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In the not-too-distant past, a financial advisor's brand identity was expressed in features such as a strong logo and brochure.

In this competitive marketplace, a strong identity must also include a robust and engaging digital presence.

Investors, particularly Generation Xers and millennials, research advisors online before making a call or setting up a first appointment, even if referred. These prospective clients visit websites, Google names and pull up LinkedIn profiles to get a better understanding of the advisory firms that they are considering.

This means that if a firm’s digital identity is static and out-of-date, it is probably losing clients before it even meets them.

Some advisors are still stuck in the late 1990s, when social media didn't exist and websites were seen as an extension of a company's marketing brochure. For advisors seeking to kick their branding up a notch or two, here are some tips based on best practices.

Up-to-Date Design
Advisors must speak to their target market through an engaging website and, to a lesser degree, social-media sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter. To stay relevant, a firm’s website must stay fresh, both in terms of design elements and technology.

Some points to keep in mind:

  • Make sure stock photography reflects life today, no flip phones or popped collars, please.
  • Consider adding video to the site to create a more rewarding experience for visitors.
  • Inject movement into the home page’s introduction, or “hero” area, with scrolling images, rather than sliders.
  • News sections or press releases should be kept up to date. If the most recent article is more than a year old, it may be best to simply eliminate that section.

Specific calls to action are another way to engage clients. These can include an invitation to join a webinar, subscribe to the firm’s quarterly newsletter or access general information around investments.
The response rate will also help reveal whether the website has succeeded in sparking visitors’ interest in the firm’s products and perspectives.

In addition, consider integrating customized portal technology to the firm’s website. A portal creates a single point of access to information from different sources, allowing clients to easily see their complete financial picture, examine financial plans, review investment performance and store documents to aggregate all assets in one place.

Mobile capabilities are also critical to an effective online presence, demonstrating the ability to use technology to interact with clients. At the most basic level, websites should be optimized for viewing on mobile devices, as investors increasingly use their phones or tablets for Internet browsing and to conduct research and complete transactions.

Building Brand Equity
An active website is essential for business, but the jury is still out regarding the need for a blog or a Twitter account.

To gain traction with this type of social media, keep it current. A blog needs fresh content at least once a week, and a Twitter feed has to have continuous activity.

If these outlets are central to the firm’s value proposition, they are probably already being used. If not, keep in mind before launching a social-media channel that it will require consistent care and feeding.

LinkedIn, on the other hand, is a highly effective platform for establishing brand identity. As the world’s foremost online business site, it can help reinforce an advisor’s value proposition, expertise, credentials and credibility.

A LinkedIn page should include an up-to-date biography and highlight an advisor’s value proposition, the types of clients served, and the products and services offered.

Those who have a “doing business as” or trade name, should consider creating a LinkedIn page for the practice in addition to having a personal profile.

In fact, it is best to avoid focusing the brand entirely on an individual. A brand centered on the practice can build equity and become a valuable asset.

Finally, establishing an updated brand, from design to technology, is an investment, but it is one that advisors simply can’t shortchange. Consider hiring an outside company to create an engaging identity for the firm, with a coherent design that includes the logo, color palette, website and messaging.

Any low-cost alternative, such as using the template provided by the firm’s broker-dealer and placing the firm’s logo on it, could damage credibility and turn off clients.

Matt Matrisian is senior vice president of practice management and strategic initiatives at AssetMark, a provider of innovative investment and consulting solutions for independent advisors, based in Concord, Calif. He is the author of “The Power of Practice Management: Best Practices for Building a Better Advisory Business.”

This story is part of a 30-day series on leading tech trends for advisors. It was originally published on Jan. 12, 2015.

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