From the April 2011 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

The Social Networker

David Armstrong shows how social media marketing is done.

David B. Armstrong
CO-FOUNDER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR, MONUMENT WEALTH MANAGEMENT, LPL FINANCIAL, ALEXANDRIA, VA
WHY MONUMENT WEALTH’S PARTNERS PAINTED THEIR NEW WIRELESS FINANCIAL PLANNING ROOM RED: “If planning is all about thought and collaboration and creativity, let’s make sure the place really screams: ‘You have come here to work and create!’”

When David B. Armstrong pitches prospective clients, he gives them an iPad to help follow along with his slide presentation. (“It makes the pitch book obsolete,” he says. “The impression: ‘These guys are early adopters. They think outside the box.’”)

Armstrong, 43, tweets often and edgily about articles he disagrees with. (“If I say this article has it all wrong, people say ‘Wow, this guy has an opinion. Let’s learn more about this guy,’ and they’ll google Monument Wealth Management.”)

And he routinely posts his blogs on Facebook. One snappy headline on a recent Armstrong blog: Turns out, “denial” IS a river in Egypt. (“The traffic driven to our website off of Facebook is astronomical. We’ve got five really good leads right now that have come to us through our social media and digital marketing efforts.”)

Armstrong’s goal as a new wave marketer: to drive traffic to Monument Wealth Management’s website.

“When they come to the website and see all this opinion and thought, it solidifies for people that Monument Wealth Management is a thought leader. The majority of our efforts are bearing fruit. They’re reading about us on the website and taking a meeting,” says Armstrong, who oversees investment strategy for the Alexandria, Va., firm, which has $250 million in assets under management. “Then I can put all this stuff away and just be me.”

Armstrong has been a technology devotee since “You’ve Got Mail” first entered the national lexicon. On active duty as a U.S. Marine Corps officer in the 1990s, his “guilty pleasure” as he puts it, was logging onto America Online and reading The Motley Fool. Armstrong, who served a combat tour in Somalia, began managing his own money while still in the service and discovered along the way that his interest had developed into a passion. “I had this epiphany: This is what I want to do with the rest of my life,” he says.

After getting an MBA from the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, Armstrong in 1999 joined Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette as a financial advisor. Prior to co-founding Monument Wealth Management in 2008, he was associated with the global private client group of Merrill Lynch in Washington, D.C. Notably, Armstrong remains a major in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves, commanding an artillery battery in Chattanooga, Tenn. one weekend a month.

When he entered financial services, corporate e-mail was in its infancy and the idea of using a computer to scale a business was almost unheard of. Then came cell phones, smart phones, mobile devices and more.

Looking forward, Armstrong envisions a day when telephones will disappear. “This is where I see the next change in the way advisors work with clients. This thing sitting on my desk with a number pad on it will be gone by 2020. Everyone will be cell-phone-enabled and the network infrastructure will be so robust that when you call someone it will be on camera chat,” he says. “That’s going to really drive a lot more client interaction and a lot more face to face that doesn’t necessarily have to happen inside of a conference room. Clients are going to feel they are more in touch with their advisor than ever.”

Just a few months ago, Monument Wealth unveiled its wireless “Planning Room,” diamond-shaped and with one wall painted red to encourage creativity and provoke thought. Another wall features seven pieces of glass on which are written a prospective client’s dreams and goals during the discovery process. It’s probably safe to say that the room is unique to Monument Wealth.

Armstrong’s push into digital marketing and his overall celebration of technology has had a noticeable impact on the client-advisor relationship at the firm. As an example, information technology consultant David Navari, a former owner of an e-learning business, was attracted to Armstrong’s Marine Corps-style discipline and precision — characteristics that carry out into the advisory firm’s business processes, planning and tracking tools.

Navari, 45, made it clear when he became a client two years ago that he didn’t want to see any paper statements. He doesn’t. Everything is on a PDF file, held in a secure electronic vault. Navari expects “real time access” to his advisors — and he gets it. When he e-mailed his advisor with a tax prep question on a recent Sunday, the response was immediate. As for Navari’s wife, who works in digital media, she follows Monument Wealth on Facebook.
“The point is you want to tailor your offering to your client’s needs and preferences,” observes Navari. “I’m a tough customer because I have owned a consulting firm and have high expectations of people. It’s smart to have a multiple technology path.”

Armstrong, who blogs weekly for U.S. News & World Report, insists that the only thing new about marketing is the delivery method. His top advice for those who wish to develop a social media presence: Develop a content strategy. “Without content, you can’t have social media,” he says. “It’s like mailing out envelopes with nothing in them.” In the case of Monument Wealth, all content is designed to steer people to its website. With a good strategy, advisors can also “remerchandise” their digital marketing into traditional marketing.

“This is not a non-profit business but I really enjoy contributing to our industry,” Armstrong says. “I hope I’m able to get more advisors using digital marketing. I don’t consider myself an authority on this stuff, but I can tell you this is the future.”

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