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​by Robert Sofia

Robert Sofia is co-founder and CEO of Snappy Kraken, which provides digital campaigns and automated marketing for financial advisers. As a martech entrepreneur and consultant, he has served more than 3,000 companies since 2005.

Imagine that you’re a 45-year-old executive with a substantial 401(k). You’ve managed to squirrel away seven figures for retirement, and you know you should hire a financial adviser but haven’t gotten around to it.

You have a short list of advisers and planners who have been recommended to you over the years, and you decide to check out their websites. At the first site, you click on a link for “Retirement” and are presented with a video and slideshow featuring various retirement facts. The content looks nice, but it doesn’t really sell you on the adviser’s value, so you move on.

On the second website you see a similar menu with a “Retirement” link. You click on it and see … the exact same content you just saw on the last website you visited! Huh. Is this the same company?

This scenario happens in our profession more often than you might think. So, when a marketing company is trying to convince you to subscribe to their content, telling you it’s OK that it’s neither unique nor exclusive, tell them, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Such content makes all advisers and planners look the same; rather than standing out, you’ll blend in. The lack of differentiation means getting noticed by fewer prospects, so rather than helping, it actually undermines your credibility.

Is Content Still King?

How many times have you been told that content is king? I often hear this from marketers and consultants who want advisers to purchase their content. But is it true? Is content really king? Maybe. But you should consider some important distinctions. Here’s how to think about the different types of content:

Original content. It’s unique and no one can duplicate it without permission. It showcases the adviser’s strengths, abilities, differentiators, and personality. It’s important to have original content on your website for search engine “spiders,” as well as humans who visit your website, and social media feeds to check you out. Of course, creating good content takes time, but it’s usually worth it if you really work to make it uniquely yours. The problem I see is too many advisers are simply doing a quick knockoff of someone else’s content. Or, they lack real creativity and the writing skills they need to truly stand out.

Bottom line: The only content that can rightly claim the crown of “king” is attention-grabbing, original content that generates high levels of engagement.

Exclusively licensed content. Although not 100 percent unique, it enables you to have high-quality content created by experienced marketers that is not available to competitors within your geographic area. Therefore, you can appear to be unique and sophisticated without breaking the bank.

Bottom line: This category of content might be dubbed the “prince” of content as long as it is attention-grabbing, exclusively licensed content that generates high levels of engagement.

Curated content. This involves sifting through original content from outside sources and sharing what’s most relevant for your audience, typically via social media. It doesn’t really help you differentiate, but it does show that you’re up on current trends and can tip your hat to certain business and personal philosophies. Beware of algorithmically produced content from an outsourced curator—you certainly would not want to see competitors named, or philosophies or products you don’t embrace included in your website and social media feeds.

Bottom line: Carefully curated content can create a feeling of validation and endorsement for your firm. This category might be seen as the “duke” of content, if we keep drawing parallels to royals.

Mass-duplicated content. This is fast, cheap, and probably a waste of money. Your clients and prospects are busy. They don’t need more content, especially if there’s a good chance they’ll see it on your competitors’ websites and social media feeds. To stand out, you need unique content that sets you apart.

Bottom line: Think of this type of content as the court jester. Colorful, with bells, it may catch a little attention at first, but it just does not stand up over time for a discerning clientele. If you’re not getting either original content or exclusive rights to a protected territory from your content provider, it’s time to move on.

Growth and the Results Gap

Having great content is not the only thing you need to consider when it comes to seeing results from your digital marketing efforts.

Let’s assume you have great content. You use it on your website and subscribe to a marketing service that automatically shares it via email and social media. In spite of that, your audience isn’t growing, but you feel obligated to continue because you know you need an online presence.

Growth requires many things—building an audience, nurturing that audience, converting leads into prospects and prospects into clients. It requires maintaining client relationships and “growing” them into referral sources. The list goes on. But fundamentally, the journey of growth begins with building an audience.

The good news is, it is possible to grow organically. You can frequent networking events and collect business cards, connect with prospects on social media, build an email subscriber list, and so on. This kind of grassroots marketing takes time, energy and commitment—but it works.

Another powerful way to build an audience is through online advertising, which has produced staggering growth in nearly all industries, and yet, independent financial advisers have largely failed to benefit from it.

Consider the potential: the return on ad spend (ROAS), according to Google and Facebook, averages $2 for every $1 spent on either platform, which is impressive. Spend $1,000 and get back $2,000? That’s pretty easy math! And for advisers, the numbers often prove to be much better. When a $3 click can lead to a $3 million client, it’s not hard to justify a significant ad spend.

The reality is that advertising online isn’t that difficult anymore. Social platforms have simplified their processes and interfaces to make advertising services accessible for all types of small businesses. This means that any tech-savvy person can easily set up an advertising account, sit through a few tutorials, and be off to the races. Questions and stumbling blocks can be addressed by searching readily available knowledge bases. Even a quick Google search on “advertising online for beginners” yields a staggering 2.7 million results. The point? With a little effort, advisers can tap into a rich base of potential clients.

Granted, there are pitfalls to the DIY method, especially for first-timers. It’s likely that new advertisers will burn through some cash before they get the formula right and start getting results. This is to be expected with any new marketing initiative, though. Effective marketing and experimentation go hand in hand. Those who don’t have a stomach for such experimentation should seek the help of a professional advertising agency. This will likely increase the initial setup costs and overall advertising budget, but the experience a good agency can bring to the table could save money and improve results in the long run.
Whether you do it yourself, delegate, or outsource it, here are some things you should know about online advertising:

Targeting (and retargeting). Online advertising allows you to zone in on your ideal prospect profile. Demographics, including geographic criteria, and sometimes even psychographic data can be specified to a remarkable degree. Interests and behaviors can be targeted. Lookalike audiences enable you to target people with similar characteristics as your best clients. Furthermore, when prospects visit your landing page or website, retargeting ensures that they see your message over and over again as they surf the web, dramatically increasing the likelihood that cold opportunities will convert into warm leads.

Brand awareness. Even if prospects don’t click and convert from ads right away, the repeated exposure to your brand can burn an indelible impression over time. By repeatedly seeing your company and value proposition, they begin to form an emotional connection and become more aware of who you are and what you have to offer.

Scale. Unlike traditional advertising methods, digital ad campaigns can be deployed and optimized quickly. If one channel isn’t performing well, it’s easy to turn off. If another is excelling, it’s easy to double down. By looking at the data, you can make agile moves to spend more on what’s working and cut what’s not.

Step Up Your Expectations

There is a major crisis of differentiation in our profession today. When advisers are sold a bill of goods by content marketing providers who indiscriminately sell the same content to multiple advisers, it exacerbates the problem. As a profession, we should demand more from marketing providers than cloned websites and canned content that doesn’t move the needle. But content for content’s sake—no matter how good—is not enough. Building your audience in a thoughtful, targeted way is necessary if you want to truly grow.  

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