mike: Nice.

Blake: I think part of the intrigue-- I made a joke in a tweet not too long ago that when I'm scrolling on Instagram and you kind of blackout for a moment and you're like, "Oh my gosh.

10, 15 minutes just went by, what happened?"

Mike: Sure.

Blake: The same thing with Twitter, I was like maybe 20 minutes will go by. Then on TikTok, three hours go by. You just get sucked in. It's so video-heavy, and it's so quick. It's funny, video has taken-- People are really interested in video now. A lot of people watch it, and then the fact that it's so quick and so endless, it just makes total sense for the type of people we are today, on the move, nobody wants to watch long long videos anymore. They want to watch quick snippets here and there.

Part of the reason why flash briefings are becoming more popular, and voice is probably the next even quicker medium beyond video according to some people. It's really wild to look at this from an objective standpoint and see how-- Really, it's all about doing what you're comfortable doing, and not biting off more than you can chew. Using services like what you were mentioning earlier to plan out some of your strategies and allow your personality to come through, either in those strategic posts or your off-the-cuff posts, things like that.

Mike: You would coach a rep to work on all three, but really to try to specialize in one till you get a good rhythm with it and get it up and running.

Blake: Yes, and not everybody is going to like Twitter like I like it or for the same reasons. Other people may like Facebook better, and if that's what you like, then that's what you should run with. You should be comfortable. It should be a space for you to comfortably be yourself and be able to interact with other like-minded people. It's like the new networking group, except it's 24/7 and it's global. It's not at the diner on Wednesdays at 8:00 AM anymore.

[laughter]

Mike: That's true. Let's contrast with that, as you look at your universe of advisors and people you talk to, what would you say universally reps need to improve? What do they need to improve as they think about social media?

Blake: I would say just getting out more, or actually deciding to do it. I've led plenty to water to drink, but I can't make them drink. They see some of the things that myself and my counterpart are getting involved in, and some of the things that we've been fortunate enough to be a part of, and they're like, "It's great," but they've yet to make that step in doing it. It takes a commitment to a certain level.

Again, another reason why you should start small too-- Because what happens is everybody opens up a presence on every platform, and then before you know it, they're not doing any of them because it's overwhelming sometimes. Even sometimes just running mainly on one platform with myself, it's a lot sometimes to keep up with. I would say the biggest thing is consistency.

That's one of my biggest things with my own self from everything, from our own videos to our own-- I do all of my own editing, I do all of that stuff, along with like a corporate job, advising job, all these other things that we do. It can be overwhelming sometimes. That's what I want to work on this year for myself, is being more consistent and just improving as much as I can as often as I can.

Mike: Got you. I think too what I found with talking to reps, and a specific example is my brother, he's a financial advisor. He's about 10 years older than me. We went to our family Christmas party and I was there on my phone checking my FanDuel team, doing this, doing that, and he chose not to bring his phone to his party. I looked at him and said, "Well, that's a choice, but I don't know how you can operate without your phone."

You read stats about people who check their phones 70, 80 times a day. Taking on this as you become a social person, it really becomes a lifestyle choice too.

Blake: Right. By all means, people can engage as often as they feel comfortable, but it's just the world we live in, we're consistently plugged in. Our social media is similar. There are things that I think of by myself or that I say to myself when I'm driving in the car and I just want to say it because it's funny or relevant or whatever. That's what social media is for me. I always have my friends in the audience there to engage with me back, and I engage with them.

Mike: It's a different group of 4,000 every time, but I'm sure there are some people that are very consistent with interacting with you.

Blake: Of course, it's been good. I would say any traction that I've really made on Twitter, it's all been from engaging with other people, with true influencers and the people who really, really understand and do this well, and really learning from them and just how they are, and what they post, and how they post, and when, all of those things, and how they build a following. Really, it all comes down to engaging with the community. I'd say that's like the number one thing, interact.

That's one of the reasons why we all participate in social media anyway, is to be engaged with. If no one's getting engagement, then their likelihood of continuing may go by the wayside at some point. I liken this process to priming a water pump. You pump and you pump and pump and there's nothing coming, and then eventually, water starts coming up. With some patience and some strategy, it can really become everything you would hope it would be.

Mike: Got you. I was poking around on CNBC this week and I saw the Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis. He gave one piece of advice to young players in the NFL, that piece of advice was "write your own checks", which I thought was just-- Sometimes it's so simple and so clear about writing your own checks. If you had to give one piece of advice to advisors about their social media pursuits, what would it be?

Blake: Worry less about the quality of your content or about what you're so focused on putting out and just engage with the community as yourself.

Mike: Got you.

Blake: That's it, and that will get you everything that you're hoping for out of it, no doubt.

Mike: Got you. All right, let's leave social media behind. I think that was a great exchange. I really like the notion of getting good on one platform and then using that to learn the other ones. I think that's great feedback for financial advisors. Let's jump over to video. That's one of your passions at Pinnacle Financial.

As I popped around your social feeds and your website, you have professional quality videos, you had some educational videos, you had a video of your podcast, which just was awesome. You have some iPhone videos. The one iPhone video I saw was of Pinnacle president Joe Esposito doing the Ice Bucket Challenge, which is a backyard video, but it resonated. It served its goal. How do you coach advisors who ask questions about video? What direction do you take them in?

Blake: The same kind of things I find work well, in that just being yourself, and sometimes the less-quality the video makes the biggest impact. There was a video of one advisor-- I don't know if we should get into it, but he made a video just himself in front of his phone and almost toppled a giant in our industry.

Just from a quick little video that had no editing and had no nothing, it was no animations. It was just him and his camera on his phone and made a massive impact in our industry, and just felt the waves for weeks afterward even. It's like, wow, such a simple video had such a big impact. It doesn't always have to be fancy and edited.

I know that's part of my own issue with myself, is that when I'm editing video, I want it to be a certain way, I have it in my mind and I hope that it turns out that way. That's sometimes why it takes me so long to get the video out, is that I keep messing with it and I don't just get it out, but video is a must I believe. I think we're at that point now where people want to see you, they want to see your mannerisms, they want to see how you interact with people, they want to get to know you even more without getting to know you first.

Mike: Yes, exactly.

Blake: They want to understand-- I've heard countless advisors that are doing lots of it, they all say that they have clients come to them and they tell them, "We feel like we already know you, we've watched so many of your videos," and not getting caught up in how many people are watching it or anything like that. I heard one time an advisor say, "If there was an audience of only 20 people that were looking forward to a video that you were going to put out, wouldn't you do it for those 20 people? Why would it have to be 100,000 people?"

That really resonated with me and made a lot of sense, so I think video is a must. I enjoy editing, I enjoy the process of it. I use a Mac, so I use iMovie, and then I use a lot of Keynote for my animations and things. I build things on a green screen and introduce them that way, but you don't have to be fancy with video. It can be just your phone and you in a hotel room or a car, it makes no difference.

Mike: Sure, yes. It's interesting, for years you've heard about the RIP formula, that builds rapport, demonstrate integrity, and then persuade someone, and video really captures that. You build rapport through video, you demonstrate your integrity in video. When people meet you, they've already really got past the RI and you're just really waiting to persuade them on what to do.

Blake: That's a great point.

Mike: Yes, it's a marvelous tool.

Blake: Right, and so much more fun to use, I think. I think it takes things to another level. Again, I think that's why something like TikTok is becoming so popular, it's all video-based. People like watching, they like to watch.

Mike: Yes. I can't remember the last time I read instructions, I always go to YouTube. If I want to replace the battery in my car and I don't remember, do you take the positive or the negative off first? I don't read that. I go watch a two-minute video on what you do.

Blake: That's exactly right, a great point. YouTube is how I learned to edit videos in the first place. I was watching edited videos on YouTube to learn how to edit videos. That's how I learned Photoshop, that's how I learned to use GIMP, that's how I use-- Probably everything that I do on a computer I learned from YouTube, just watching YouTube videos.

Mike: The advice to advisors is really "just do it", just do something.

Blake: Just do it, just get involved. We're at a point where we have to differentiate ourselves and this is the way the times are going. It's such an opportunity for advisors that can participate in these mediums, whether it's social media or video or podcasts or whatever, it's just such an opportunity for them to further differentiate themselves and to their audience and prospective clients and people within the industry.

There's no competition here, that's the one thing surprising in all of this community that I've come to love so much, is that there's no competition, everybody's there to help and support each other and it's really a great thing. I can't imagine not being a part of it now.

Mike: Got you. Well, let's close with the idea of digital marketing practices and traditional marketing practices. I've seen that-- FMG is doing a webinar on that in the next couple of weeks, it's something that you see kicked around quite a bit and I want you to help frame it up for people. How should advisors incorporate their traditional and digital strategies? Is it as simple as using social media to promote a seminar event or how do you talk people through that?

Blake: Well, everything is a piece of a puzzle in my mind, there is no magic bullet. The way I like to look at it is that all of these are a vehicle to spread the message that much more. If you were able to build a big following on social media, hundreds of thousands of followers or something, and you were able to-- What I like to say is, tell me one piece of traditional marketing that's feasible now that you could feasibly spend money on.

Anybody would say, you can put a billboard in Times Square, but that would cost lots of money, I'm not talking about that. I mean something feasible that would instantaneously reach hundreds of thousands of people and you could change as often as you'd like, you can post different types of things, you can expose different types of messages and mediums to that audience. What piece of traditional marketing can do that?

By the way, this is free. It doesn't cost anything. To me, I don't think that that exists I don't think there's any piece of traditional marketing out there that they can have the leverage that some of these digital vehicles have now. I don't think that that means there isn't a place for traditional marketing, but traditional marketing can be a piece of your puzzle, just like your digital marketing.

They can work hand in hand, whether it is to promote a traditional piece, maybe a seminar that you want to do, your digital may be promoting that seminar that you're doing. It just opens up the opportunity for you to get your message out that much more.

Mike: Got you. As you work with the new reps or the reps that are at the Pinnacle Financial Group, do you coach them through how to-- As you talk to them about the client acquisition process, how do you coach them through that?

Blake: Part of my role here too is helping them-- Each of our advisors own their own individual practice, and they operate under our umbrella. We provide various services for them depending on how much or how little they may need. Sometimes they get themselves into a meeting that-- It may be a large 401k plan, it may be a large client, and they want to show firm support that this company is more than just them, that kind of thing.

That's part of the client acquisition part in assisting them in whatever they might need to be able to acquire more clients. Whether that be from marketing practices to actual meetings, on an individual basis. That's part of what we try to help them with.

Mike: Sure. Yes, I agree. My wife's birthday is coming up and I want to rent a limo. I went on to Yelp and I put a bid out and I heard from several people who own one limo and they drive it for the night, but then you hear from a company that says, "Hey, you can pick among these three or four limos, we're a bigger company and we have a lot of support," and you just feel differently about the experience.

The one or the other you feel like there's a lot more flexibility when you're working with somebody bigger. They may charge a higher price, but I'm not exposed to the whims of an overheated limousine, for example.

Blake: Right, you've got the benefit in knowing that if that one limo messes up, you have another one that they can come and get you in. You don't have to worry about it. Same kind of mentality, yes. It's a good analogy, same idea. They also like to feel a part of something, our advisors too, it helps in that regard as well.

Mike: Yes, and I would say, what's interesting-- My feeling about this as I've gone through this over the last couple of weeks is I'm less sensitive to price, more sensitive to service. I want to work with someone who's going to be able to do what I want. If I have to pay a little more, so be it.

Blake: Right. Service in an industry like this is a true differentiator. That's the one place where-- I say all the time, I may not be the best at this or the best at this, but I'll run circles around servicing you around my competition, so to speak. That's where you can really set yourself apart and use digital media to show how you can differentiate yourself when serving someone.

Mike: Good stuff. Well, Blake, I want to thank you so much for sharing your insights today. I think listeners will get a great deal out of just learning some of the-- Really, I think what you've done is really encouraged them to get on video. It doesn't really matter how, and the notion of becoming really proficient at one social platform versus trying to master several at the same time, I think is a great insight. Thanks so much for sharing that.

Blake: Great, thanks. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it and we'll do it again sometime.

Mike: Awesome. Well, thank you, listeners, for tuning into another episode of Market in Motion. Have a great day.