Do not be fooled about the marketing discipline in business. It might be considered one of the soft skills that play a supporting role to the heavy-duty work in financial advisory and wealth management, like portfolio analysis.

Although marketing might not always be as quite as demanding as absorbing portfolio performance spreadsheets and graphics, the craft does involve some specific and critical steps that no advisor can afford to skip when it comes to running a successful practice. Marketing can help an advisor’s practice flourish when done properly, but it can also trip up the enterprise if done poorly or not at all.

Recently, though, we have come across two approaches that industry professionals say can help advisors solidify their names in the minds of clients, one online another offline.

Before we delve into both, start with the biggest question any advisor should ask him or herself: Why am I in business? The quick answer is: ‘To help people,’ but what does that entail? What are my special skills? What type of clients do I attract? What are my firm’s unique contributions to the profession, and why would this practice be a standout choice for the clients in our area looking for professional advice?

During a recent visit to our offices, Mag Black-Scott, the president and chief executive officer of Beverly Hills Wealth Management, with $100 million under management, shared a couple of simple approaches that can help advisors solidify their names in the minds of clients. She says advisors should think about themselves and define the value that they bring to clients.

Then, Black-Scott says, take a step back and take a look at their client base. Notice that a lot of them are in a particular profession? It’s a great idea to ferret out publications and professional organizations that serve those professions. Then, pitch interesting articles to those publications, or offer your services as a speaker at one of their professional or industry gatherings, she said.

The topic should relate to financial planning and wealth management, of course. Writing articles and making speeches might require an advisor to refine those communication skills, but if the advisor can find a topic where he or she is passionate and fluent, that might flatten out the learning curve significantly.

But the point is that each advisor can probably find a few common threads running through his or her client base. Why not tap into that affinity and create a powerful marketing message to solidify your hold on that group of clients?

After that self-assessment, principals might need to do some further digging to understand how they can successfully communicate to potential clients and business partners online what makes them stand out from their peers and competitors. The financial services research firm Aite Group released a report on Monday that explains how executives at financial institutions, including principals at financial planning and advisory practices, can build suitable online marketing maturity models (OMM) for the firms. We should mention that the report specifically focuses on online marketing practices at companies like banks and credit unions. Advisory firms, however, could glean some valuable lessons about online marketing from Aite Group’s report.

In any case, what is this concept called OMM?  It describes how firms assess their online marketing capabilities and create roadmaps of the investments they need to make in order to improve the way they market themselves via the Internet. Judging from Boston-based Aite Group’s findings, firms sure could stand to pay more attention to this area.

Aite found that 45% of financial institutions surveyed either have or plan to develop targeted banner ads; 40% would go for targeted email messages and 26% would do an intercept after login (like this writer’s bank). Oddly enough, just 19% thought said they have or would implement integration with customer relationship management systems.

There are three processes in OMM: demand generation, demand conversion and account creation. Aite divides each process further into three stages, called performed, in which the firm just say, throws up a Web site or social media account with no strategic plan; integrated, in which various activities are connected to each other across product lines and channels; and optimized where all activities are guided by a formal, strategic decision-making process. Firms use refined techniques to measure and test whether their online activities are working, and well-defined roles and responsibilities in the organization.

In a 13-page section, Aite poses 100 questions to financial services firms to help each assess its OMM. Do Web site page titles start with the firm’s targeted keywords? Is permanent body copy contextually sufficient and loaded with key words? Do text links include targeted keywords that point users to pages within the firm’s site?

But before a firm decides to dive into assessing and building its OMM, it should solidify a few basics. Those are its strategic direction, business practices, technologies deployed, organizational roles and responsibilities defined, measurement techniques deployed and data management capabilities, according to Aite.

Some advisors might get the impression that if they simply keep a high profile in their local communities, maybe hand out business cards while chatting up the neighbors or fellow softball league competitors, he or she can adequately expand the practice that way. That might be true, but the advisor who can clearly define why he or she is valuable, and develops a dynamic marketing plan is more likely to keep clients interested and see his or her practice flourish.

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