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Personal Brands, Horse Rescue and Tommy Lee Jones: Ameriprise Advisors Sell Online

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Advisors are asking a lot of big questions in the digital debate: Does online marketing really improve sales? Can consumer demand co-exist with compliance restrictions? How can success be quantified?

As the world of big-data technology changes at a lightning pace, it may take a giant company with deep pockets and a sizeable R&D budget to arrive at the answers.

With nearly 10,000 advisors on board nationally and more than $650 billion in assets under management, Ameriprise Financial certainly has the economies of scale to raise the bar for chasing consumer dollars online—and that’s precisely what the Minneapolis-based company, formerly tied to American Express, is doing.

Ameriprise is carefully constructing an image for itself, with television ads that debuted in January that feature boomer movie hero Tommy Lee Jones. And because the company is so heavily reliant on its financial planners, Ameriprise is extending its corporate image to its website’s “find an advisor” tool, which allows potential clients to search for Amerprise’s franchise-based or employee advisors by location, name or LinkedIn connections.

In January, Ameriprise Financial (AMP) reported that its final quarter of 2012 operating profits were $388 million, or $1.80 per share, versus $223 million, or $0.95 per share, in the prior year. Operating sales were $2.6 billion versus $2.5 billion in 2011, while net sales were $2.7 billion versus $2.6 billion a year earlier.

200 Pieces of Compliant Content

According to Kim Sharan, Ameriprise’s president of financial planning and wealth strategies and chief marketing officer, advisors at Ameriprise are strongly encouraged to use the company’s “premium social media package” when creating their personal brands online.

The company offers each advisor a personal website along with Facebook and LinkedIn access, 200 pieces of compliant content from which the advisor can choose, and assistance in producing an introductory video, Sharan said in New York on Tuesday at a press briefing arranged by Manhattan-based marketing and technology firm HNW Inc.

Sharan noted that 75% of Ameriprise’s advisors now have a personalized LinkedIn profile.

“They’re using it every day to prospect for clients among alumni associations, friends and family,” she said, pointing to one success story that resulted in a client choosing an advisor because of their shared interest in horse rescue. That relationship led to referrals within the horse rescue world, and the Ameriprise advisor and clients now host charitable events, Sharan said.

In addition, advisor-client scripts are pushed within Ameriprise’s branded environment, which includes consumer information about how to select a financial advisor, what professional credentials to look for and what kind of questions to ask during an initial consultation. In addition, the company is now asking all advisors to capture all client email addresses for migration onto Ameriprise’s secure site.

Lead Flow Tracked

Lead flow from individual advisor websites is tracked by Ameriprise, which reports an average of 200 to 250 lead clicks per month in its content metrics.

HNW Inc. President and CEO Stacey Haefele, who spoke along with Sharan in New York on Tuesday, compared online lead prospecting to online dating—with a proviso: “It’s easier to find a husband online than an advisor,” Haefele said.

Haefele’s firm recently released a white paper, “Relationships Matter: What Sales Really Needs to Build Brand and Grow Business,” which studies how advisors and other “high-touch” sales professionals use technology to grow their businesses. (Ameriprise was not part of the study.) Nearly half of high-touch salespeople use social media for marketing purposes, and more than a third use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for prospecting, according to HNW’s research.

Among those who don’t use social media, the two main reasons are that their company doesn’t allow it and they don’t have time. Based on an April nationwide online survey of 200 relationship sales professionals, the study also found that respondents’ favorite form of communication is face to face. In person contact ranked first at 77%, followed by phone calls at 74% and email at 40%.

As for financial advisors specifically, “they feel that their personal brand is more important than their sales peers in other fields,” Haefele said.

The HNW survey found that 25% of financial services sales professionals say their personal brand matters most with their clients versus 16% of nonfinancial sales professionals. Company brand ranked at only 36% for financial salespeople versus 57% for nonfinancial salespeople.

Read LinkedIn Courts Advisors as Social Media Use Grows at AdvisorOne.