“The more presence you have on the Internet, the greater is your credibility or ‘social proof,’” says Russ Thornton, founder and president of Thornton Wealth Management, LLC, Atlanta, Ga. “I could not do what I do from a marketing standpoint–helping to identify and build relationships with new prospects and contacts–without the online tools I’m using.”
Thornton is not alone in this view. Several insurance and financial service professionals contacted by National Underwriter say a comprehensive Internet marketing strategy is increasingly key to developing new client relationships–and keeping those on the books loyal.
While varying in focus, such a strategy encompasses several components: a website where the advisor can promote his or her expertise; electronic media, such as e-newsletters and blogs, for conveying new information of interest to clients; social media networks where the advisor can connect with prospective clients or other professionals; and technology tools to leverage and monitor the effectiveness of marketing techniques.
How prominently do these Web-based marketing strategies figure in advisors’ practices? Several of those interviewed for this article say the Web is now their primary, if not exclusive, vehicle for marketing to prospects. And a key reason is low cost. Compared with, say, the expense of printing and mailing a printed newsletter, distributing a PDF or html-version of the same content via e-mail is far cheaper. And the distribution can be accomplished in a more timely fashion.
The Web also enables advisors to connect with people more easily, and on a larger scale, than is possible using conventional networking strategies. Consider, for example, Twitter: a service for communicating with friends, colleagues and acquaintances through the exchange of short text messages. Many people use it as a kind public diary, jotting down their thoughts and daily activities, but a growing number of advisors also are leveraging the tool to pique the interest of prospective clients by posting content bearing on their expertise.
Carl Richards, a director of research at BehaviorGap.com and a principal of Clearwater Wealth Management, Las Vegas, Nev., regularly uploads short teasers about, and hotlinks to, articles concerning personal financial planning, as well as short surveys and requests for feedback. After one such “tweet,” he received an invitation to speak about financial planning at a national conference for some 600 physicians.
Thornton, who also uses Twitter to flag noteworthy articles and solicit user feedback, says that more than 1,200 people now follow his posts. Recently, he received an invitation from one reader to join an informal gathering of Atlanta-based Twitter users–all prospective clients.
“Twitter is another element of social proof,” says Thornton. “It helps to build my Web presence, professional identity and credibility. And it serves as an intelligence-gathering vehicle.”
Adds Richards: “For me, Twitter has been the biggest surprise. As a marketing tool, it has been amazingly effective–shockingly so.”
It also is one among a growing arsenal of online marketing tools that Richards keeps at his fingertips. The core of his online efforts is a website where Richards maintains a blog and e-newsletter to help people close their “behavior gap,” investor practices that yield a real life return for the average investor that is dramatically lower than that of the average mutual fund.
Typically, Richards generates material for the blog and newsletter from articles in the financial press. His blog posts are then automatically routed to 2 popular Web portals: LinkedIn and Facebook. These are social networking sites–places where people go to keep up with acquaintances, upload photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the individuals they meet online. But whereas Facebook is used largely to connect with family and friends, LinkedIn is oriented to professionals.
Because of this difference, sources say, advisors need to be attuned to content that is appropriate for each of the two sites. Chuck Rylant, a principal at C.J. Rylant Wealth Management, Santa Maria, Calif., says that on LinkedIn, he’s strictly business, using the site to meet prospects or other professionals who may be good referral sources. On Facebook, Rylant’s communications are mostly (though not exclusively) of a personal nature. Because the site is less formal, it’s often a more effective vehicle with which to build a rapport with prospective clients and secure referrals–intentionally or otherwise.
“One of my friends on Facebook has a friend who is also my friend, and so we’re all able to see each other’s dialogues on the site,” says Rylant. “One said to the other, ‘I didn’t know you know Chuck.’ The other said, ‘He does my finances and is really great.’ I didn’t intend for this to happen. The fact is a lot of informal referrals are going on behind the scenes.”