Video killed the seminar star
By Joe Simonds
Advisor Internet Marketing
Seminar success is real and will continue to thrive just like radio did after MTV. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of larger marketing platforms like music artists did with videos.
There I was again, doing the one thing that my mom absolutely hated me doing, yet I simply could not get enough of it. It was December 30th, 1985, and I was 7 years old. I was over at my friend Michael’s house for the third day in a row, and to say that I was excited would be the understatement of the year. What was I so pumped about?
There was only one more day until New Year’s Eve, when the much-awaited event (that my mom hated) would take place. My friend Michael and I were so anxious that we decided to meet again that day to do one last rundown of our list of what we thought would be the top 100 videos on MTV for 1985. You see, that year, MTV announced that they would play the top 100 videos of the year throughout New Year’s Eve, finishing on the top-ranked video right before the ball dropped at midnight. (MTV kept this tradition going for many years, and I watched almost all of them.) Michael and I had MTV on in the background while we strategized our top 100 picks. (Important note: MTV was forbidden by my parents, but Michael’s parents both worked and his older sister let us watch whatever we wanted.)
And then, all of a sudden, we both became quiet and turned to focus on the TV as one of our all-time favorite music videos came on. It was the video for “Take On Me” by A-ha, with the cool pencil sketch animation special effects. After putting the final touches on our best guesses for the top 100 videos of the year, I retired back to my house for dinner where all I could think about was the big countdown the following day. I can still recall my disappointment on that New Year’s Eve in 1985 when Tears for Fears didn’t make the top three as I had predicted. However, they did break a record by coming in at both #7 with “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and #11 with their big hit “Shout” that same year.
My personal favorite video to jam to, “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits, came in at #1 that year, and some other notable videos that we plotted near their correct spots were: “We Built This City” by Starship, “Sussudio” by Phil Collins, “Don’t Come Around Here No More” by Tom Petty, “California Girls” by David Lee Roth, “Summer of 69” by Bryan Adams, and “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley. I even recall being shocked that Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” ranked so pitifully that year, presumably because it was a bit too controversial for the time. (I can only imagine how Miley Cyrus would have fared at the time.)
The next year, 1986, was just as epic. Peter Gabriel came in at the #1 spot with “Sledgehammer” (one of the best videos of all time, in my opinion); Jersey favorite Bon Jovi jammed into the #2 spot with “You Give Love a Bad Name”; Kenny Loggins brought the thunder with “Danger Zone” at #6; Eddie Money squeezed into the top 10 with “Take Me Home Tonight”; the exuberant Pet Shop Boys pounced the #23 spot with “West End Girls”; and Mötley Crüe made the scene that year, landing the #28 spot with “Home Sweet Home.” It would be another year until U2 started taking over the top 25, followed by 1988, when Guns n’ Roses and Metallica took over the scene. The following years brought hits from the Fine Young Cannibals, MC Hammer, Pearl Jam, Nirvana Red Hot Chili Peppers, Def Leppard and Van Halen.
Oh, the good music back then. Now, for some of you who just don’t like rock music or never watched MTV, this may not be very exciting, and you are probably wondering when the heck I am going to get to my point. For others, many of these videos bring back nostalgic and fond memories. Perhaps you can even remember where you were when you saw a certain video for the first time, or how a certain song played a role in your first relationship, a particularly memorable sporting event, or as a much-need distraction from something going on in your life. Music is a powerful force, and when combined with video, it makes an incredible impact.
Before I tell you exactly how this fits in with financial seminars, let’s talk about a monumental event that happened a few years before I was old enough to truly remember it. It was August 1st, 1981, and the buzz was about a new television station that was about to go live at midnight. Of course, the broadcast channel was MTV, and press and music enthusiasts all over the country waited anxiously to see how this would play out. Do you recall the first video that played on MTV at 12:01 a.m. on that monumental night? It was none other than The Buggles with their hit song, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” This first video marked a huge event in music history — one that would alter the music industry forever. It would transform how quickly music could go viral, and it would also turn small-town bands into worldwide rock stars in record time. Not to mention, music videos would make celebrities out of one-hit wonders, bring personality into the music business, and create videos that supercharged the speed at which musicians became household names. Keep in mind that during the 1970s, unless you were doing nationwide or worldwide tours like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, or you made an appearance on American Bandstand, your audience was quite limited. Unless someone owned your record or cassette tape or had seen your band live, they probably had no idea what you even looked like. It was nothing like today, where a new soloist, rapper or rock group can be famous in an afternoon after having their first video go viral on YouTube.
Did the music video really kill the radio star? Yes and no. It certainly didn’t literally kill radio, as we can all listen to it today, 33 years later. However, it did kill the old way of music marketing, as the new rule made it almost impossible to make it big on the radio platforms if you didn’t have an accompanying music video. And in many cases, the video is what launched the song (to make it big on the radio) in the first place.
Let’s talk about videos for a minute. Today, MTV hardly plays any music videos, and most artists are now streaming their latest videos on YouTube, Vevo or another video network. Just think about how video has altered the playing field of being “discovered” as a music artist? Little Justin Bieber (ranked in Forbes as earning $58 million as of June 2013) was found from an amateur video he posted on YouTube. Remember the song “What does the Fox Say?” that just wouldn’t go away last year? Do you think for a second that this song would have ever made the radio if it weren’t for a viral video online? Of course not! There isn’t a radio jockey in the country that would have risked playing that horrid song had the funny (and contagious) video not superseded it.
Let’s also discuss how this has revolutionized the job of the music promoter. Before MTV, if a new label found an artist with talent, they cut a couple of tracks, usually picked one that they considered a “breakout song,” and then the promoter went on a meeting binge with any and all radio executives and disc jockeys to promote and play the song. They sent out demos to everyone in their rolodex, trying to take the song viral one radio station at a time. Today, the first thing that both artists and record labels are concentrating on is filming a music video. Why? So they can get it online and take it viral that way. There are more people watching YouTube today than listening to radio, and if a video goes viral, millions of people could hear (and see) the music within 24 hours. No radio station in the country could come close to touching that. Not to mention, the videos make the artists become real and personable, someone that the consumer can relate to and associate with.
Let’s face it, video has made it almost impossible for music artists to exist on the radio medium alone. In fact, can you name a single nationally recognized musician today who is heard on the radio but who doesn’t have a video? Can you name one who became famous from radio before they had a video? I am betting that most of you can’t. The only mainstream names that I can think of that managed to get away without professionally produced music videos are from a slightly different time frame: Jimmy Buffet and the Grateful Dead. And of course, they both had the advantage of the most loyal tribes ever built by any music group. Not to mention, they built the foundation of their tribal fan base well before music videos became a must.
Now keep in mind, this is not a discussion on the past. For instance, if you can name bands from the 1970s and 1980s that didn’t need music videos to succeed, then by all means, pat yourself on the back, shoot me a message with your address, and wait on your trophy to hit the mail. And while you wait, remember that I am only focused on today and the future, which you should appreciate because only the present and future affect your bottom line. The FMOs and advertisements that only seem to quote the record-breaking numbers from their seminar systems or platforms from many years ago are doing you a disservice. I am pretty sure that when you go to your CPA with quarterly numbers, he or she couldn’t care less about how well your seminar worked years ago. And the last time I checked, the bank that takes my monthly mortgage check gives me zero credit toward how well I did years ago. Let’s talk about the future, folks!
I am not here to bash seminars by any means, nor am I here to disprove the stellar seminar numbers I continue to see today. Seminar success is real and will continue to thrive, just like radio did after MTV. But that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of larger marketing platforms like music artists did with videos. Think of me as a somewhat biased consultant who wants to share some simple steps that can lead to having breakout years. I get no satisfaction from writing material that ticks agents off or rubs you the wrong way. My only satisfaction is to help advisors. End of story. I say all of that to avoid the hate mail that always seems to find its way into my inbox (usually after agents half-read my articles). Question: Would a radio executive have been considered wise or crazy to encourage top music talent to create awesome videos at the potential demise of “killing radio”? Wise, of course. Think about it: The bigger the artist gets from video, the more people want to hear their music on the radio. You will find that this article isn’t really about killing off an entire marketing arm. Instead, it is about thinking outside the box, combining new marketing efforts with old ones, and working smarter. A rising tide lifts all boats. I mean, let’s face it, this article is really about leveraging your use of time and getting your story and unique personality on the platforms that get the biggest bang for your buck. If you have a great story to tell that can impact people, don’t just tell it around the campfire to a few friends; tell the world.
For instance, I spent a decent amount of time on this article, and I wanted to have it impact the maximum possible number of financial advisors and agents. I had a few choices on how to get this content out to the financial world. I could have called you up one by one and regurgitated this entire report, and after about 12 calls, I would be hoarse. Or, I could send it to a publication like ProducersWEB and have them spread the word to countless thousands of readers (which is what I did of course). This is all about leveraging the right media and marketing mediums. Now that we have all of that out in the open, I am going to unveil to you where I believe the next big growth will occur in regard to seminars. In fact, I am willing to bet that those who employ my ideas will trump traditional seminars producers in a short time span and will eventually “kill off” all but a handful of top seminar performers who refuse to adapt at all over the next five to seven years — just like in the music business, where if you didn’t adapt to doing music videos, your music sales died. And in some cases, those who didn’t adapt to video disappeared altogether or ended up on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab. Don’t end up on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab.
Why video will kill the seminar star
Just as the music industry focused primarily on radio to promote and profit from musicians, the annuity and life insurance industry has leveraged seminars more than any other marketing vehicle to create new business and clients over the last 20 years. If you take a peek back at the largest FMOs in the early 2000s, the vast majority of their top 20 producers were doing seminars. And even glancing through the last couple of years of Senior Market Advisor magazine (before they changed their name), you will notice that the majority of advertisements are focused on some type of seminar selling system.
To say that seminars didn’t work or didn’t bring in tons of great business would be quite incorrect. It would be like saying the radio, or, even more specifically, the first car radio, didn’t revolutionize the music industry at the time. There is simply no denying it. However, that doesn’t mean that all good things don’t have to adapt. They don’t usually end abruptly, but the fact is, all powerful mediums of distribution for any product or service go in cycles. Some go away completely, while others see what’s coming ahead and transform into something completely new. Either way, nothing lasts forever if you don’t adapt.
For the last decade, FMOs have been widely known to showcase their top seminar producer, and build a platform where that advisor can teach others their methods. And this still goes on today, in some cases, quite successfully. But in the last two years, there has also been a silent shift going on. The traditional seminar producers have lost some of their ground to the top digital marketers in the country. And although many of you don’t want to hear this, most of these up-and-coming digital producers are beating you at the expense of your seminar. How, you ask? Let me explain what is happening.
Digital advisors who are having breakout years are taking their seminars, putting them into video format, and slapping them on their website. I personally know of five different agents/advisors who are writing in excess of $30 million each in personal production by taking their marketing, sales funnel, and, in some cases, entire seminar (the same one they do in restaurants) online. Instead of just piling on more seminars each month, feeding more plate-lickers, and most likely burning themselves out, digital advisors are now able to do their presentation in a controlled environment, have it professionally recorded, post it to their website, and then direct traffic there. Once a prospect hits the site, they have to opt-in to get access to the content, which now opens up the door for prospects from all over the country to watch the seminar 24 hours a day, whether the advisor is working, sleeping or hanging out with friends and family. It is simply brilliant. For those of you who know any of these early adapters, you should be thanking them for their vision. They opened up the door for many others, just like MTV did by being the first station to have the insight to know just how big video could be. Many of these digital wonders are having banner years at the expense of seminar producers. I can't speak for all of them, but I know a couple in particular who say that the majority of the prospects who opt-in to their website tell them that they have already been to at least one other financial advisor’s seminar recently. And most of them were doing online searches about things that they heard or learned from the advisor/agent giving the seminar. Even more shocking, many of them had already met with the advisor, had been pitched to about a product or plan, and then went home to research, where they found this other advisor’s website (your competitor). Now, don’t hate the players; hate the game. They built a heck of a lot of sales and a marketing funnel. But there is no reason that you can’t have one, as well.
Let me spell this out a little clearer with another analogies. Traditional seminar producers are to online seminar producers as Best Buy is to Amazon.com. If you didn’t get the joke, Best Buy has basically become a storefront where consumers go to touch and feel and test the new gadgets, and then go directly home and buy it on Amazon. Do both companies still exist and make money? Yes. But why not take advantage of both models? As I have mentioned in my previous articles about adaptation, the bad news is only for those who refuse to adapt. For the ones who see the writing on the wall (especially early adapters), this can be one of the most exciting and rewarding times in your career. Not to mention all of the clients whom you will get to help along the way.
My parents live in central Florida and could be described as ideal prospects to most of you reading this: upper middle class, little to no debt, good savers, and no stockbroker (my dad manages their money via Schwab). They get invitations all the time to attend these free seminar events, and the only reason they would ever go is to get a free meal. They are smart enough to know that someone is going to sell them something, and they would personally prefer to watch his or her seminar online, from the comfort of their own home, without any pressure to be sold. To reiterate, seminars still work, but many savvy consumers like my parents would rather learn about you and your business via a live video or an e-book. Give them what they want, right?
My aunt recently moved out of The Villages in Florida. If you aren’t familiar with The Villages, it is one of the largest (if not the largest) master-planned retirement communities in the country. My aunt could have probably filled one of their guest bedrooms with invitations about free meals in her neighborhood. And because they are bombarded with seminar invitations, the appeal and novelty of the retirement seminar was completely lost on many seniors. I would bet some of them were using the invite postcards as buy-ins or an ante for their weekly poker or Canasta games. Once again, this is not to say that seminars are dead in The Villages — quite the opposite actually, because there are so many agents and advisors marketing down there and getting more creative with their marketing. Not to mention there is a constant flow of new blood, as the area continues to keep adding new people to the neighborhood. But once again, give them what they want, to try to appeal to as many ideal prospects as possible.
Before I present my solution to you, I want to make something incredibly clear first. Although I am a big believer and proponent of digital marketing, I am not naïve enough to think that traditional marketing methods will disappear. Nor do I scoff at seminar producers, direct mail gurus, or anyone else who isn’t adapting to the digital methods that I'm describing. In fact, the big irony is that I personally spend thousands of dollars per month on direct mail. I believe in direct mail; I like the return on investment, and I don’t ever want to be dependent on one form of marketing (and you shouldn’t, either). And doggone it, I still enjoy going to my mailbox at the end of the day. Moreover, I want to go on record and say that, although I do firmly believe what I am suggesting (in terms of certain agents going extinct), I also believe that the very best traditional seminar producer can (and will) thrive with or without my advice. Just as Jimmy Buffett and the Grateful Dead did not need MTV to build their brand or audience, the same will go for a select few top-of-the-table seminar producers. So, what is the solution?
My solution does not involve you going cold turkey on your seminars. In fact, you might even need to be doing more traditional seminars than you are doing today (not what you expected me to say, I know). My proposition will give you the ability to do tens of thousands of seminars per year (not a typo). And if I were a seminar marketing agent or advisor today, here is exactly what I would do.
First, hire a professional video group to film you giving a live event with actual prospects. If that makes you too nervous, simply rent out a conference room from a local hotel during a slow time for them, bring in some of your close friends, family or clients, and film it with them watching you and pretending to be the audience of seminar prospects. And if you still don’t like that idea, just have the video of you only (perhaps in front of a white board or wall where your presentation will be projected).
Once the full seminar is edited and cut, break it down into a couple smaller pieces. This way, you can let the visitors who come to your site watch a specific piece (perhaps just a few minutes) to whet their appetite, and then they have to opt-in their information to see the full presentation. Any Web designer can structure something like this without any problems (and with hardly any cost to you). Doing this enables you to offer your seminar online 24 hours a day. And even if you hardly have any traffic to your site today, it is worth it if just one person to look you up online, come to your site, watch the first two minutes of your presentation, want to see more, opt-in, and then answer the phone when you call the next day.
Do you think your chances of closing that prospect or referral go up or down when you speak to them the first time after they have already seen your powerful presentation and had the chance to see and hear you a little more as a person? You're darn right; the chances of closing go up. You are halfway to making a new client on your first phone call. This kind of online marketing can turn you into a real person, and in some cases, it can even turn you into a celebrity. Don’t ever underestimate the power of video. We have watched video change the world we live in, how we get our news, how we connect with musicians, how we like to be educated, how we entertain ourselves, and even how we find "how to" material.
Video may or may not kill the traditional seminar star. Heck, it might even have an impact on today’s advisor radio stars (as the original song implied). But one thing I do know is that the only advisors who aren’t wondering (or complaining) about where their growth is going to come from in 2014 and beyond are the ones using digital marketing in their practice. Their biggest concerns right now are how to replicate themselves and how to best capitalize on this marketing shift. This can be you, too. Don’t be left behind.
Finally, let me ask my message a different way. Assume that my entire article was cut down to the following question.
If I could show you a way to do fewer (or the same amount of) actual workshop seminars, which means:
- Paying for fewer venues and meals
- Enduring fewer headaches, less stress, and fewer nights presenting the same pitch over and over again
- Having more prospects actually watch your seminar each year, even when you are on vacation and meeting with other prospects and clients
- Working smarter
- Earning more net profit to your practice
If you have a good story tell to the world and someone offers you a larger stage or platform to tell it, then by all means, do it. Don’t keep a powerful message all to yourself or just to a small group. The retirement nation wants to hear from you. See you in the future!