November 8, 2012

Advisor Marketing and Social Media: No Job for Amateurs

Should marketing be included in advisory practice management? I know there’s been some debate about this in the industry lately (for instance, see Investment Advisor’s August cover story by John Sullivan,  “Beyond the Buzzwords”), but in my view the answer is clear: these days, marketing is an even more important part of practice management than ever. 

I’m not just talking about whether you should do seminars, get a radio show or join your local country club. The marketing of independent advisory firms has always relied heavily on client referrals, and that’s still very true today. What’s different is that with the boom in technological communication and social media, connecting with clients—and with prospective clients—is more complex, and more costly than ever. 

For most advisory firms, technology costs are now running a very close second only to the costs of human capital, and the gap seems to be closing every day. Much of that expense, of course, goes into information systems. In many firms, however, the fastest growing portion is client communications. That’s because in today’s world, advisors’ ability to stay connected with their clients goes a very long way toward forming those clients’ perception of the service they receive from you and the referrals they send to you. Whether you like it or not, more and more people everyday are connecting through social media: not as a novelty, but simply as the way we stay in touch with each other.

Increasingly, not being on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, not texting or having an interactive mobile website, not offering video conferencing, streaming video, a blog or sending out electronic newsletters to clients is like not having a working phone system 20 years ago. 

Not having a technological presence, or having a weak one, increasingly sends a negative message about your firm: It’s not just about marketing, it’s about building and protecting your brand.

With that said, the biggest problem with this new technology and way of connecting is sorting out the ever-expanding ways to stay in touch with clients and prospects. As the saying goes: Don’t try this at home. For advisors, this means that as in many other areas, finding the best, most effective technology and social media tools requires a level of expertise that most firms simply can’t afford, and don’t have the time to ensure it’s done right. (Doing it poorly is worse than doing it at all, I’d argue.) 

I know, I know: what’s new when you’re building a small business? The good news is that, as in many other areas, there are outsourcing solutions that can deliver that expertise without exploding your bottom line.

As with other outsourcing “solutions,” the challenge that independent advisors face is finding technology and social media experts who also understand our specialized service industry. I don’t traditionally like to endorse people through my writing, but to help our client advisory firms, we’ve found that rare combination in Kristen Luke and her team at Wealth Management Marketing Inc. in San Diego.

With an MBA in marketing, Kristin started her career as the head of marketing for a wealth management firm specializing in high-net-worth clients. Over time, however, Kristen came to realize that even the most successful advisory firms really can’t afford the kind of marketing team that today’s digital world requires. 

So four years ago, she left to launch her own firm, which spreads the cost of a marketing team over many firms. In that short time, Wealth Management Marketing has created a company to serve advisory firms as clients (including most of ours) on a monthly retainer to provide a marketing director, a marketing manger, a graphic designer, a digital marketing coordinator and a copy writer. Together, they do client surveys, website design and maintenance, social media content, blogs, video presentations and a lot more. 

The best thing about WMM is that they don’t just create a marketing plan for their advisory firm clients, they implement it as well: Advisors don’t have to worry about all that content that the social media monster constantly demands. 

Simply put, I believe Kristen has the only outsourced marketing firm (look at it as an extension of your own marketing department) that we’ve found where we can predict the ROI for our clients. If you don’t have a high-tech “marketing consultant” I’d highly recommend you get one, fast. I don’t know anyone who does it better for independent advisory firms than Kristen Luke.

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