First Steps in Building Your Practice’s Brand Through a Marketing Plan

With the financial advice industry becoming increasingly more competitive even as continued uncertainty looms over the markets, independent advisors are increasingly looking for different ways to drive business by building a marketing plan that truly distinguishes them from the rest of the pack.

For advisors affiliated with one broker-dealer, this may come down to utilizing more traditional forms of contact on a much more frequent basis.  Stephen Kareta, Vice President of Sales and Business Development at Foothill Securities in Mountain View, Ca., says the marketing challenges at his firm are a little different than most others in the independent space. With an average age of close to 60-years old, the advisors at Foothill – which has 228 advisors and $5.8B in advisory and brokerage assets – have really been focused on delivering services to their existing clients, many of whom are at a comparable age to their advisors and in the distribution phase of their financial lives.

The focus on social media and digital marketing, therefore, has been less intense. Nonetheless, it is important for all advisors to have at least a baseline literacy of the different message vehicles available to them and to engage in more frequent and regular client outreach, Kareta said.

“Our advisors are beginning to realize the importance of leveraging all the different ways to communicate their message,” Kareta said. “The days of interacting with clients solely through quarterly and monthly statements are over. This is a relationship-driven business, and if you don’t maintain relationships through continual contact, then assets will leave your books.”

While some advisors put considerable resources into looking for that next revolutionary idea that will attract new prospects, according to a leading industry executive, the key to building a well-respected brand is already right under their noses.  Susan Theder, Chief Marketing Officer at Cetera Financial Group – an independent broker-dealer and custodian with 6,500 affiliated advisors and $156 billion billion in total brokerage and advisory assets – says firms need to look no further than their existing client base to start developing an integrated marketing plan.

“The simplest way to grow a business through marketing is to start by deepening relationships with existing clients,” Theder said. “That’s true of any business, but it is especially true for independent financial advisors. When there is a continual line of communication, clients tend to be happier and more engaged – and in turn more likely to refer their advisor to friends or associates.”

Yet, effectively engaging clients is easier said than done, requiring far more effort and inspiration than simply sending out a generic form letter once a quarter, Theder said. Citing internal studies that show a clear association between client contact and firm revenues, Theder says she tells advisors looking to make a splash to be creative when developing their outbound communications to clients.

“Generate what I call ‘referable moments,’” Theder said. “Instead of sending out a canned newsletter every month and saying, ‘I contacted so and so 12 times this year,’ surprise your clients by making it personal. Sure, sometimes that can approach a fine line professionally, but if you are smart about it and show people who you are, it can become one of the integral parts of your business.”

Aside from cultivating existing relationships, independent advisor practices, of course, are always trying to develop new ones.  In today’s age, these efforts are often digitally driven. While having a website is almost taken for granted for most firms, more and more advisors are going further by utilizing various social media platforms such LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to build their brands and share their value propositions with potential clients.

Some, however, contend that the message remains most important, not the platform used to deliver it. While recognizing the value of emerging social media platforms to drive growth and generate interest, Jeff Rosenthal, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Triad Advisors, an independent broker-dealer focused on the hybrid RIA space that is affiliated with Ladenburg Thalman, said they have very little value if used haphazardly or without a clear purpose.

“Whatever message you choose to disseminate to the public, you have to execute it constantly and consistently,” said Rosenthal, whose firm has close to 530 advisors and approximately $13 billion in assets under management.

“A lot of that hinges on first having a definable value proposition before jumping into a raft of marketing tactics.  Admittedly, formulating your basic core messages can be the hardest part. But once you can nail down this critical first building block, delivering that message consistently will serve to elevate your brand. It doesn’t matter how you deliver it – whether it be Facebook, LinkedIn or taking out an ad in the local newspaper – you need to be able to articulate what you do and why you do it. And if you are passionate about it, you’ll find yourself with clients who are passionate about those same things.”

While different firms may have separate and distinct philosophies about the first steps necessary to developing a marketing plan, there seems to be a consensus around one thing: Communicating a coherent message to the outside world is mission critical. And whether independent advisors can capture that message and develop a brand that current clients and potential prospects come to respect and trust seems to increasingly be the invisible line between success and mediocrity.

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