From the April 2006 issue of Boomer Market Advisor • Subscribe!

Bridge the broker/dealer marketing gap

In a world of increased regulation and high consumer demands, one of the more common advisor complaints is about the sub-par quality of the marketing service and support they receive from their broker/dealer partners. Whether it's education material, sales kits or pre-approved advertising templates, many agree it's simply inadequate. But pressures to compete, slim margins and growing compliance and technology costs mean that a strong marketing relationship is more important than ever for both parties.

"Many independent broker/dealers need to readjust their focus when it comes to support services," says Dan Sondhelm, vice president of SunStar, an Alexandria, Va.-based media relations firm with an emphasis on the financial services industry. "Most focus on offering a wide range of products, high payouts, technology and perhaps compliance."

Sales and marketing support, says Sondhelm, is just as important, if not more so. With larger firms spending millions on brand development, advisors with smaller firms need all the help they can get in order to effectively compete.

"We consider ourselves a virtual advertising firm," says Janine Wertheim, chief marketing officer with Securities America. "We have five graphic specialists and several copywriters who can assist advisors with all of their marketing needs."

The Omaha, Neb.-based firm offers branding packages, customizable welcome kits, special event cards, direct mail letters, weekly economic newsletters and ghostwritten articles. Their educational brochures cover specific products such as exchange-traded funds and long term care, as well as broad, product-neutral strategies such asset allocation and retirement planning.

Minneapolis-based Ameriprise recently launched what it calls a 360-degree marketing campaign to promote the company since its split with American Express last year, while simultaneously helping its 1,200 advisors to grow their business. The firm awarded a $50 million contract to global advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi for television and radio spots, print ads, direct mail brochures and Web advertising in selected target markets. Ameriprise also announced it will pay 50 percent of advisor advertising costs if company approved material is used.

While the campaign is still relatively new (now in place for just two quarters), Kim Sharan, executive vice president and chief marketing officer with Ameriprise says it's well received by advisors and showing signs of success in building brand awareness.

"We never had this kind of exposure before," says Rocco Carriero, an advisor in Southampton, N.Y. who remained with the broker/dealer after the American Express split. "Clients recognize the brand and it's moved them along in the planning process. It's also helped others feel comfortable enough to become clients. The education material has been awesome."

His one criticism is that most of the marketing material is targeted toward seniors - especially with the images and photographs that accompany the pieces. Since his practice is aimed at boomers, he'd like to see a shift in the marketing scope toward this demographic. However, he emphasizes it's a minor complaint and he's planning to take advantage of Ameriprise's cost-sharing program with local radio and newspaper advertising. "They listened to my concerns and were very responsive."

The technology edge
"Smaller broker/dealers can definitely provide advisors with a full range of support services," says James Duffy, chief executive officer of The Granite Financial Group in Garden City, N.Y., which has 75 advisors scattered across the country. "We've identified three areas in which we provide marketing support. We co-brand with an advisor through macro marketing. We provide a solution to a specific issue through micro marketing. Lastly, we identify a particular client need and assist the advisor in addressing it through target marketing."

Technology is one area that is helping to level the playing field for smaller firms like Duffy's. Prospective clients can use the company Web site to request a confidential consultation. Their Web-based technology platform then helps advisors to proactively identify client needs. Online training and marketing seminars are also available.

"Support on the micro level can be more meaningful to an advisor than a broad-based campaign," says Duffy. "Innovative technology makes this possible."

In addition to its technology offering, The Granite hosts five meetings each year that get advisors and executive personnel together to address concerns and solidify relationships. Media training for advisors is also in development.

Ultimately, better marketing support means better branding and gives the client confidence in the company behind the advisor. While cost and compliance remain a challenge to an effective marketing relationship, a look at the firms that are getting it right is well worth an advisor's time and trouble.

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