The days of referral-based, organic growth in this industry are nearing an end, giving way to a consumer-driven sales process. And clients today primarily prefer digital marketing.
At a time when advisors are dedicating more of their budgets to new marketing strategies, how can the service providers to advisors differentiate their marketing programs? That’s what Megan Carpenter, CEO and co-founder of FiComm Partners, a marketing and public relations firm, will address at the WealthManagement.com Executive Forum on Oct. 11 in New York City.
Carpenter will moderate a panel session during the forum on “Is Your Value Added Marketing Program Working?” She’ll be joined by Susan Theder, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Advisor Group; Kimberly Sanders, director of business consulting services at Charles Schwab; and Susan Lundquist, chief marketing officer, TruValue Labs
Carpenter recently chatted with WealthManagement.com about marketing trends and what attendees can expect from her panel session.
WealthManagement.com: What are the biggest marketing opportunities for advisors today?
Megan Carpenter: There's a really big opportunity for advisors to take first mover advantage in all things digital, social, and mobile, which we're not seeing a lot of. What's coming out of Silicon Valley, the stuff that those type of companies are investing in—they’re so far ahead of our industry. They're talking about drones, satellites, lasers, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Where we're seeing a lot of opportunity is in advisors who are able to understand the real power and being able to connect with clients in a totally new way. It's not to diminish the personal and human relationship. I think most of the industry agrees that that human relationship has never been more important than it is today. But that doesn't mean advisors should ignore the power of technology, because it can allow them to market so much more efficiently and effectively by meeting clients where they want to be met, which is digital, social and mobile right now.
WM: What are some of the biggest mistakes that advisors and their firms are making in terms of marketing?
MC: The biggest mistake that I see is just complacency. If you look at the last seven to eight years, we've had a really strong bull market, so advisor firms’ assets have grown. But it's hard to clearly identify how much of that has been market-based growth versus net new asset growth. For advisors to continue running their business the way they run their business, to grow primarily on market growth or referrals, we will reach a point where that will not be enough.
Think about all the ways we interact with non-financial services companies on apps and digitally and socially. If we just sit around and continue to operate based on past experience, we're all missing this important movement that will at some point become too difficult to catch up to.
I get a lot of feedback from advisors that will say, "My clients don't want to be communicated to that way. My clients are not on social media. My clients do not want to get an email from me." Advisors are making assumptions about their clients without asking their clients, without testing those assumptions, and that's very shortsighted.
WM: A lot of non-financial services companies use automated marketing. Do you think that will penetrate our industry?
MC: I think it has. Some of the top firms like Betterment have done a decent job. I see them on mobile ads on my phone. I don't think many national or even regional RIAs have picked up on it, and so therefore, smaller RIAs that are just in one geographic location and maybe don't have the same type of marketing support certainly haven't picked up on it.
For example, if you go down the Barron's Top 100 list and go to those advisors’ websites, there are no forms on homepages saying, "I thank you for coming. Give me your name and email address." That's a real basic example of automated marketing. You get people into the top of your sales funnel when they engage with you, and then you work them through that funnel by delivering customized and curated content.
It’s not about extended long format quarterly commentaries and six-page whitepapers. I always say it's about snackable content: content that's really easy to consume and digest. We're not looking for four-course dinners, we're looking at quick bites, and delivering those bites electronically, and with consistency.
WM: What you hope to accomplish with this panel?
MC: Everyone understands that the era of organic growth is gone. It's giving way to more of a consumer-driven sales process, so advisors are acknowledging—maybe they haven't moved to action—that they need to increase their marketing expenditures to keep pace.
The service providers to advisors see that and they want to capture the attention of advisors by saying, "Our service, our technology, our platform will help you market.” We're hoping to help service providers understand what advisors are looking for, the type of services they are hungry for, that relates to marketing. Then, how these service providers can differentiate their marketing added services in comparison to everybody else who is basically slinging the same story. We’ll discuss how they can make the most of the investment that they're putting into those resources.
I think part of the story is, if you don't really have a substantiated marketing service, then don't sell it; focus on your core competencies. But if you really do have a service that can help advisors grow their business in a sustainable way, then how can you make that message stand apart from others and do so in a way that's going to benefit your business and then hopefully benefit the advisor's business as well?
WM: Did you intend for the panel to be all women?
MC: It's not unusual to have marketers be women, but I didn't exclude anybody from the panel because they weren't female. It's just kind of how it shook out.
WM: What do the service providers that are winning at marketing look like?
MC: For the vendors that are doing it very well, it's a genuine and authentic service offering. They're not paying lip service to it. They really have resources; they're building departments; or they're building platforms to actually help advisors grow through marketing efforts.
eMoney is a great example. They’ve created a bunch of videos and other marketing tools that their users can very easily implement into their business. Creating videos for advisors, it's not simple; it's expensive sometimes, and they have this library that essentially advisors can access. They have content writers; they have videographers; they have animators. It's a legitimate piece of their business, and that to me separates the great from the rest.
WM: Can you tell us a little about your background and the founding of FiComm Partners?
MC: I've been working in this industry since I was 20 years old. While attending the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California, I started working at a marketing internship at John Hancock Financial Network. It was a tremendous opportunity because the firm was a larger firm, and it had no centralized marketing services. I was actually able to make recommendations and suggestions and talk to advisors. After I graduated, they hired me as a marketing coordinator, and then I stayed there for eight years.
Early on, I witnessed how differently independent RIAs approached their work. So in January 2012, at age 29, I launched my own marketing company, focusing exclusively on independent RIAs. I believed in what they did and how they did it. That was meaningful to me, so I wanted to help those kinds of advisors.
I also exposed a gap in how other marketing vendors were approaching this industry; a lot of vendors just get it wrong because they don't understand that these advisors are small business owners. They have limited budgets, and they are not inherent marketers. They're really good at selling a service.
I saw a lot of marketing vendors come into my agency when I was putting out RFPs, and they would put these big proposals in front of an advisor. But the plan would sit on their desk and collect dust because there was no execution on that plan. Advisors don't have the capabilities to execute on marketing.
So when I started my own firm, I really wanted to be able to offer a strategy and tactical implementation—a blend of both.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Megan Carpenter will be the moderator of a panel discussion on this topic at the WealthManagement.com Executive Forum on October 11 at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.