Listen To The Podcast
We talked with Kristen about:
- How strategy starts with the kind of client you want to serve
- Why having direction for your marketing does not mean alienating your brand of existing clients
- How to be so well suited for your client type that no one compares
About Kristen Luke
Kristen Luke is a powerhouse marketing expert who built her career helping financial advisors and firms create simple marketing systems that actually work. She founded Kaleido Creative Studio in 2008 and offered outsourced marketing services for many years before deciding to narrow her focus to an area she believed in most: niche. The goal was to help independent registered investment advisors become more successful by staying focused and consistent on one very specific audience. She packaged her idea into a program to make it accessible to more people and launched OnNiche™, expanding to help firms nationwide. Her book, Incomparable: The Financial Advisor’s Guide to Standing Out Through Niche Marketing, offers practical advice with a refreshing perspective on business differentiation and actionable steps for standing out in a crowded marketplace.
- Kristen Luke’s bio
- Kristen Luke’s LinkedIn
- OnNiche™ website
- OnNiche™ free online course
- Tungsten Branding
- Stacy Ennis’s Nonfiction Book Book School
- Get Kristen Luke’s book: Incomparable: The Financial Advisor’s Guide to Standing Out Through Niche Marketing
Full Audio Transcript
Kristen, welcome. Thank you for joining us today.
Thanks, Lauren. I'm so happy to be here..
I had so much fun, not only following your journey with this upcoming unveiling, which I'll let you share more about, but also just over the years; you're such a powerhouse in marketing and the financial advisor advisory space. So it's been really fun to see the lead-up to this launch. Like I said, we'll talk about that but also just what an imprint you've had across this industry. So thank you so much for all you've done and the advice you've given to so many firms. But without further ado, I'll let you do a proper introduction and share a little bit more about your background and journey to where you are today.
So, gosh, I've been in this industry now for I think 18 years. I fell into it. When I was finishing graduate school at San Diego State, the first job I got was a marketing job that ended up being at an RIA. And so I spent three years there really learning the ins and outs of the industry, even though I had no financial services background. And after those three years, I decided to go out and start on my own. And so I started a company that is now Kaleido Creative Studio. It's had different names over the years but I started that in October of 2008, which was really interesting timing because for people who remember it was when the stock market was crashing and it was not a great time to be in this industry but I made it work.
So because my background was being an internal marketing person at this RIA, I really developed my business to be an outsourced marketing department. So that's really where I spent most of the last 15 years. About three years ago, I had this epiphany. I'm like, God, marketing is getting really hard and I don't know if you feel that, Lauren, with your career, but it's just getting so much more complicated than it was when we first entered this area. And I thought, this is just getting really complicated. And I decided I was going to focus on the area I personally believe in the most, which is niching and then also just what I've seen work really well for other advisors. And so for the last three years, my business has really been focused on helping people, helping financial advisors identify a niche and develop a strategy and messaging platform for that, to really just become an expert in their niche. So that's where we are today. Which leads to the launch of my new program, which is called OnNiche™. And so that's really the culmination of the last three years of work. We've been doing one-on-ones with advisors and we've packaged it up in a way that it can just be more accessible to more people. And so that's what we've been working on for the last few months here.
I love how your story started too, and that you didn't come from this background but you've learned about it. It's funny, the more and more I talk with folks who are in the space and I think really leading the charge in a variety of places, that's how they came, right? They stumbled into it, learned about it along the way. And here you are helping firms nationwide, really helping to narrow their focus. Tell us a little bit more about this new program that's rolling out. There's a book, so I'll let you share a little bit more about that as well. What does it look like, what's the story, and who's your target? I'd love to hear a little bit more about all of that.
Yeah, so my target market has always been independent registered investment advisors. Mostly we've done work in the fee-only space but sometimes we do some work in the hybrid space as well. And so the program is really meant for that group but really kind of anyone who fits into that. So it could be the solo practitioner who's just hanging out their sign for the first time. It could be RIAs who have been in business for a while and are just kind of tired of banging their head against the walls, just trying to figure out what marketing works and what doesn't. And it can be the big enterprise, multi-billion dollar RIAs that have advisors who just need more direction about what to do for their own marketing. And so in that case, it's not a firm-wide niche, it's individual advisors with the niche.
So that's really who this program is designed for—how OnNiche came about. I would love to take credit for the name but we actually hired a naming and branding agency called Tungsten and they've been really amazing and they've actually worked with a couple of our clients too. So if you're looking for a name, I would highly recommend them. And the idea behind OnNiche is that in this industry we always say marketing industry, I should say, we talk about being on message or on brand, and that's really about focus and consistency. Well, OnNiche kind of takes it to the next level, which is like being focused and consistent on a very specific audience. So that's kind of the origin of this program.
And so I'm assuming as part of this program, you're helping advisors or firms go through and really identify who their target is probably to be on niche but what does that process look like? And then what's kind of the outpour of that? Are they changing their websites? Are they creating different processes? How do you help them with those pieces of it? What does kind of that A to Z look like once they've identified who they want to work with as part of your programming?
Yeah, so this program is very strategic and so we start with who it is that you're trying to serve. So what is that niche? People usually come to us with an idea in mind, a general idea, but we help them get more narrow and be very clear on what that ideal client looks like. Then from there we help with developing a message for them. To me, I think messaging is probably the most important part of marketing because if you can have a clear message other people remember and can repeat, you're just going to be better in all areas of your marketing. So we help them with that. We also give them content to update their website. Now some people will go ahead and just go all in and put it on their homepage. Other people, and I'd say most other advisors, they just end up creating another landing page on their site for that specific niche while they're getting used to this.
They don't want to alienate their existing clients. They don't want to do anything to turn away business that's coming in from referrals or maybe other marketing they're doing. And so it's a way to ease them into doing a niche. So once they have that, then we start looking at what is the overall strategy. And so we look at what kind of content should they be creating, so not only the communication method but also the topics that are going to resonate with that niche. We look at what marketing channels they should be using. And I really encourage people to think of marketing channels outside of Facebook or LinkedIn or kind of the ones everyone goes to— just really get an understanding of who your market is and find out where they're spending time.
And then we also look at what are you doing to nurture those relationships once they get into your ecosystem. And so it's very strategic, and people can then really implement it in a couple of different ways. The first way is they can empower their own team to do it. We work with a lot of firms that have some admin usually or aspiring marketing professional in their office who can take this and run with it. We give them a lot of templates, we give them a lot of ChatGBT prompts now on how they can get things created.
I can see using that on your weekly updates too.
I do. We're big fans of AI as long as you know how to use it correctly and don't get lazy with just taking it exactly how it comes out. So empowering their own people. We are actually building relationships right now with other marketing agencies who are familiar with our platform and can implement those pieces. So that's another option. And then a third option for them to implement it is a lot of times advisors or firms already have freelancers or marketing agencies that may not be in our industry and this gives them direction. And I find a lot of times, freelancers or even a lot of agencies don't like the strategic part of it and so they're happy to just get direction and be told what to do. So we're giving the steps and everything they need to do, either on their own or with some sort of help and then run with it from there.
Yeah. So really providing the framework then.
I’d be curious, so what's the outpour, what are the results you're seeing? Are you seeing it shift cultures? What are advisors saying after they've implemented these changes?
Yeah, well it does take a long time to do a niche. As much as I would love to say it happens instantly, it almost could take three years to see exponential results. But I find once people do make that shift into a niche, they end up not having to do any marketing at all after a while, either because they don't really see it as marketing because they're just kind of a thought leader or an expert being asked for their own expertise or maybe they're not doing anything at all. They just do a newsletter and people get to know who they are, word of mouth, and they just keep getting this inflow of clients. And that's really our goal: hey, this is gonna take a lot of effort in the first three years but then after that it should just come pretty easily and you don't have to do marketing anymore.
Yeah, that's fair. This idea of being able to really lean in and then you reap the rewards later on. Because I see a lot of advisors, I think just individuals starting businesses where you're just kind of going everywhere, right? But not really focusing your time and energy, your messaging, all of that. But if it's focused and you're focusing on what works, then that's where you get the traction.
Yeah, I actually find that when advisors niche, they usually find one marketing thing that works and they just do that. And it could be very simple; it does not have to be very difficult at all.
I know, versus everything under the sun. I think sometimes there's this idea that we've got to do everything to be successful but then you do a lot of things and nothing really, really well or frankly even really focused, which is what you're helping folks with.
And something else we see, and you alluded to this earlier that it sounds like you're seeing something similar, is that advisors sometimes are afraid to pick, take a niche and run with it.. How are you managing that and helping them to be able to lean into that for a lot of the issues like you mentioned earlier, just they don't want to alienate or are not quite ready to step into that or what have you? How are you helping them navigate those waters and make sure they know that this is going to be beneficial long term?
Right. I think the first thing is that just knowing you don't have to go all in at the very beginning; this is just what your time and effort and energy are going to be going forward. So you don't have to change your website, you don't have to change the clients you're taking in like referrals. You can keep doing all of that. When I'm asking them to niche, I'm asking them to put all of their energy and effort into this one strategy and a lot of times they're not doing any marketing or they're just kind of throwing things at the wall. So that's kind of an easier sell because it's like, okay, well at least I have some sort of direction for my marketing. They are scared but the biggest thing is if I can promise them that we're not going to alienate their existing clients or stop them from taking other business, that really helps. And so that's the core thing to know.
Yep. That's fair. It gives a little bit of peace of mind. And sort of sense of comfort to be able to lean in. Are you out of curiosity often fighting yourself working with just an advisor or group of advisors in the firm to focus on that? Or is it more of a firm-wide architecture of that particular niche?
It really depends on the size of the company. Smaller firms will usually—when I say smaller, like under 100 million in assets under management—they almost always go firm-wide and they all focus on one niche. When we're dealing with a billion dollars and over then we're talking about multiple advisors, each with their own niche. I think the hardest part for niching is people or firms between 100 million and 500 million because they're scared to go all in on one niche but they don't have the resources to be able to implement multiple niche marketing strategies at once. And when people are thinking about whether they should do one niche or multiple niches, I say, well, do you want to implement one marketing plan or five marketing plans?
Right. That's fair.
And they just don't have the resources or the people to be able to pull that off. And yet they have such a wide client base that it's hard for them to just focus. So it's kind of like that no man's land. So we usually work with firms under 100 million and then above a billion.
Yeah, that makes sense. That makes a lot of sense. Just where they are in their growth phase.
Okay. I'm going to shift gears a little bit here. So you're not only rolling out this new platform but I'd love to hear about your book. Tell us about it, the journey in writing that and it's really been done it sounds like in parallel with the unveiling of this new offering. So two major undertakings. So tell us, tell me about it. Why a book? What sparked all of this? Tell us a little bit more about that.
I have always wanted to write a book. I'm someone who likes to write. My marketing has always been focused on blogs and guest posts and things like that. I never really knew exactly what I wanted to write about. I knew it was going to be focused on financial advisor marketing but there's just so many things I could have covered. And so when I started focusing on this niche idea, I thought, okay, this could be a good book topic but what really encouraged me to move forward on this is that I had a couple of clients—actually I still have a couple of clients—who have written books and use them as a marketing tactic for their RIAs. And I was so impressed by how well it works as a marketing tool. And so I thought, well, I'm going to be rolling out this new niche program. I think it makes a lot of sense to have a book that goes with it. And so one of my clients introduced me to his book writing coach; her name is Stacy Ennis and she has a program called Nonfiction Book School. And so I signed up for that last April. It actually took me about three months to write the book.
Remarkably finished fast.
Yeah. Well, I've written so much over the years, so I was able to take a lot of that and I've written for kitces.com a few times and those were 7,000 words alone.
Yes, I know. Not long- or not short articles. Excuse me. Yes.
Yeah. So when you're writing 45,000 words that goes a long way. So it actually didn't take me very long but what I've learned about the book writing process is that's just the first part, and then you have to go through editing and then formatting. And so from the time I finished writing it to the time it was published, it's almost a year.
And so after that three months is really when, that year, when that time period, would start clicking.
Yeah, I finished in August, so the book came out in July.
That's remarkable. So tell us a little bit about the book. What is it about? The program you're offering? Is it just a case study? I'd love to hear a little bit more about that.
Sure. So the book is called Incomparable and it is really about how financial advisors can stand out by focusing on a niche. And the idea is that you become so well suited for one specific type of client that they literally cannot compare you to anybody else out there that they might be looking at. It actually follows the same philosophy as our own niche program. The beginning of it is really an argument for niche marketing and why you should consider that. I don't know Lauren, in your experience, but it sometimes can be hard to convince people that they should niche. And so really the purpose of the book was how can I convince people that this is a good strategy? So that's how it begins. And then we go into the framework of how you would go about becoming an expert in your niche so you do become incomparable. And then the final part is really more tactical, like, here's what you do, here are all the things you should focus on. Here's a year by year plan for the first three years. So it's really a guidebook.
Okay. So there's a theory or sort of an approach philosophy to it but then there's also more of like you said, a guidebook or toolkit component to it as well.
Right. I feel like people who are high level could just read the first part and people who just want to get the details could read part three and then both people would be happy.
Yeah. So you can sort of jump to where you want, if you will.
Oh, that's fantastic. I'm excited to take a look at it and, and turn the pages.
Well, a copy's coming your way..
I'm looking forward to it. Really appreciate it. Well, anything else you'd like to share about the new program or book unveiling or anything else you think would be beneficial to folks especially, or maybe even just two cents if someone's thinking about picking a niche and/or why.
If someone's looking to pick a niche, I think that can be really hard for a lot of people. I'm going to do a little plug here. We have a free course on our OnNiche website that just helps people really pick a niche that's appropriate for them because there's really two pieces of picking a niche. The first is, is this niche viable on its own? Is there money to be made here and do they have a need? And then the second part is, is this advisor suitable for this niche? And so through our free online course, you can brainstorm different ideas and we have you look at first, what are you passionate about? Where do you find joy in your work? And then second, what, what is your aptitude? Do you have some sort of special education or background or skill set that would make you appropriate for a specific niche? And then finally we have you look at profitability, because really it's all about making money here at the end of the day. And if you can't figure out a way to be able to make money, working with a niche is not going to be a good fit in the long run.
So smart. Got to do that upfront work. And I love the piece about passion too, right? If you're passionate about it—I sometimes see advisors where they've had another life before where they are currently and so they're kind of bringing in that past life or that experience or what have you to their niche. It just comes naturally, the words, the terminology, all of that kind of rolls off their tongue, which shows, to your point, it's going to be a fit.
When I work with advisors, I think they think they're looking for a needle in a haystack but really it's just uncovering something that's pretty obvious. It's just not obvious to them. And it usually has something to do with background or something they already have a lot of experience in.
Yeah, that's absolutely fair. So, well, fantastic. Kristen, thank you so much for your time, for sharing. We'll make sure to link to the book below and you mentioned a number of resources, so we'll make sure to link to those as well. I appreciate your sharing and congratulations on all the success and getting to this milestone.
Thank you so much, Lauren.
Great. Thanks. We'll be in touch.