Think technology means you can have clients all over the globe? Perhaps. But most retail investors are still looking for a local relationship. They may not need to see you every three months, but they probably like knowing they can. And that means using local advertising — grabbing attention in your zip code, and even among those walking down the street.
Local advertising used to mean placing ads in newsletters, newspapers, or perhaps even buying a local spot on television. Today, it's all about “hyper local” — harnessing technology to target prospects by location, interest, demographics or social connections through LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.
“Because the financial world has been in such turmoil, consumers are looking to get back into a personal relationship,” says Kristin Harad, founder of Next10Clients, who works with advisors on how to leverage social media to find more home-grown clients through her San Francisco-based practice. “I think that's done best by leveraging online marketing. It seems most clients are looking in their own neighborhood.”
The numbers are starting to bear that message with 13 percent of all web searches now focused on local information, according to a recent study by Local Search Association and comScore, a digital research outfit. In addition, local web searches increased 16 percent between January 2010 and January 2011, according to the same study.
Sure, many of these are queries for the closest shoe store or a meal deal from a nearby chain restaurant. But financial services firms are definitely in the mix — including ads from American Express, Schwab and Fidelity, says Dave Courtney, CEO of JiWire, a location-based advertising firm who counts those companies as clients and says that consumers are seeking messages from this sector, even from smart phones while on the go. “A brokerage firm will advertise where its nearest retail offices are, and brokers that are nearby,” he says. “This is a way national brands advertise in a local way.” And more financial firms are responding — encouraging their reps to push for more visibility in their own backyard.
New World Marketing
Mark Cohen, a former technology consultant hired by Cambridge Investment Research (CIR) to guide its more than 2,000 advisors on how to adopt social media tools to better target prospects, believes today's technology has helped simplify how advisors can mine prospects in their local area.
“I think it's all about the tools,” says Cohen, now Cambridge's assistant vice president of digital media. “It's now so much easier to find people in your community, reach out and target them.”
His favorite method? Using LinkedIn ads, which Cambridge's reps adopted about two months ago, Cohen says. Watching the traffic that came from LinkedIn ads to the company's web site, Cambridge discovered these prospects spent more time on the site than prospects who came from another source.
While LinkedIn already allows users to target those in their own social community, as well as those who may be two or three connections removed, the ads, says Cohen, let reps generate leads by targeting the messages to those within a particular location — perhaps 100 miles from their offices. While there is a cost factor, as reps must pay for each click, Cohen believes the reach is worth it. “Reaching a person through a current connection is obviously a warmer lead than just an ad,” he says. “The flip side of the ad is that while it's not as warm, it's a lot less effort.”
Some reps are using technology to widen their local reach in their professional network as well. Sara Stanich, an advisor through Raymond James Financial Services in New York, adopted Meetup, an online social community, to arrange events for women who are small business owners near her home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Usually about five to 15 of the 129 members in her group, Gal Connect (Meetup.com/galconnect ), show up for periodic cocktails at a bar in her neighborhood where they can talk shop. And while Stanich doesn't try to mine the group directly for new customers, she knows, of course, that meeting them in this fashion could open the door to her practice. “I find that a personal connection is really important, especially with a new client,” she says. “Personal referrals have been the best way to grow my business, and I live in a big city. There's plenty of opportunity right in my local neighborhood.”
Building Digital Assets
Stephanie Sammons agrees. As the CEO of the social media platform Wired Advisor, Sammons is an evangelist for local prospecting, advising reps to adopt tools like Google Places, where firms register their name and address to increase local presence in search results for their area. Still, she also reminds clients that while using digital tools is critical to corralling hyper local marketing, prospects must have something to see when they click through an advertisement or a local listing. So Sammons also pushes reps to build their digital presence — a web site, Facebook page or other content that rounds out the where and what a local ad offers.
“The chance of landing a client just through search is probably not that great,” says Sammons. “For financial advisors, it's more about credibility and reputation. Millions conduct people searches every day, so what are they going to find when they search for you? I think it's a combination of building digital assets to make sure you have local contact information, and then connecting that to your online presence as well.”
Take Ameriprise Financial, which provides its 10,000 reps with free web sites, which they're allowed to personalize. The firm then encourages its advisors to link these sites to local search engines, which 80 percent do, says Kim Sharan, Ameriprise's president of financial planning and wealth strategies, and chief marketing officer. Local is actually now a cornerstone of Ameriprise's marketing push and echoed in its recent national ad campaign titled, “More Within Reach.” The idea? How to put advisors more in contact with clients and prospects — whether that's face-to-face or through a digital channel.
Sharan says that while some reps prefer to connect with their investors digitally or on the phone, others like an in-person connection. But advisors who are adopting both, and able to reach local clients in either manner, seem to be bringing in more business, she notes. “The advisors who are comfortable in a remote environment are obviously doing better than those who are comfortable in just face-to-face,” she says. “Still, that doesn't mean it's not local. I could be in New York, and you could be in New York, and we could be having a conversation online and we're still local.”
The Local Evolution
Count Brittney Castro among advisors who have embraced technology to locally target prospects in her area. Vice President at the Los Angeles-based Perennial Financial Services LLC, Castro runs a blog, uses Twitter and Facebook, and produces videos to help clients and prospects focus on their financial success. In addition, she advertises through online publications and email lists, all meant to boost her local visibility, but also her local credibility among those who may be searching for a rep. And in the last three months, Castro's acquired five new clients through local online channels.
“When people search you, you want to have something pop up with your name,” she says. “So my number-one goal was launching the blog with credibility in the Los Angeles area.”
Boosting credibility and visibility locally online are great marketing ends — as long as they bring in more clients. And while old world techniques, from print ads to networking events, and seminars to dinner-meet-and-greets, still pull in local prospects, many reps agree that investors are heading online, if not to locate a local advisor, then at least to check the background on a name they've found. And so reps leading the trend of hyper local marketing believe they have to be online and locally present as well.
“If your client is extremely sophisticated, perhaps he would be willing to go on the recommendation with someone outside of their area,” says Next10Clients' Harad. “But I think in general people want that interaction. Or know they could get it if they wanted. I think they still may exchange e-mail or talk by phone, but most people and clients are looking in their neighborhood.”
Tips for Going Local
Looking to widen your local reach? Try these suggestions for a neighborhood bite.
Register with local listings
Google, Yahoo and Bing are just three search engines that let reps register details about their practice, and also link to web sites, blogs and in some cases Facebook and Twitter accounts. Give prospects a chance to find you.
Purchase local online ads
While Google AdWords have been a long, although expensive, favorite, LinkedIn Ads are growing. Businesses must still bid for their ads (the higher the bid the more prominent the placement), but rates seem to be much lower, say users, than those for Google.
Build up digital assets
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages can increase traffic to a web site, plus boost visibility in a local community. Tweet about a local seminar, or blog about a sponsorship for a charity event. Or post a tip for your targeted market (doctors, parents, business women) about an event in the neighborhood. Plus post regularly. Some advisors spend 10 to 15 hours marketing online each week.
Adopt location-based platforms
Yelp and Foursquare are just a couple of listing options that are free besides Google Places. But check before posting here as these sites allow users to comment or review listings, which can raise red flags with compliance.
Mine niche online publications
Looking to grow a client base of families with small children? See if a local mom's group has an online newsletter. Same with local soccer teams, gymnastics clubs and karate schools. Bring an old world tactic into the new. After all, that's where future prospects are now as well. Also, RegisteredRep.com  (in partnership with its sister publication, Trusts & Estates) offers an online community of advisors, estate and tax attorneys, CPAs and others to network with like-minded professionals to help fill a need, an expertise. Go to: wealthmanagement.com .