Financial advisers revere the idea of new business leads coming to them instead of them having to pursue prospects, but successful inbound marketing requires a focused strategy and trial-and-error that can take years to perfect.
At McLean Asset Management, after two years of evolving its digital strategy, the financial advisory firm is seeing it bear significant fruit. Last month, the firm began offering groups of 50 to 75 people from its cultivated list a retirement income optimization map and 90-minute meeting.
The firm quickly had 30 people take them up on their several-hundred-dollar offer and decided to pause the campaign to catch up. After 15 completed meetings, several of these prospects have become clients, said Alex Murguia, managing principal of McLean Asset Management, which has about $700 million in assets under management.
"We have nurtured a relationship with the people on the list and given them valuable content over time," he said. "So when we present the offer, they think, 'I've learned a lot for free, imagine what we'll get if we're paying.'"
At the most basic level, inbound marketing involves creating an impactful website, attracting interest to that site, building trust with visitors and then offering something that prompts interested parties to submit their contact information.
That process, though, needs to beat out the natural human inclination to keep that information private.
"The adviser has to create credibility and make the online prospect trust that nothing bad is going to happen to them," said Jack Waymire, chief executive of Paladin Digital Marketing.
Building the trusted relationship takes time and typically involves an investor receiving content that is valuable to them, repeatedly. Those pieces also need to get themselves noticed through search engine optimization, he said.
Offering video or white boarding and video are also effective ways of creating a comfort level because these connect a face and a voice to the firm, Mr. Waymire said. He also recommends avoiding stock photos because they don't resonate as well with visitors as much as real photos do.
Firms also should not be loading up their websites with white papers and calculators because prospects who start consuming those will spend their average two-and-a-half minutes on the site and they won't be learning about what the firm excels at or can do for the investor, he said.
Many adviser websites fail on many of these parameters.
"The internet is really starting to impact the financial services industry, but a lot of advisers haven't adapted to what's going on out there," Mr. Waymire said. "The typical adviser website operates like an online brochure; it's not delivering what investors want."
Features on advisers' websites that demonstrate their experience also are effective in building trust.
Prominently including a link to BrokerCheck or the Investment Adviser Public Disclosure website can lend credibility and confidence, said Nick Craig, owner of Advisor Fuel, which helps advisers with digital marketing.
Advisers also should make sure everything is correct and current on their site, as well as being visually attractive, he said.
Even little things like making sure there is a way for people to pay for a course or event other than online, which still worries some people, can help increase trust, Mr. Craig said.
Once the advisers lead the prospect down an information path and get to where they present an offer, making it one the investor pays for can be effective at bringing in people who already have skin in the game.
Advisers who Mr. Craig works with are finding great success offering $39 to $49 one-day or two-day educational workshops at a college, where they'll rent a room and tackle topics like Social Security, inflation or the fears of outliving one's money.
"When you are the educator at a college, it immediately jumps over the trust hurdles," he said.
Financial adviser Frank Armstrong, who founded Investor Solutions, wants to create a strong digital marketing strategy that will help convert more of his site's traffic to bona fide prospects.
His firm garnered much success attracting prospects after he published and gave away the first investment strategy book on the internet almost 20 years ago. It's been downloaded by 7 million people and led to several high-profile writing gigs at Morningstar and other places that presented him as a credible expert.
"I just sat here answering the phone," said Mr. Armstrong, whose firm has grown to $750 million in assets under management.
But today competition has increased, and he wants to help jump-start new business growth to create a sustainable business for the seven professionals he's brought on board. Mr. Armstrong is just beginning to work with students from the University of Miami to revamp the firm's marketing approach, beginning with a social media strategy.
"I need a comprehensive marketing strategy that includes a strong digital approach," he said.
In addition to marketing firms with digital expertise and university expertise that's sometimes made available to advisers, technology providers also are beginning to introduce products that can help firms with inbound marketing.
Two weeks ago Fidelity's eMoney Advisor said that this summer it will introduce a lead capturing tool that will allow advisers to offer potential clients a mini financial-planning experience, aimed at showing the areas where financial guidance is necessary. In addition, it will offer a new marketing product to help advisers drive traffic to their websites in the first place, and to help them cultivate their client networks.
"Most advisers are not experts in SEO and content marketing and all these techniques, so we'll take the time to educate them on all of these things," said Kelly Waltrich, senior vice president of marketing and communications at eMoney Advisor.
As more advisers seek to add digital tools like onboarding online and even automated advice platforms, they will need to be more adept at attracting the type of clients who are going to want to use them, she said.
"Digital marketing has to follow, or they'll have all these digital products and no one to use them," she said.