Although compliance hurdles that come with digital advertising often pose a challenge, managers without a plan are doing their clients a disservice and missing the big picture, experts say.
NorthStar Financial Services Group, parent company of CLS Investments and Gemini Fund Services, embraced this concept with the addition of a digital marketing coordinator in January.
In a conversation with Money Management Executive, Chelsey Duncan, NorthStar's director of marketing strategy and communications, said the firm filled this position because, "We needed someone that was specifically dedicated to digital marketing ... to oversee our email automation system, web maintenance, analytical, ROI tracking, take on the tasks of banner ads and lead generational, and [those] sorts of things."
The firm's 10-person marketing team focuses on promoting new products and services, as well as innovating outreach with advisers and investors via video production efforts, social media, blogging and analytics.
Rather than paid online advertising, Duncan said the firm and its clients focus on promoting their brand with tools like email automation systems, prospect tracking and analytics platforms.
"It's important to have the backend tools that allow us to do that from a compliance perspective," Duncan said. "We use a posting platform that allows clients to review every single thing that we're doing in social media as well as every comment that we're receiving."
An edited transcript of the conversation with Duncan follows.
What was the decision process at CLS behind creating the digital marketing coordinator position?
As our department has evolved over the years and adapted everyone's roles — whether it was marketing coordinator, a communication specialist or someone who was our graphic designer — to meet the increasing needs of digital marketing. However in doing so we didn't really have anyone solely dedicated to doing things like monitoring our website, monitoring analytics, making sure that everything on our website was up-to-date or running our email automation systems.
It then became difficult for us to give proper attention to digital marketing, so we wanted to bring someone on who would take proactive leadership in those efforts and really take that aspect of the business by the reigns.
How does this differ from the traditional marketing coordinator position?
The marketing coordinator is more of a generalist and handles the day-to-day sales team needs.
We needed someone that was specifically dedicated to digital marketing so that this person could oversee our email automation system, web maintenance, analytical, ROI tracking, take on tasks of banner ads and leave generational. We felt like this person had enough to keep busy in the digital side of the business as opposed to just being a marketing coordinator that works with the sales team to fulfill marketing needs.
Do firms need to understand the differences between traditional and digital marketing?
They do. If people don't realize that digital marketing is such a huge part of marketing today, and they think that they can potentially have a marketing coordinator that will handle all of those things, I think the things they want to accomplish in the digital space will start to lag.
A lot of the digital marketing tasks are things you want to accomplish. If firms want to stand out and keep up with industry trends, it's important that they have someone dedicated to the digital space.
Which digital marketing techniques does your firm find the most productive?
We feel like part of our role at CLS is to provide something to our advisers that they can in-turn provide to their investors and potentially enhance their business and value to investors.
A lot of what we do on the marketing side — whether digital or traditional — is oriented toward helping advisers grow their business, helping advisers help their investors say grounded and investing and not panicking when there's a lot going on with the news.
We believe that providing consistent commentary is really important. One way we can accomplish that is we send out commentary every Tuesday to over 10,000 contacts. Anybody can subscribe to that, including individual investors. We take a multimedia approach to that. Every Tuesday they receive a PDF, and then on a monthly basis they are getting a video in addition to that, and a podcast. Then quarterly we do an expanded video and PDF presentation.
That multimedia approach has been really popular among our advisers and a lot of advisers take that commentary and they repurpose it on their website. Essentially they are providing marketing for us indirectly. I would also say that we feel that providing that value to advisers is sometimes more important than participating in things like digital advertising where we're simply trying to get our name out there.
Are you open to suggestions from advisers on what content that they would prefer to have or interact with?
Our portfolio managers are great and provide all of the content for this commentary that we produce. I should mention that these weekly commentaries are just one piece of everything that we put out for our advisers.
The portfolio managers create the commentary in a way that it's addressing topics that they're hearing a lot from advisers or that the sales team is hearing in the field. Whenever we receive feedback from an adviser regarding something that they want to hear about that is passed on to the portfolio managers and they try to address it in their commentary.
How much of that conversation is seeking a dialogue versus protecting brand reputation?
I would say that they try to keep it centered on what our methodology is and where our areas of expertise are. We believe in a methodology called risk budgeting.
We also believe that it's important for investors and advisers to understand that regardless of what's happening in the market, if you're a long-term investor then it's important to stay invested and stay true to your risk tolerance regardless of what's happening in the market. That is the type of messaging that always comes through week-after-week. There are also those times where they'll take a more edgy approach, but in general they try to lay out the fact and tell everyone how CLS is reacting to it and how we're positioning our portfolios in response.
What tools have you found to be the most useful?
I think our email automation system has been really beneficial. We are able to see who is opening our email, what topics are being received well and it extends over to the website. We do monitor the activity there too. I think that really helps us gain a better understanding of what our advisers are looking for and also what their investors are looking for as well so we can fine tune the resources in the way that we're communicating without advisers and investors in a way that better addresses their needs.
How have you worked with clients regarding their adoption of social media tools? Which products are most frequently adopted?
I think this is an area that can be a challenge for advisers, particularly in the regulatory environment. It's something that we at CLS have decided that it's something we're going to adopt. Obviously there are regulations that we have to adhere to, but it's something that we're committed to and we have a strategy around.
I'm not sure how much advisers are actually adopting social media for their own use, in terms of growing their businesses, but I definitely think that advisers and investors are using it as a way to get information. Whether it's information on a firm that they are potentially going to do business with, or whether it's where they're going to get general news information, that information is there.