In The Future, New Clients Will Seek—and Find—Best Firms: Part 1

Rydex|SGI AdvisorBenchmarking survey found a ‘notable decrease’ in advisors’ social media use

As the financial planning world continues its journey into the digital age, marketing and growing a financial planning practice faces new challenges. Some firms suffer as methods no longer work the way they once did, while others struggle to implement new strategies like blogging and social media without any clear strategy or understanding of how to do it successfully.

Yet through it all, recent marketing research on advisory firms has shown a new category of marketing that has quietly emerged as the marketing method with the greatest growth on an absolute and relative basis: online search, where the firm attracts clients through Google, Bing, other search engines and social media sharing. While the rise of online search is still in a nascent phase, its prospects are bright as the world goes digital.

Accordingly, the best firms are beginning to take the key actions now that will be necessary for success, from better defining target clientele, to creating relevant content and distributing it, to beefing up the raw aesthetic quality of their websites so they leave a good impression—so that in the future, they won't have to find new clients, because the new clients will find them.

The inspiration for today's blog post was a recent survey by Rydex|SGI AdvisorBenchmarking that was shared on AdvisorOne, which evaluated the marketing methods being used by RIAs in 2011 versus 2010. The survey found a notable decrease in advisors' recent use of social media - as many early adopters have seen only limited success thus far—as well as a decline in the use of blogs and newsletters. Many categories held relatively stable, such as seminar marketing, client appreciation events, and direct mail. Yet the one surprising category with the biggest rise from 2010 to 2011: online search.

Inbound Marketing and Online Search 

As I have written in the past, inbound marketing will play a significant role in marketing a financial planning firm in the future, and the recent growth of online search as a marketing strategy is just the front edge of the emerging new trend. What's notable, though, is that while online search itself was on the rise, the use of social media, which can help support online search traffic, fell significantly. In addition, the use of a blog also declined significantly, even though search engine optimization (SEO) to support online searchability can actually be one the primary reason for a firm to run a blog in the first place.

Overall, these mixed results suggest that advisors are struggling to get a clear picture of how to evolve their marketing in a digital world. The drastic decline in the use of newsletters suggests a growing realization that the world is moving digital and people are going online for their information, and that mailing paper newsletters is no longer very effective (although the data does not make it clear whether the category includes paper newsletters only, or "e-newsletters" as well), while unsolicited email campaigns are on the rise and poised to pass direct mail campaigns.

Notwithstanding this shift to more digital marketing, though, advisors who have been using blogs and social media as early adopters in 2010 and before appear to be backing away from the approach, despite the fact that the decline appears to coincide with a rise in the results that blogs and social media are intended to create: to make the firm more searchable and more easily found by targeted clients.

In the second part of the post, I’ll reveal the four steps that advisory firms that want to succeed at marketing in the digital world must take.

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