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More Advice Firms Use “Content” as Bait for Prospects

By Joan WarnerMiriam Rozen February 25, 2014

Content marketing is all the rage in the financial industry, where asset managers host YouTube channels and banks blog about how to start a business. The premise is straightforward enough: Disseminate useful articles and videos, and word of your expertise will get around, bringing a stream of new business. Can it work for financial advisors?

The jury’s still out, but plenty of firms are trying. Some publish “thought leadership” content, so clients will associate their advisors with the intellectual patina of a well-known market or industry commentator. Other firms use software to distribute digital content — both original and aggregated — while capturing information about their audience. Here, the idea is using content to home in on clients’ and prospects’ interests, then tailoring your marketing strategy to their concerns. For example, if a reader forwards lots of articles about saving for college to a particular friend, you may reasonably suppose that friend will be open to a call or e-mail about setting up a 529 plan.

United Capital Financial Advisers, for one, buys the concept. The Newport Beach, Calif.-based advisor network, which has 47 offices nationwide and $9.4 billion in assets under management, is giving advisors in several of its offices a new platform from digital marketing provider Vestorly. Advisors will be able to send out original and non-original content (for example, personal finance articles from Kiplinger’s) through social media channels like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, then track how that content is shared. Vestorly edits out anything resembling a testimonial — no “likes” or comments are allowed — so compliance headaches are taken care of while clients and prospects can forward and retweet to their hearts’ content.

Gail Graham
“We’re betting on the strategy that people will share the information,” says Gail Graham, United Capital’s chief marketing officer. As for the actual lead generation, Vestorly’s software not only analyzes who forwarded what content to whom but also scrapes the Internet for details on the recipients. “We can identify prospective clients and capture data and model the best way we can offer to help them,” says Graham.

She thinks United Capital advisors will distribute a fair amount of lifestyle-related content, not just articles about portfolio management. For example, an advisor team with clients who are horse lovers will publish content of equestrian interest. The clients will share the horsey articles with their horsey Facebook friends (or LinkedIn connections, or Twitter followers), whom the advisor will then be able to track and perhaps approach as prospects.

About 4,000 advisors currently use Vestorly, according to CEO Justin Wisz. A plain-vanilla content “dashboard” is free; Wisz would not discuss pricing for customized platforms. A somewhat similar technology service, AdvisorDeck, also doesn’t disclose pricing until you sign up.

Gurus in Residence

With the “thought leadership” approach to content marketing, firms deploy an advisor — or two — to maintain a high profile by writing and speaking engagingly in the media. For example, veteran FA Tim Maurer recently joined the BAM Alliance, whose brand benefits from his frequent television appearances, tweets and posts on Forbes.com. Another star in the BAM firmament is director of investor education Carl Richards, whose Behavior Gap blog addresses the personal-finance challenges clients tend to bump up against over and over again. Richards, known for the sketches that illustrate his essays, writes for The New York Times’s Bucks blog and is active on social media.

The 140-plus advisors who form the BAM Alliance can feature content from Maurer, Richards and others on their web pages. That adds value for existing clients and gives prospects a taste of what sound financial planning could bring to their lives. “In our view, the most important thing for social networking is having something worthy to share,” says David Levin, chief marketing officer of St. Louis-based Buckingham Asset Management, which has $6 billion in AUM.

Similarly, Carson Wealth Management Group capitalizes on the market commentary and financial-planning tips of CEO Ron Carson. The Omaha, Neb., firm, which has upward of $1 billion under management, encourages its advisors to retweet Carson’s remarks and republish his articles. “What it really comes down to is, we want to be relevant in social media, and we want all our allied advisors to be relevant,” says Aaron Schaben, the firm’s managing director in charge of marketing.

But experts warn that not every financial advisor is a natural-born publisher. Marketing consultant Greg Satell, author of the Digital Tonto blog, says that in the fever for content marketing, businesspeople have forgotten that creating worthwhile content is a specialized profession in itself. “You have people talking about ‘content’ as if it were a fungible commodity,” Satell observes. For instance, a financial advisor who tries to develop a following for her tennis commentary on Twitter may create a buzz, but she won’t necessarily attract new clients to her practice.

Make sure any content you disseminate actually reflects your professional mission, Satell recommends. Your blog posts, tweets and columns should be an extension of what you do. “Ask yourself, why are you a financial advisor?” he says, “and make that the mission of what you publish.”