A relatively small percentage of advisory firms are using the new digital marketing tools. And they all seem to be doing it differently.
The 2022 T3/Inside Information Software Survey is going to be released on the first day of the T3 conference (May 2), and I will make sure all of you receive your copies. But deep within the 72 pages of charts, graphs and commentary, I found myself struck by one interesting tidbit: there was a huge overlap among the firms that were utilizing the most popular digital marketing tools we listed.
Huge? Of the advisors who said they were using FMG Suite (which includes Marketing Library and Twenty Over Ten’s Lead Pilot digital marketing platform; https://fmgsuite.com/), 21.57% were also using either Broadridge (https://www.broadridge.com/), which offers the Forefield content library and the AdvisorStream digital marketing platform, or Snappy Kraken (https://snappykraken.com/), which is a turnkey digital marketing solution.
Of the Broadridge users, 36.69% were also using either FMG Suite or Snappy Kraken. 35.89% of Snappy Kraken users were also using either Broadridge or FMG Suite.
And a decent number of advisors—more than 10% of the firms that utilize at least one of the digital marketing solutions—are subscribed to all three.
The other interesting statistic is that, on the far other side of an emerging digital divide, fewer than 30% of advisors are using even one of these services. A small percentage of firms are busily colonizing the digital marketing space while most of the others are on the sidelines, creating a new and potentially disruptive distinction between digital marketing haves and have-nots.
Tina Powell, a digital marketing consultant and founder of C-Suite Media (https://csuitesocialmedia.com/) notes that this divergence could have obvious potential ramifications for future market share. But she also worries about the other ways that the ‘have nots’ could be disadvantaged in the future.
“The firms that are offering these marketing services to their advisors are starting to use it as a really powerful recruiting tool for talent,” she says. “They show the advisors this platform that they can use, where they don’t have to spend a lot of their time on marketing, and they’re going to be visible on social media, and it is all done through the company.” The firms that have embraced digital marketing are able to turbocharge a young advisor’s career in a way that isn’t possible at firms where the founder is still the chief rainmaker, and where playing golf with local prospects is the major outreach process.
So how are the digital ‘haves’ leveraging these marketing platforms? At the most basic level, they’re repurposing material from their content libraries.
Marketing on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter requires a steady stream of content—typically articles or podcasts on a landing page, where (for example) Facebook users will see an invitation to click on a link taking them to the interesting explanation of how to reduce future taxes on required minimum distributions. Anyone Googling for information on that topic might find one of these invitations or the blog itself.
The link takes them to a landing page on the advisory firm’s website, where they give their email information in return for the privilege of engaging that free content. At that point, they are officially in what digital marketing consultants call “the top of the marketing funnel.” From there, you can send them invitations directly, with links to other interesting content in the modern version of cold calling.
The challenge to all this, of course, is: who has the time to create a new, interesting article every week or two? And even if you DID find the time, would the article look professional enough to entice a prospect to come back for more?
Jessica Kmetty, CEO of Searcy Financial in Overland Park, KS, faced that challenge as an early adopter of LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “We started to prepare content,” she says, “but we very quickly realized that you need different kinds of content for each of the platforms.”
Her firm did something that other firms might consider: it hired a director of marketing out of college, whose degree was in marketing and advertising rather than financial services. This person’s immediate reaction to advisor marketing efforts was that most of the material that planning firms were promoting on social media was too gray to be compelling.
“She said that we were using some pretty text-heavy content, which is normal in our industry,” says Kmetty. “But it isn’t super consumer friendly.”
After researching the options, her firm settled on Platinum Advisors as a content source that would provide graphics as well as text. Then Platinum was purchased and consolidated into FMG Suite. “That actually worked out pretty well for us,” says Kmetty. “Platinum had really good content, but because they were so small, they didn’t always get a lot of stuff up quickly. With the consolidation, they’re bringing on a ton of different articles and graphics, of all different types and structures. We’ve been able to say, hey, this would work really well in the context of LinkedIn, and this would be a good blog.”
The point: it takes a lot less time out of your day to scan through different pre-written articles and do some customization than it does to write them, week after week after week, from scratch.
Searcy Financial has also found an interesting way to repurpose fpPathfinder (fppathfinder.com) as a content provider, even though the service was actually designed to be used in-house. fpPathfinder creates checklists flowcharts that help advisors make sure nothing falls through the cracks when they consider technical advice on different topics, and it also provides best practice workflows for business efficiency.
How is this useful for marketing content? “Suppose somebody is having a baby,” says Kmetty. “We can send them the fpPathfinder checklist on some of the planning-related things they should consider. If somebody is moving out of state, there’s a checklist of things to think about. Prospects can look at the checklist and say to themselves, wow, we never thought about some of these things. These people bring a lot of value. We should hire them.”
Beyond that, Searcy Financial CFO Marc Shaffer has made a habit of asking advisors he meets at conferences to include him on their email list, so he can receive their market commentaries and other content. “Now he gets a ton of different newsletters from advisory firms across the country,” says Kmetty. “It gives us an idea of what others are saying to their clients and prospects.”
How effective is all this time and effort? “Last year, we had seven new clients onboard with us as a result of social media,” says Kmetty, adding that this is defined as people that nobody at the firm has met before, who interacted purely through the posts and other educational material. The firm currently has 178 clients, so that represents a 4% increase, year over year.
Michael Bradley, of Bradley & Co. in Miami, is another customer of digital content providers. He serves a small, sophisticated clientele of mostly Silicon Valley executives, offering customized asset management, full-service planning and stock option evaluations.
His challenge: nearly all of his clients have advanced degrees, and much of the content he finds in the digital marketing space is too basic for his niche audience.
Bradley’s favorite provider and type of content is the weekly general marketing commentary provided by Broadridge. “I’ll start with that and add a few words on top of it,” he says. “I’ll also use their material if I want to write about things like ‘what is a GRAT,’ ‘what is a CRT,’ things like that,” he adds. “They provide a library, and it’s fairly rare that I will need an article about something and it’s not there in Broadridge.”
From FMG Suite, Bradley will make use of a set of template letters that cover situations that advisors encounter in the ordinary course of doing business. “For example, if I ever wanted to fire a client, they have a letter for that,” he says.
Finally, Bradley has used, less frequently, content from FMG Suite’s Twenty Over Ten, which, he says, permits more customization. “They tend to have the most cutting-edge content,” Bradley explains. “And unlike Broadridge, they’ll do customized work for you. If I say, hey, I need you to make me a landing page of some kind or distribution of this podcast, they’ll do it and charge you a reasonable hourly rate.”
Jeff Briskin, marketing director at Canby Financial Advisors in Framingham, MA, has become an unusually voracious consumer of content from digital marketing providers. “I was brought in as the company’s first full-time marketing person,” he says. “My job is to up the delivery of content and raise the brand visibility of the firm.”
The process of ‘upping content’ started with the development of a new version of Canby’s website, which went live in July of 2020. “I looked at a lot of different providers, and found that there weren’t many that would integrate with the compliance system at Commonwealth Financial, which is our broker-dealer,” Briskin explains.
Briskin eventually settled on FMG Suite, which offers standard website template formats and hosting for $55 a month. “You can pay to have them custom-design something from scratch, but I didn’t want to go that route,” he explains. “I was able make it look more customized by pulling different features from three or four different templates: I would like this slide show from template one, the way content is featured from template two, and so forth. And then I wrote the content that would go up on the site.”
If Briskin makes a change to the language on the website, or posts an article to a landing page, the change is automatically submitted to the Commonwealth compliance department. “That was very important to me,” he says. “If I had gone with another web provider, I would have had to provide screen grabs of the new wording and manually sent it out to the compliance team.”
Briskin is hands-on when it comes to content, which means he either writes or rewrites everything personally. “I’ll customize five or six articles on our website with content from our advisors every month,” he says. Some of the core wording comes from Broadridge’s Forefield service, or from from FMG Suites’ Marketing Pro service. “Marketing Pro not only provides content, but also infographics,” Briskin adds.
Lately, Canby’s advisors have been recording podcasts and webinars. The podcasts are housed on the Buzzsprout platform (https://www.buzzsprout.com/), which Briskin likes because it automatically posts the podcasts to the firm’s website. “They also automatically post our podcasts on Spotify, Pandora, iHeart Radio—and we’re waiting for Apple,” he says.
The webinars are recorded in Zoom, and these will be posted on Vimeo. Briskin is using a service called Storyblocks (https://www.storyblocks.com/) to enhance the videos. “If you want some music in your video or want automated titles or special backgrounds, they provide that sort of thing,” he says.
One of the most interesting takeaways from Briskin’s marketing outreach is the relationship with kiplinger.com. “Four of our advisors post content on the Kiplinger Wealth Channel,” he says. “Sometimes it’s new content, more often it’s content that appeared on our blog, that we’ll republish. Our articles appear there,” he says, “and then it is syndicated to other sites. I’ve seen some of the articles that started on Kiplinger go to MarketWatch and Yahoo! Finance,” Briskin adds.
This is a revenue-neutral arrangement. Kiplinger doesn’t charge to post the articles, or pay the advisors for the material that they’re offering to its readers.
Briskin says that his central belief, the reason why he works with the digital content providers, is that the most effective marketing today is giving out quality content for free in a readable, customized format. “We tried Google Ads for a while, with the typical search terms that people use, and it does raise the number of people who click through to our material,” he says. “But you don’t get many people turning into the kind of prospects who are going to come in and become clients. And,” he adds, “we found that other rival advisory firms will click on our ads to drive up our costs. Plus, the longer I ran a campaign, the more junk mail I started receiving from people who wanted to do SEO work on our website.”
“There’s nothing especially sophisticated about what we do,” Briskin admits. “It’s drip marketing, and staying visible so that people can find us.”
But is repurposed content marketing really as unsophisticated as Briskin says it is? The people who do it well have to master digital analytics, which allow them to monitor the interest levels of individual prospects and clients, identify which prospects are becoming more engaged (moving deeper into the funnel, in marketing consultant lingo), which blogs or podcasts are getting the most clicks and therefore how to adjust toward the most effective topics.
The emails that Searcy Financial sends out, either with content or inviting people to click a link to find content on the website, are sent through MailChimp. “They tell us the click rates,” says Kmetty. “We can see who is opening or clicking on it, who is interacting with it, who is forwarding it, who is clicking on a secondary link.”
If the link leads back to a landing page on the website, then Google Analytics will tell Kmetty and her team what their prospects are looking at, and whether they’re looking at other pages on the website. There are calls to action on the landing page: click here for more information; click here to make an appointment.
Briskin generally promotes the articles, blogs, webinars or podcasts that he posts on the Canby website via email or on LinkedIn and Twitter. The emails are sent through Constant Contact, which allows him to determine which clients or mid-funnel prospects are clicking on which topics. “Constant Contract will keep track of how many people are looking at an article, which topics are most interesting, and it helps me decide to post fewer articles about the subjects that get the fewest clicks, and vice versa.”
Which article topics are attracting the most interest? “Anything related to taxes gets high open rates,” says Briskin. “Whenever I do an article about scams or identity theft, they are incredibly popular. The older population will read anything related to RMDs. Articles about real world issues, like Five Retirement Mistakes You May Be Making Now always get opened.”
Powell has found that there is an even better topic for gaining client and prospect interest. “We’ve gotten great engagement through posts that have people from firms doing community service, wearing some sort of corporate T-shirt or the company colors,” she says. “Anything where we show those people in a social setting and tell that story—that is the post of all posts that trumps everything else.”
Mastering the analytics can be a challenge for smaller firms. Powell worries that most advisory firms typically don’t have anybody on the team who has the time or inclination to track prospect interactions.
“Even when a smaller firm hires a full-time marketing person,” she says, “we’re seeing situations where the senior leadership really doesn’t have the time or the desire to manage that person,” she says. “They just want that person to do what needs to be done with as little intervention as possible”—which is not her definition of team marketing.
The implication is potentially troubling. Powell believes that the larger firms, at least currently, have an unfair advantage when it comes to colonizing the digital marketing space.
Automation on social media
But there’s hope. Those smaller firms can take advantage of the automated marketing tools offered by the same digital marketing firms that are providing content to their larger counterparts. The marketplace is now offering them several options to choose from.
One of Powell’s favorites is AdvisorStream, which was recently purchased by Broadridge. “What I love about their platform is that they’ve licensed a variety of media properties,” she says. Advisors can choose from 40 different topics, and the system will find articles on those topics from The Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, The New York Times, Forbes, Bloomberg Media, The Globe & Mail, Reuters, Business Insider, The Guardian, Entrepreneur magazine, the Harvard Business Review and Investopedia.
Different clients might be coded to receive articles on different topics depending on their interests: golf and travel for some, market commentary for others, food, wine and fine dining for yet another cohort—and so forth. “Most of these magazines and information sources have their content gated,” Powell adds. “Advisors can provide content that clients would not otherwise have access to.”
AdvisorStream will send emails to targeted clients, and also post links on social media platforms on behalf of the advisor. The service can also create customized messages, and, yes, it does track which clients are clicking on which links, which can help refocus what topics they’re coded for.
“A lot of advisory firms don’t have blogs or videos,” says Powell, “so AdvisorStream allows the team to look like an authority leader.” She also likes the fact that advisors can code for articles that are not financially-related. “It tells clients, hey, I’m a well-rounded person,” Powell adds. “I like to have fun. I have other interests.”
In her role as a digital consultant, Powell has also helped advisory firms set themselves up on Lead Pilot, FMG Suite’s automated digital marketing platform. “Lead Pilot becomes part of the firm’s service architecture, where AdvisorStream is more of a plug and play,” says Powell.
Amy Braun-Bostich, founder of Braun-Bostich & Associates in Pittsburgh, PA and her marketing director Steve Conroy found Lead Pilot after unsuccessful experiments with CEG Worldwide (cultivate centers of influence by helping them market themselves better) and HubSpot (too expensive with low results).
“We were early adopters of Lead Pilot,” says Conroy. “The idea is you create a piece of content or use something from their content library and make it your own. They create a landing page for you, and post links on social media. If people ‘Google’ that topic—say, income strategies in retirement,” he adds, “or find that link on social media, they’ll find their way to your website, where you capture their contact information, and you can send them other messages. There’s a separate campaign for the people who go into the funnel,” he adds, “and they start clicking on the other information you’re offering. Eventually, after a lot of dripping, they may eventually decide to schedule an appointment with you.”
Conroy and Braun-Bostich decided that Lead Pilot wasn’t quite automated enough for them, so they moved on to Snappy Kraken. “Snappy Kraken allows you to build and schedule campaigns for different types of prospects, and it changes the messaging depending on where they are in the process,” Conroy explains. There are articles that are designed to get peoples’ attention and direct them to the firm’s landing page, which are cross-promoted across the company’s various social media accounts.
Then, once the firm has their contact information and they’re in the top of the funnel, it starts another sequence. If the prospects begin engaging with the content and moving deeper into the funnel, the messages change and there are calls to action—including invitations to make an appointment on Braun-Bostich’s Acuity calendaring system.
This, of course, is very different from sending out content pulled from digital marketing providers through Constant Contact. “The very first thing Snappy Kraken told us when we signed up is: we don’t want you to bring any purchased or prospect lists to the table,” says Conroy. “We’re supposed to create the traction that you want to create, and capture the emails of interested parties that you want to get into the mix of the prospecting effort.” Conroy adds that 90% of what his firm is putting out is original, firm-written content, but he can also pull from various content libraries, including, of course, Snappy Kraken’s.”
Conroy estimates that the firm’s prospect list—that is, captured emails, aka people now in various depths of the funnel—now numbers over 1,000, and although Snappy Kraken always includes an opt-out option, fewer than 5% have actually done so.
Kelley Muhsemann, marketing director for R.W. Rogé & Company in Bohemia, NY and Beverly, MA, decided to use Snappy Kraken after interviewing a variety of other digital marketing providers in some detail. “My big issue is that I’ve never been a big fan of canned content, because if it goes up on your website, it can destroy your SEO rankings,” she says. “What I liked about Snappy Kraken is that even though they do offer canned content, they have separate landing pages that take the person from the message to the content.
Snappy Kraken requires advisory firms to specify the zip codes that they want exclusive rights to, so Muhsemann selected several upscale areas of Long Island and a few of the tonier neighborhoods in the Boston area.
“They also ask things like the target demographics we’re looking for,” Muhsemann says. Rogé & Company pays for ads on Facebook ($500 a month for the ads, $200 a month for Snappy Kraken to post and manage them), and the email marketing portion, with links posted on other social media platforms, costs roughly $300 a month.
SEO and PR
Both Muhsemann and Conroy have recently begun adding Indigo Marketing’s services (https://indigomarketingagency.com/) to their outreach efforts—which is not automated marketing, but does relate to digital outreach. “Indigo does a very thorough SEO evaluation of your website, to get your key words higher up on Google,” Muhsemann explains. “They’re going to help us update our website, and they’re providing us with a content calendar.”
The content calendar is relevant to the firm because company founder Ron Rogé and his son Steven Rogé are constantly writing articles on specific topics. “Indigo will be doing ongoing reporting for us on the interaction with the articles, which was very important to Ron,” Muhsemann explains. “He wanted to see, month over month, who was opening what and what traffic we’re getting on our landing pages.”
Conroy was impressed with Indigo’s detailed SEO evaluation. “They came up with things that we clearly need to change to move up in the rankings,” he says. “Before we start creating content and blogging, they make sure the SEO is where it needs to be and that we’re continually improving that rank over time.”
Recently, Conroy has allowed Indigo to create more firm-specific content than what Snappy Kraken is sending out, relating to specific client issues for the firm’s target audiences.
Both firms have also gone back to an old-fashioned form of marketing. Ron and Steven Rogé have spent decades cultivating relationships with members of the press, so that today they routinely interact with local and national reporters. “When the articles come out, where they’re quoted,” says Muhsemann, “we post them on our website, and share links on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email—and send them out to our press list.”
Braun-Bostich’s firm has recently upped its PR game by hiring Impact Communications (https://www.impactcommunications.org/). “They send us requests from journalists and we respond to those requests and talk to reporters,” says Braun-Bostich. She says that this amounts to at least three requests a week, and sometimes multiple per day. “Honestly, we don’t have time to respond to all the requests that we’ve been getting,” she says.
“If you look at our website,” adds Conroy, “at the bottom of our home page you’ll see a lot of “as seen in” articles that our advisors have contributed to. It’s a daunting list,” he adds, “and everything there has occurred within the last year.”
Powell predicts that the new proliferation of automated marketing platforms will be more effective for some firms than others—another emerging digital divide—because some firms have a sturdier marketing foundation than others. She says that her initial 90-day engagements with advisory firms have uncovered a lot of missing pieces that dilute any content or social media marketing strategy that they might be adopting.
“You really need to have all the parts of your marketing ecosystem in place in order to get the best results,” she says. “There’s content strategy that has to be mapped out before they start email marketing and podcasting, and they need to be familiar with the tracking tools. You want the bios to be just right. What webinar tools will they use and what topics will they write about?”
It’s clear from this small sampling of firms that have embraced digital marketing that there is still a lot of experimenting going on. None of us know whether the ‘haves’ will be taking market share from the ‘have nots,’ but experience suggests that early adopters, eventually, not without struggle, tend to enjoy long-term advantages. We’ve all seen the history: first a decline in effectiveness of cold call marketing, then a similar decline in in-person seminars, and now a diminishing reliance on impromptu golf games with local prospects. The puck is always moving.
The early colonists of digital marketing, whether they leverage content or automate their social media campaigns, are casting a much wider net than the ‘other’ 70%. If we begin to see a tectonic shift in market share, the digital marketing adoption numbers in our next Software Survey could move upward in a hurry.