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Sheryl Brown

Episode 39: Financial Services Marketing System: Changing the Face of Financial Services, with Sheryl Brown

You might call Sheryl Brown the Jaime Sommers of financial services marketing. Using her bionic strength and amplified listening strategies in social and digital marketing, she has taken on the mission of changing how the financial services community is represented and doing business online.

As CEO and Social Media Strategist of BIONICsocial, a boutique social and digital marketing agency headquartered in Saint Louis, Missouri, Sheryl is focused on making the financial services community hip, fresh, and relevant to today’s consumers.

Sheryl is an international speaker, writer, and business trainer and has spoken at many industry events and moderated panels with executives from Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more. You can find her most anywhere online as ‘BIONICsocialite’ where she flexes her message of being bigger, better, and more bionic to financial professionals across the United States.

What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • The ways Sheryl is working to promote women in the finance community
  • A new approach to financial services marketing using Sheryl’s systems
  • How Sheryl knew she was really great at what she does
  • What you can do to find your ideal target marketing audience
  • The processes and moving parts of social media marketing
  • Why getting outside of your own industry’s community enhances your perspective
  • Driving marketing by thinking about what your clients need and how they get it
  • The coming challenges for social media and mobile marketing of financial services
  • How you can reach out to Sheryl for advice and more information

Ways to contact Sheryl:

Podcast eBooks:

The Power of Two

Episodes 1, 2 and 3 collide to bring you summary of lessons learned and systems created around Vision and Key Initiatives that help drive success to companies and businesses.

The Transition to Automation

In Episode 25, Vera talks with Heidi Rasmussen, CEO and Co-Founder of one of Inc 5000’s fastest growing companies in America – freshbenies. This eBook highlights part of the conversation to bring out the best lesson in automation and on-boarding for startups.

Using IT Strategically

In Episode 29, Vera talks with Tom Grooms, Vice President, Information Technology, and Chief Information Officer for CF Industries. This eBook is your guide for seeing IT as more than just a faster way to do your accounting.


Welcome to System Execution, the strategy and system behind today’s successful companies. Systems can make or break your company, but here we’ll solve your physical, technological, and psychological systems issues by connecting you with experts that have succeeded in overcoming those challenges in their own business and providing you the guidelines and tools you need to implement those same strategies for immediate results.

Now here’s your host, Vera Fischer.

Vera Fischer: Today’s episode is sponsored by 97 Degrees West, the brand marketing agency located in Austin, Texas. 97 Degrees West serves regional and national companies in the healthcare, finance, energy, and manufacturing industries.

97 Degrees West believes that an integrated approach to marketing that involves traditional and digital strategies that fit your customer’s buying journey yields the greatest impact on your bottom line. Go to www.97dwest.com to learn more.

Welcome to System Execution, a podcast devoted to using processes and systems to drive to a better outcome for your business. I’m Vera Fischer, your host.

Many of you know that business success relies on systems. Systems can be physical systems such as a warehouse or a factory, or technological. Think software. Others can be psychological systems such as checklists, org charts, or your daily hot list. Today, I have the privilege of speaking with the CEO and social media strategist of BIONICsocial, Sheryl Brown.

Welcome to System Execution, Sheryl.

Sheryl Brown: Thank you so much for having me.

About BIONICsocial

Vera Fischer: Well, Sheryl is an international speaker, writer, and business trainer. She has spoken at many industry events and moderated panels with executives from Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and more. You can find her most anywhere online as BIONICsocialite, where she flexes her message of being bigger, better, and more bionic to financial professionals across the United States.

Sheryl, before we get started talking about the system you want to share today, let’s hear more about you and what you’re doing at BIONICSocial.

Sheryl Brown: Yeah. I guess it’s been about four and a half, five years I very cavalierly said to a colleague of mine in financial services, “You know, I really want to take financial service professionals and just really make them as great as bacon and cat videos out there in social media.” I didn’t realize at the time when I said that just how big of a bite that I took out of that marketing arm of financial services, but it’s been great, and I’ve been super focused in that space. Served me well, served financial advisors well, and I think that it’s really brought them more current, which we have a tendency to fall a little bit behind and lag behind some other communities of professionals that are out there.

Vera Fischer: Just for a little bit of educational background, Sheryl, financial professionals, as you alluded to earlier, from a marketing perspective, they just haven’t really gotten up to speed or perhaps have a mindset that says, “You know what? We’re different. We don’t need to really pay attention to any type of marketing.” Is that correct?

Sheryl Brown: Yeah. It’s really not to their own fault. We have a lot of rules, regulations, guidelines around compliant conversations in the social space. Although that could be seen as a crutch to some degree, I try to overcome that and get them and push them back out there, because it’s very important that they remain relevant. There’s an important question.

When there’s a problem in a family, a business, et cetera, and they come to a financial advisor/planner and say, “Am I going to be okay?” they have to have answers to those questions, and so that thought leadership, and that special talent, and resource, and space that they hold really needs to be seen and heard more. You can do that through social media and digital marketing strategies.

Sheryl’s Financial Services Marketing System

Vera Fischer: Well, Sheryl, that’s a great segue into the system that we’re going to be talking about today. With that said, what system do you believe that you are really, really good at?

Sheryl Brown: I’m really, really good at financial service marketing and understanding those rules, regulations, those challenges that they are faced with, and then trying to navigate that journey and help them get out and in front of more clients, especially from an intention and retention marketing strategy.

Vera Fischer: How did you know that you were really great at that, at that specific system?

Sheryl Brown: It’s kind of tough to say, to tell others why this is what I do, right? My humble brag would probably be I actually care about financial advisors and how they reach clients today in a compliant, healthy, holistic way. The world’s changing. I’ve worked hard to be there every step and be sort of a beacon of sorts to help them navigate that terrain, as I mentioned.

I think that I just chose the area of business because I am them. I have been in financial services for more than 24 years. It’s all I know. It’s what I love. On social media and digital marketing, you can’t fake it til you make it anymore. There are processes and moving parts, and you have to understand how those all correlate to your business.

Vera Fischer: Sheryl, being a financial services person yourself and really caring about the financial service professional, are they any other reasons that you really just grabbed a hold of this whole concept of financial services marketing that you said, “Okay, this is me and this is what I’m gonna do”?

Sheryl Brown: Yeah. I guess it would be that because I kind of got involved in social media by accident. I was just trying to be a good mom. My kids were on MySpace, ooh, back in the day, and I was trying to pay attention to what they were doing and how they were using this.

One day I sat down in front of the laptop and I thought, “I can find people. I can leverage this. I can talk to people.” I basically scooted my kids off and said, “Let me take over.” As I did that and I became more aware and just better at the actual use of those platforms, I then began having those conversations with financial professionals and saying, “Are you doing this? If not, you need to be doing this. This is important.” I saw it very early on, probably 10 years ago, that we need to start using this space to reach more people.

How Sheryl Onboards a Financial Services Marketing Client

Vera Fischer: Talk to me about how you onboard a new financial services marketing client that you’re working with, and walk us through a high-level onboarding of this system.

Sheryl Brown: Yeah. A lot of times, the first thing is I want to sit down and really understand their practice, right? I want to understand what are your ultimate goals? There’s actually a lot of other stuff that kind of comes out in those discovery meetings, such as they sometimes don’t even know what their goal is. They are kind of still going back to that old spaghetti marketing where whatever you throw up against the wall and does it stick, that’s what they’re going after. By teaching them how to create these blind spots so that you can go in and find your ideal target audience, that then I can say, “Okay, so when you’re in there … ”

A good example would be somebody who wants to work with female clients. This is a financial advisor that has based their practice around the sensitivities of what affects women, long-term care planning and taking care of people. Husbands tend to predecease them, and so they have to understand what comes along with that.

Where are those women? Where are their voices most often heard?

They have to then use those different platforms so that they have a good, strong, female-focused voice in that, and it just kind of … It oozes into all of the other departments or areas of their practice, and they start really looking at every single thing they do in a social way, whether it’s a Facebook post, or a tweet or … It sounds kind of trivial, right, when you say it out loud, like why would that be important? But that’s where people are, and it’s not going to go away, and so they need to have a voice that’s genuine and synergistic. That’s what I bring to that discussion for them.

Vera Fischer: Sheryl, how much education do you have to do with these clients, because I would imagine some of them don’t know a lot about social or because they don’t use it, no one else uses it?

Sheryl Brown: That’s exactly right. I do have some of the clients who the advisors will call me and say, “Can you spell LinkedIn?” It’s like, “Oh, okay,” so you know kind of where we’re at there, right? I kind of say that jokingly, but at the same time, my heart warms a little bit because one of my very best examples of an education was I had a gentleman that was in Columbus, Ohio, the advisor that was near 80, okay, so this was a much older … One day, he called me and said, “I have to understand this.”

That really excited me because you think this is somebody who’s going to exit their business, which indeed he was intending to do that. However, he recognized that, “I had to have a social presence,” because it made his practice more attractive to someone buying it. The cutest thing that he said to me at the end of it, once he got it, and we got in and we really got something he could do … because that’s something else I’m viscerally connected to is not overwhelming them and giving them actionable education.

He left the call or he left the meeting and he said, “I cannot wait to tell my brother … ” who’s also a financial advisor and was 63 years old, that he knew more about social than his “younger” brother did.

It’s kind of an ageless opportunity in the educational part of it. However, the ones who are early on in recognizing that, not only do they have to do it, but then their staff has to do it. Then really getting into it, they’re the ones who tend to be much more successful, not just in the actual practice of social and digital media marketing, but in their actual practice itself, because they start looking at their business very, very differently and very holistically.

How Sheryl Became a Social and Digital Media Expert

Vera Fischer: Sheryl, did you already have that knowledge of social and digital media in regards to financial services marketing, or was that something that you yourself had to go off and learn?

Sheryl Brown: Yeah. It’s a great question because one of the things the advisors really appreciate about me is that I am them. I am somebody who has worked in financial services. I tell people when they ask me, “Where did you go to school for this?” and I say, “Oh, University of Google.” I started really going out and looking for stuff.

I think the other thing that I did, which was quite smart, was I got outside of financial service as a community and started looking at social media from very different types of industries and communities of professionals. What was the hospital community doing to reach out to clients? What is Starbucks, and the coffee, and the specialty-beverage industry doing to reach out to clients?

Then I started to take all this data and bring it back so that we could create something that was much cooler or more relevant and having real conversations, because I’m telling you right now, nobody … I got up this morning. I looked at Facebook. Not a single person posted on there, “Wow, you really need to read this report about investments,” unless they were investment professionals. Those are the only ones who share them.

Vera Fischer: Exactly.

Sheryl Brown: Yeah. Taking that information back and really slicing and dicing it down and making it something that a financial professional could use and as well as being compliant, that’s just the holy grail.

The Challenges of Implementing Financial Services Marketing Strategies

Vera Fischer: Sheryl, I know from my own experience that educating and putting that plan together from a social media, digital media perspective, that’s half the battle. The other half of the battle is the actual implementation. What has your experience been from an implementation perspective?

Sheryl Brown: Yeah. I would say that one question that I get asked a lot is, “Sheryl, I know I need to do this stuff. I don’t have time to do this stuff. I’m gonna hire someone to do this stuff. What is your thought around that and how to implement?” I will tell you that, not only in financial services, I actually really prefer that they have someone on the inside do that work, because then they know they’re intimately attached to the messaging and the passion behind what their goals is and they want to achieve.

However, if they have to hire someone outside, I get really very cautious and I remind them of the different hazards of hiring a third party to come in and implement that process for them, because do they understand financial service as a whole? Let’s break it down.

Do they understand your voice? What is your tone and texture of your brand supposed to look like in that space? Are they really passionate about doing this or are you just another customer that’s coming in and they’re just sending out a tweet that’s going to look like some other tweet for some other company?

There’s a lot that has to be thought about as you implement that, and then you have to understand also how to keep your voice compliant, fair, balanced in the online space. There’s just a lot of pieces in the implementation part of it.

I do think that the advisors that I have worked with, and it’s been more than … In the five years, I’ve probably worked with more than 10,000 advisors at this point. They really appreciate the fact that I’m very honest with them about that particular point in the implementation, because it really gives them … One, it either gives them the okay to hire and/or give somebody else additional skill sets in the office to do that, but second, that they don’t go out and hire the wrong person to do it, so you’re not just hiring somebody out of college that … Yeah, they know how to do social, but they don’t know your social. They’re much more educated and knowledgeable about what they’re looking for.

Vera Fischer: Do you ever help your clients interview those candidates?

Sheryl Brown: I actually have. I had a couple of clients who wanted to hire interns, which I’m a huge, huge believer in internships. That gave that person a much … I think the younger person … First of all, I love the idea of bringing more young people into financial services marketing, because we don’t have nearly enough coming in to fill those roles, and so it’s exciting to see someone young. It’s also for the person … If you’re the intern themself, “I know how to do social,” and then all of a sudden they start thinking about their own social different.

It’s kind of interesting to watch the light bulb, “Oh, this is why I many not want to disparage someone out in the public space,” or, “Oh, this is why we can’t do fill in the blank,” et cetera. They start to think they’re learning how to actually build a brand and how to build a voice in that space, but then the advisor is giving back to the community, bringing someone young in, giving them a job. Having that conversation with them on the phone, I can help ask the questions that, in a deeper level, that the advisor just wouldn’t be able to do because they don’t know because they’re learning too.

One of Sheryl’s Biggest Failures in the Industry and What She Learned

Vera Fischer: Sheryl, I’m really curious, because our listeners really get a lot of information from failures. I am wondering if there was ever some complete failure that you really said, “Wow, I did not even see that coming, but I sure learned a lot from it.”

Sheryl Brown: Oh, my gosh. I love when people ask about the fails, because I’ve had many of them, and I’m probably going to continue to do so. I don’t want a failure to ever scare anybody off from doing something. I know that one epic fail that I had was when I worked at a brokerage agency before. It was very large.

We had a little more than 350 colleagues, people working at the company. Trying to put them all online, and I really thought, “Well, everybody’s gonna wanna be on social media. Everyone’s gonna have access to social media.” Wrong. No. I had a lot of challenges in convincing each employee to do this, because some of the questions I would receive was, “Why do I have to do this?” or, “When I got this job, social media wasn’t part of the job description.” Nevermind they got hired 20 years ago before it existed, but you know how that goes.

I took that long road and decided to correct and schedule a meeting with every single person one-on-one. That’s right. You’re talking 350 appointments. It took me a few months to do it, to explain what we were trying to accomplish, why they were important to that process, making sure that they got individualized, personalized care in answering their questions about privacy, about amplification, about what people can see and not see, what they can and can’t do.

The end was so worth it because they weren’t just onboarded to the idea, they actually became a part of a team to a veritable solution. They were actually a part of creating something so powerful, and they felt it versus, “Hey, everybody. Let’s just go start up a LinkedIn profile and start talking.” No, it was worth it.

Vera Fischer: What was the outcome after you had all of those appointments? How much time did it take for people to come back around and say, “Wow, now I see the results,” or, “Now I see why it’s so important”?

Sheryl Brown: Yeah. I tell everybody it takes nine months to make a baby, and it’s about that same timeframe for when you start to get online and start to actually see some results. For the ones who want to get in and do the get-rich-quick kind of scheme, when I see those advertised or people talking about them, that does not work out very well. You might have one. It’s like the lottery. There’s one winner a lot of times, if there’s one. When I went into this, I was very fair and upfront with them and told them, “You know what? Today you’re gonna have a discussion online and nobody may see it. Don’t let that deter … Keep going. Keep going.”

Then sure enough, in that particular organization, one of the gentlemen who was at a senior executive level, a C-suite level, he decided to start not only just putting posts out, but he started blogging. Once that happened, and I told him, I said, “Why don’t you take that blog and create a book out of it?” He looked at me and he’s like, “That’s good idea.” Then guess what happened?

All the writing that he did before, it built his foundation for who he was, is what his topic was about. He started taking those kind of conversations into blogs, and now he’s got this blog, which is this next layer of really … It’s like the walls of the house. He’s built it up. The book, imagine opening it up and setting it over, became sort of the way to support it all.

Now when he goes out to conferences and he’s invited to speak, he has a book to give out, and this was just a compilation of a year’s worth of writing, which he was going to do anyway. You just have to understand there’s going to be time between when you start and where you’re going, and you just tweak along the way, see what people are … they’re interacting with, and then from there, just keep writing about things that they want to see.

Vera Fischer: I love that analogy about it takes nine months to make a baby and it takes about that long to get that social media and online present really out there, and I think that a lot of people have that misconception that, “Oh, I’m gonna get out there and it’s gonna take 30 days and I’ll start seeing a result,” and they get discouraged and then they quit.

Sheryl Brown: Yes.

Vera Fischer: To use one of the analogies that I’ve used in the past is that it’s a lot like going to the gym. You cannot just go and hit it hard for 30 days and expect to see results. You’ve got to keep at it, and it has to be consistent.

Sheryl Brown: Yeah. No, and then consistency, another one I tell people, is just like a cake. If you take all the ingredients that’s on the back of the box and put it in and you look in the bowl, that’s not a cake, right? You could put that into a bowl … It’s not going to make sense. The consistency, you have to whip it up and then all of a sudden, “Oh, that’s what makes cake.” Yeah, it’s the consistency part.

Vera Fischer: I love that.

Sheryl Brown: Yeah. You went to workout. I went to cake. We see where each of us has-

BIONICsocial’s Next Big Challenge

Vera Fischer: Exactly. Hey, Sheryl, before we wrap things up, let’s talk about what is your next challenge with BIONICsocial?

Sheryl Brown: Oh, the next challenge. It would probably be that I want to take on texting for advisors. I know that sounds crazy, right? They can’t really text because of the archive and retention issues behind it. It’s a written discussion in the eyes of FINRA, and SEC, and all of these different regulatory committees. It’s a written discussion.

Although there are already some systems out there that kind of let you talk, they kind of suck too. I want to work with those who help supply the answers to the compliance problem and make texting clients a much more normal part of a financial service business practice. It is almost for every other business out there except for those within the financial services community. That’s a big one.

Vera Fischer: Oh, that is. That’s really interesting, and that’s not something that I’ve heard in my discussions with other thought leaders. I’m curious about that. I’d love to have you back in the next six months or so and talk to us about that.

Sheryl Brown: Love to.

Final Advice from Sheryl

Vera Fischer: Great. Well, Sheryl, you’ve shown us that processes are absolutely needed to get the work done, and you’ve provided some great insight into your financial services marketing system. Before we go, let’s close out today’s discussion with any final advice you would like to share, and then tell us the best way we can connect with you.

Sheryl Brown: Absolutely. I just was interviewed. A friend of mine, Erik Deckers, is an author, and he’s using my company and me as a case study in a recent books that’s coming up. I will tell you that the number-one thing that I like to remind everyone is every day is a learning opportunity. Every day you have an opportunity to do something a little different. Nobody is a social media ninja guru … whatever their superhero name is. It’s about keeping up.

Sometimes I go to bed on a Friday night and I get up on Monday and there’s a whole new platform, i.e. LinkedIn when it decided to go through a whole … You have to learn things, so be open to that. Be open to tweaking. Be open to looking at what other people are doing and emulate, and then just make changes. It’s always about the being open factor that I think will really help anybody, regardless of financial service professionals or any other professional of that sort, will get them in front of more people and amplify their thought leadership.

Vera Fischer: The best way we can connect with you.

Sheryl Brown: The best way to connect with me almost anywhere out there is BIONICsocialite. When you’re last name’s Brown, I mean I got to … I had to sort of pick up on that, but a lot of people who also know me, I was really into Jaime Sommers. I wanted to be the Bionic Woman as a child. You have no idea. Oh, I have all her books, everything in my office even. It was my love as a kid.

Anywhere out there @BIONICsocialite you can pretty much find me. I’m out there having conversations and I’m very, very approachable. I’m very quick to get back to people, so reach out and I’d be happy to answer questions if anybody has any.

Vera Fischer: Well, System Execution fans, no matter how many notes you took or how often you re-listen to this episode, remember every successful business uses systems to drive to a better outcome. Sheryl, thank you so much for being on the show today.

Sheryl Brown: Absolutely a pleasure, and I appreciate you having me.

We hope you found this episode of System Execution enlightening. For free examples, case studies, eBooks, and more, be sure to visit systemexecution.com/resources. Contribute to the conversation by reaching out to Vera directly on email at vera@systemexecution.com.

Until our next episode, thank you for the privilege of your time.




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