When financial planners advertise, they engage prospective clients in an elaborate mating dance. Customers ultimately expect live interaction, usually through telephones and branch offices. As in most other consulting industries, advisors will need to seal the deal in person, but rely on a variety of media to consummate the courtship.
Traditional and non-traditional media both work to attract boomers, often in conjunction. Non-threatening and low commitment Web routes, for instance can drive engagement; print or TV build brand identity for larger companies, reaching out to people who may not even become customers for 20 years.
Saliency - concentrating on one media consistently - provides the magic. It is like weight loss, suggests Jacob Gold, a Scottsdale, Ariz., wealth manager. "All types of advertising are effective, if you are patient and stick to them for at least a year."
Affluent boomers are more "tech savvy," with about 80 percent now connected at home to broadband, reports Brent Turner, digital director at Boston-based Boathouse Group, whose clients include Merrill Lynch and Fidelity. Boomers respond well to e-mail and Web browsing, but fewer connect through Blackberries or iPods than younger counterparts, and are less enthusiastic about Twitter or Facebook. Whether boomers react better to telephone or e-mail solicitation follow-ups probably depends on how the initial introduction was made, Turner says. "If they found you through your Web site, it may be better to send an e-mail before you call."
Online media offer benefits to financial planning organizations of all sizes. Turner explains, "Customers buy into the Big Boys' platforms for their systems and content. At a smaller shop, you want to focus more on deep personalization and a relationship, in addition to the tools." So a small planning firm may not need 100 researchers, but can still pick out a good article, or tools for projecting estate planning or 401(k)s, and e-mail them to clients.
One mega advantage of digital is its ability to produce measurement through conversion, quantifying success rates. Web sites like Schwab.com provide a destination, especially after consumers arrive at the site through traditional print and TV messages.
"Investors who visit our retirement site spend four times as long afterwards on Schwab overall, and visit twice as many pages," says Stacy Hammond, director of client experience at the firm. "That means we are providing interesting, differentiated content, by featuring real stories, tips and polls."
At Northwestern Mutual, wealth management advisor Daniel Dagen uses a personal Web site, which the company has helped customize to fit his clientele. His compliance department fully reviews his tailored content and gives feedback.
Dagen emphasizes a message he believes will carry resonance; He highlights how the culture of the firm is "value first, not value added," with a focus on taking the time to discern what matters to each individual. He then offers readers the opportunity to receive Northwestern's weekly market commentary.
It's this power of easy personalization that makes digital media particularly cost effective for reaching boomers. Larger firms are becoming highly skilled at creating customized portals for new business leads. They do so by automating entire systems so an advisor can rely on prepackaged content like articles during the courtship phase.
For example, if you have several leads next month, "instead of your handpicking content, full marketing systems help you optimize," Turner explains. "You check a couple of boxes and the program sends out material."
Digital's other baby boomer advantage is intensive audience targeting through ad networks. Whereas for traditional media, you might buy space in all the newspapers in your area, you can buy into ad networks, utilizing relationships with thousands of Web sites. You can limit your banner ads to finance sites, or range much wider to build the brand and get the logo out. Moreover, because the campaign is creating interaction on so many Web sites, the planner can start to build profiles, based on demographic or geographic responses, contextual (subject matter) or behavioral patterns (e.g. reading about stock investing on multiple sites).
At Schwab, Hammond explains, "we use a smaller part of our ad spend to buy online, and focus on lifestyle changes rather than particular products." (For instance, a Schwab banner might read, "When should I take Social Security?")
The traditional channels - print, radio, TV and direct mail - still constitute the lion's share for larger financial service companies and for those aiming at the higher-net-worth echelon.
"The Internet lends legitimacy, but doesn't generate activity for my practice," says Jeff Leib, CEO of Icon Wealth and Legacy Partners in Woodland Hills, Calif. Leib focuses on attracting HNW clients with at least $7 million AUM, and an average worth of $15 million to $25 million.
"Using the Internet is like throwing a net into the sea," he describes. "You pick up a lot of little fish, and occasionally a big one." Rather than that shotgun approach, he recommends print, radio and direct mail.
With all those dollars going into traditional ad budgets, what works best? Turner admits it is difficult to answer scientifically, especially with regard to lifestyle campaigns (Think of soft, mellow images, something like the family walking happily on the beach). The trouble is, clients are very unlikely to read or see such commercials, then call up a random number and say, "I have a million dollars, so would you like to manage it?"
Direct mail normally has a low response rate, but is easier to measure. Leib obtains lists of leads from list brokers, compiled according to HNW parameters. He then crafts an individualized-looking letter, targeted to a particular need. For example, a letter directed at absentee landlords might ask, "Are you tired of managing real estate? Are you looking to diversify without paying capital gains tax?" A good number of the leads do indeed call to ask about how to avoid the taxes.
"Boomers are more dependent on traditional media, specifically print and television, for both information and entertainment," according to Hammond. Transitionals - boomers who are five years prior to and five years into retirement - are responsive to newspapers, as well as business/finance and leisure/passion publications, per Schwab research.
Hammond cites the appeal of Golf Digest, Travel & Leisure, Gourmet and Sunset on the leisure side, and the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Money Magazine, Forbes, The Week and USA Today for business news.
Transitionals still spend hours of time in front of their TVs, especially during prime time and on Sunday mornings. Among their favorites, Hammond mentions prime time sports, Bravo, CNN, ESPN and the History Channel. Turner echoes the same findings among his clients, such as Smith Barney and UBS. Fidelity, he notes, advertised heavily this spring on talk radio and National Public Radio, and promoted its services on highway billboards and through March Madness basketball tournaments.
"Local cable and radio can be very effective for building awareness for a financial planner," says Bob Hoffman, president of advertising and communications firm Gearon Hoffman in Boston.
Hoffman, who currently represents financial clients such as Prudential Retirement, Scottrade, various online brokers and mutual funds, adds that, "the message must be intelligent, respectful, and benefit-oriented, like some how's and why's of creating a solid financial plan."
Print, however, has become expensive for small planners, and takes a long time to gain traction in the local marketplace.
"It's difficult to find a local print vehicle that is really locked into the financial concerns of the ideal boomer customer," Hoffman says.
Still, he notes that community newspapers serving the areas next to the planner's own office could be cost effective. A planner should try to stand out from the crowd. Rather than running a small black and white ad, why not invest in a pamphlet to insert into a newspaper? Besides, it could also double as a sales brochure.
Leveraging Your Message
Be creative, and try to establish a presence where people are asking questions. For instance, as Schwab recognized that consumers were becoming more and more active online, the firm developed a relationship with Turbotax on its Web site, for answering queries that may be beyond its realm of expertise. On the same principle, "we have partnered with the CNN Helpdesk, as the official financial advisor for people who call in," says Hammond.
Most recently, Schwab is also joining forces with Yahoo! Answers, as their official personal finance knowledge partner.
Whether your business is best suited to print, broadcast or digital media, be realistic about what advertising can and cannot do for you.
"I can honestly say I have never gotten clients directly from an advertising piece," Gold admits. "But I come up with a strategy, which I leverage through my existing book of business, as a talking piece to reference."
Gold might say to his client, "Hey, have you heard my radio ad on XYZ station?" He then adds, "Do you know anyone else who could use our help?"