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'Stop Calling Content Marketing'

Most advisors fail at digital marketing, but increasingly it’s the only place they can stand out and get noticed.

It’s not news that most financial advisors fail at digital marketing. Generic websites, canned “content” and turgid language describing their services are commonplace.

But increasingly, digital isn’t a distinct subgenre of marketing—it’s just marketing. The old-school methods of the “rainmaker"—free retirement seminars, cold calling scripts, direct mailing, radio shows on the far end of the AM dial—aren’t efficient, or particularly effective. Even if those methods get an advisor noticed, prospects immediately Google the name and vet the advisor in a digital context—a website, blog posts, social media feeds.

Breaking through the online noise—and no small amount of nonsense found there—is a challenge. 

Speaking at the MarketCounsel Summit in Miami this week, Ray Hennessey, president of public relations firm JConnelly, said advisors can connect over the digital divide, but not with the traditional, one-way outbound content that touts the advisor's talents or knowledge; rather, advisors need to connect on the topics driving their prospect’s online conversations. “What clients are talking about on a day to day basis is what’s important,” he said. “Values are a way to connect with clients. And unlike investment management, values are the one thing you can’t commoditize.”

So why do advisors have such a hard time pushing that button? “We’re risk averse, and conservative,” said Robert Sofia, founder and president of digital marketing firm Snappy Kraken. Taking the easiest path means outsourcing the service to a marketing company that “sells the same canned content to 50,000 advisors and they all look the same.” 

Most advisors make their marketing all about themselves, Sofia says. Websites are full of statements about what advisors can do for clients, filled with sentences that begin with “we” or “I.” Flip the lens and show prospects how they’ll be better off if they use your services. “Make everything about the client, and you'll get far better results,” he said. “Reflect the feelings that clients want to have about themselves.”

Tactically, keep it simple, Sofia says. Use fewer sentences and more images. Lose the jargon. Show, don’t tell. 

Josh Brown, CEO of Ritholtz Wealth Management, said the best way for advisors to get clients is to “turn them into fans first.” With over 1 million Twitter followers, a regular gig on CNBC, and a rotating cast of advisors who blog, post videos and have a near-constant presence on social media, Ritholtz has cultivated an audience, knowing some will eventually become clients. Brown credits the online content push with helping his firm grow to $1.2 billion in AUM in the six years since it was founded. 

The fact that many of these fans are younger HENRYs—“high earners, not rich yet”—doesn’t matter, he said. There is already loads of content out there for high-net-worth investors. But for the younger professionals who subscribe to their media feeds, "we are the only financial advisors these people hear from,” he said. 

When those fans reach out, Ritholtz often directs them to “Liftoff,” its white-labeled Betterment automated advice platform, or so-called robo advisor. “We look at young Liftoff clients as the farm team for the traditional wealth management services,” he said. This year, the firm has transitioned one household off of Liftoff and into Ritholtz proper after they reached the $1 million mark, he said, and are looking at moving two more soon.

To do this kind of content creation, advisors need to read 10 times more than they write, Brown said. Use Feedly, an RSS reader for websites, to easily track the headlines from publications you want to read, he said. Use Buffer to schedule and send social media posts out across all the platforms. “You should be talking to the people who follow you at least once a day,” he said.

And if producing reams of content on a daily basis is a challenge, advisors should not be afraid of recirculating content created by other advisors. “We’re not in competition. Share other people’s content. Your followers will thank you. Be generous, and it’ll pay off ten-fold.” 

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