Welcome to Barron’s Advisor’s The Way Forward podcast. Being a jack of all trades who tries to cater to everyone is a loser’s game, says Patrick Brewer, president and CMO of WealthSource. He argues that advisors need to differentiate themselves and adopt a targeted strategy.

Listen to this podcast or read the transcript below to learn how advisors can ensure that their marketing strategy will help them get noticed and grow their businesses. 

Greg: Why are so many financial advisor websites drier than melba toast? And why do so many look the same? Think of the smiling couple jogging on the beach or the laughing grandfather lifting his grandson above his head. And of course there are the endless photos of sunsets, lighthouses, tennis backhands and snuggling couples on hammocks all framed by a phalanx of dark suits asking you to trust them.

If this all feels very paint-by-numbers, that’s because it often is. And this is particularly perplexing given that competition is fiercer than ever. Why aren’t advisors doing a better job of differentiating themselves and explaining how their expertise can help a targeted group? And what should they be doing to get there?

This is Greg Bartalos, editor-in-chief of Barron’s wealth and asset management group. My guest today is Patrick Brewer, president and CMO of WealthSource, a national, independent RIA that manages $1.7 billion in client assets. He will answer these questions and many more today. Patrick, welcome.

Patrick: Greg, thanks for having me.

Greg: Thank you for joining us. Let’s start at a super high level. You’ve maintained that most advisors really have no idea where to even begin with with marketing. I’d like you to discuss that and also tell us about your firm, which is unique in that it has an internal team of marketing and practice management experts. Tell me how this all works. And what’s your take on the landscape today?

Advisors may “struggle with accepting the intuitive nature of marketing and the fact that there is an invisible ROI,” says Patrick Brewer.

Photo Illustration by Staff; Dreamstime

Patrick: I feel like marketing is one of the things that really confuses advisors. They want to help people. They have generally a strong passion to deliver better financial outcomes for people in the community. And they struggle. They struggle to get attention. They struggle to get any level of influence. And I think it’s partly because the consumer is misinformed and the industry likes to keep it that way. Wirehouses, captive BDs (broker-dealers), basically anyone with a product to sell, is spending money to homogenize advisors. So they want to make independent advisors, those that have a fiduciary standard, that are trained CFPs, that are trying to do the right thing for their clients, look exactly the same as insurance agents. So advisors struggle. They struggle with imposter syndrome. They struggle with this perception that they’re all salespeople and it really keeps them stuck. It keeps them from getting out there and telling their story and becoming the person that their clients need them to be at least in the public eye.

And marketing, I think because of this, has a negative connotation. So when most advisors think of marketing, they think that they have to go out and knock on doors or they have to send out direct mail and say I’m new to the community, come into my office for a consultation or spam people on social media. There are a lot of different things that advisors associate with marketing. And I think the challenge is a lot of that’s negative for all the reasons that I just discussed. So, today I’m sure we’re going to talk about ways that advisors can differentiate themselves, ways to be effective in getting attention and marketing their business and their services, but it is challenging for today’s advisor given all those headwinds. So my firm we realized this head on, so I’m the president and COO of a $1.7 billion RIA.

Part of what we do is try and figure out ways to get attention in the consumer market. And like you said, Greg, it’s crowded. There’re a lot of people that are saying they do the same thing in a variety of different ways, but I think that having an in-house team of marketers that understand how to create compelling advertising marketing strategies allows us to differentiate. If you look at any large RIA, like mega RIAs, most of them are just big marketing companies. If you look at Edelman, Fisher investments, they’ve just made very substantial efforts and monetary investments into their marketing teams and programs in order to get in front of more consumers than the average RIA could. So I do think that building a marketing agency inside of your RIA, if you want to be big, is important in today’s environment.

Greg: The irony is that doesn’t seem like a well guarded secret. Yet so many firms don’t act on that. If anything, it seems that often marketing is not really given the respect that it deserves. It could be a little nepotism of someone hired to do that, a recent college grad, et cetera. I mean, why isn’t the position, given what you just said, elevated, if you will, and given a lot more credibility?

Patrick: I think it’s because in our industry it’s a relational sale and it takes a while to build trust. So most advisors will hop from one tactic to the next tactic and the evaluation cycles, usually, between two and five months from what I’ve seen. Running marketing for advisors, doing marketing on my own, it’s something that takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and frankly, a lot of money. And because what you’re trying to do is become influential to a group of people and credible to that same group of people. And they didn’t know you prior to you stepping out there and trying to work with them. So what I’ve found is that most advisors don’t really have the budget or the ability to understand conceptually, like what happens in an effective marketing strategy to get somebody from the point of skeptical curiosity to moving forward as a new client.

I’d say that the other thing is as financial advisors, if you look at most successful advisors, they tend to be very focused on details. They tend to be moving things forward incrementally. When it comes to financial planning, when it comes to relationships, they’re their drivers in their personality. And if you think about a successful marketer, they tend to be more conceptual thinkers. They tend to connect ideas to outcomes and ideas to actions. Whereas advisors tend to drive towards that action, very linearly. And that’s what makes them successful at keeping the client on track planning for their financial lives. So I think it’s just a different personality and most advisors that I’ve worked with, as it relates to marketing, they really want a plan but they struggle with accepting the intuitive nature of marketing and the fact that there is an invisible ROI. They’re always looking to demonstrate and map how their investment immediately translates into revenue.

If they could just step back and understand that there are certain functions in human behavior that would allow them to over time build an audience and build influence, they’d be a lot more successful, especially if they kind of increased their, let’s say, band on how long the strategy had to become effective. So I think it’s a multi-pronged issue related to the complexity of marketing, the long sales cycle, and then also trying to buck the trend of every single advisor looks exactly the same to consumers because of the amount of money that captive BDs and wirehouses spend to homogenize.

Greg: Right. I can imagine. Given that data is so important, this is in a way unquantifiable and requires patience. So for advisors who might be getting cold feet or jittery about like, hey, I’m not seeing the results I want to be seeing, how do you bridge the gap and tell them to stay the course, have faith and patience, et cetera.?

Patrick: It’s challenging, right? Because at the end of the day, you don’t want money to just go out the door and not see an ROI. So, I think it’s just being clear about the expectations for a particular strategy in a particular market. And one of the areas where I think our industry has fallen short is we talk about marketing as a set of services and tactics and advisors just need to be doing more marketing. They’re not active on social media. Their website hasn’t been updated in a few years. They don’t have a content strategy. Some of these things may or may not be relevant based on who the advisor is as a person and the type of audience that they’re looking to attract. So I think that most advisors and this can be going against the trend on what a lot of folks are saying in the industry.

I don’t think a lot of advisors should be marketing their services. I frankly think that a lot of them are ill-equipped to be able to interact with consumers on the platforms that are frankly more popular and where consumers are actively seeking information. A lot of advisors are a little outgunned. There’s a lot of noise in the market right now and a lot of people trying to get attention. In order to be effective with it, advisors need to take a very targeted strategy. And I don’t see that happening in the marketplace.

Greg: Let’s talk about your clients. You have those who are seeking influence and they’re specializing in a niche. Tell me how your firm handles the marketing and strategy. Tell me about that whole process.

Patrick: Sure. On the influence side, we’re really looking for advisors who are targeting a specialized market. This could be a values-based niche. This could be a profession-oriented niche, like doctors or dentists. And once we’ve identified what that is, we want to enhance their positioning to make them feel like a credible expert, which they are. We want to create a proprietary method or process that the client can identify with so that it feels like this advisor has created their practice specifically to solve problems for this market. And then at that point, it’s really about creating compelling content to talk about the problems that this market faces. I feel like most advisors the mistake that they make with creating content is they’re trying to always educate the market. They talk about things that people really aren’t concerned about. How to think about the new changes to Roth IRAs? Is somebody concerned about the new changes to the way that a Roth IRA functions or are they concerned about paying too much in taxes? So I think it’s more about figuring out what are the problems, what are people searching for and how can you speak to that very directly for your specialized market? That’s ultimately what’s going to cut through the noise and get the advisor attention. 

Generally what we’ll do is we’ll start with the niche. Then we’ll filter down and we’ll create a client journey map, which basically looks at the point of awareness where the prospect becomes aware of their problem. They start asking questions to friends and family. They start wondering things internally about how to solve this problem, what it means to them. And we’ll just map all of those different points where the prospect could become aware of their problem.

Then from there, we need to basically create content to address that problem from the point of awareness, through research, through evaluation and ultimately to decision and the marketing assets that someone’s going to need in order to move somebody from the awareness stage to the research evaluation, and eventually to make a decision are going to be different, not only based on who the prospect is as a person, but just kind of where they’re at and consuming information across that client journey. So, that’s really where we spend our time is just being hyper intentional about who the person is, psychographics, demographics, and then figuring out what are the problems that they face and then creating the content and distribution strategy to meet them exactly where they’re at on how they would consume content throughout that process.

Greg: Tell me about how you scale that for the influencers and tell me about the distinction between the personal brand and the corporate brand.

Patrick: Scaling it is really a system. I would say that’s the easier part of it. Once you’ve got all of the marketing professionals in place, you only need a few media buyers. You only need a few content writers and communication specialists. So it’s finding the advisor, who is technically the product, right? If you think about an industry like e-commerce, what are you selling? Well, you’re selling a product. You’re selling something for health and fitness. You’re selling makeup, whatever it is. The product is ultimately what’s marketed. So, in this case, the advisor, as the personal brand, is the product. So the product needs to be good. The product needs to be specific. The product needs to solve a problem. If it does all those things, then all we need to do is figure out how to distribute the product on the appropriate channel.

So, going back to the e-commerce example, if we’re selling makeup to consumers, we’re not going to send out direct mail and a flyer to say, hey, come into our store and purchase this makeup. We’re going to do Facebook ads. We’re going to do Instagram, TikTok, things of that nature. We’re going to sponsor influencers. It’s the same thing with financial advisors. Their markets are different but they need to be cognizant of the fact that their audience is going to consume information on different channels. Even though they’re all seeking the same service, which is financial advice in some capacity. So retirees are going to be more active on Facebook. They’re going to open up the letter that you send them in the mail versus the upwardly mobile tech professional who is probably going to be a little bit more active on LinkedIn, consuming podcasts, trying to educate themselves on the problem.

You just need to acknowledge that. And that’s what the team of professional marketers allows you to do. As the advisor building influence, the only thing that you’re responsible for is speaking to the problems that your ideal client faces. This could be through a podcast. It could be through videos. This could be through the written word. The marketing team dices it up and distributes it out in the appropriate manner so that over time the advisor becomes influential, credible, and eventually it starts to produce significantly more leads than somebody who’s just buying leads, let’s say, from a variety of vendors or service providers.

Greg: And you also serve another advisor profile of those who may not want to be so much out there. They may not want to host a podcast or do live webinars or write a blog. They’re more focused on the business and working with clients. Tell me about that group and how you work with them.

Patrick: Influence isn’t for everybody. And I think that’s okay. Most of the advisors that I talk to, they don’t really have a strong desire to become an influencer. They don’t want to be on podcasts twice a week. They don’t want to produce a webinar every other month. They want to be working with clients. They want to be face-to-face in the trenches with clients, helping them solve problems, which is why they got into the industry in the first place. The way that we work with advisors who do not have a strong desire to, let’s say, specialize or create an influential brand is we’ve created systems, marketing systems that have been shown to be effective for specific types of consumers who face specific problems. One of those we call America’s Retirement Forum and it is a brand that allows advisors to speak either through live webinars or through educational events at a library or a community college.

They talk about topics that they’re comfortable with. So this could be Social Security, Medicare, taxes in retirement, estate planning, how to turn your 401(k) into retirement income for life. It’s a non-threatening way for advisors to step into an educator role and help people in the community solve these problems. And this will generally produce, let’s say a client a month once you start doing six to 10 or so of these a year. So it’s a small time investment in a way that makes the advisor comfortable there. They’ve got their educator hat on, but the prospects are still searching for solutions to these problems. It doesn’t require you to be the foremost thought leader in a specialized market in order to be successful. And the marketing team, in this case, can handle all of the heavy lifting.

We create all of the advertising, all the direct mail, text messages, email marketing, all the media buys, everything goes out through the system. So the advisor, all they need to do is show up, follow the sequence of slides, leverage the talking points and give a compelling presentation either through the webinar software or in person. So that’s one system. We’ve got a few more. One we call Melvin. It functions using LinkedIn, email marketing, intent-driven data. And we’re looking for folks through different platforms that are open to the idea of discussing financial matters with an advisor. And we personalize all those communications. 

To give you an example of that, just to kind of drive the point home, you’ve probably received some LinkedIn messages in the past. Greg, somebody connects with you and they just say, hey, would love to add you to my network. Or, I see that my aunt Sally’s connected with you. 

We take it a step further because those messages really don’t work. People are looking for personalization. They’re looking to be known. They’re looking to be seen and heard. That’s not to say that we’re trying to trick them, but as marketers, we’re trying to figure out creative ways to get attention without having the advisor get involved because the advisors are busy. So one way this could work is if I’m connecting with you, Greg, and you’re wearing black glasses and a blue shirt, we would create a sequence that is automated, but we would have a virtual assistant go in, look at your photo and type into a Google sheet, hey Greg, we’d love to connect with you on LinkedIn. P.S. I see that you’re wearing black glasses and a blue shirt, just so you didn’t think this was automated.

We’ve then created automation that will pull that sentence into the software and send out that message. And the connection rates will go up by 30%-40% because people will say, oh wow, you took a second to get to know me. So there are different things that you can do with automation, but everything needs to be personalized in today’s environment. So even if you’re running a system for advisors that don’t want to build influence, there has to be a layer of personalization in order for it to be effective. Because if it’s blunt automation, people are just going to tune out. They’re going to think that you didn’t care about them, which is the worst thing you can do in our business, which is all about caring.

Greg: I imagine that the imperative for personalization is only going to grow, as others catch on, right? So it might be, I don’t want to say an arms race, but everyone’s going to have to stay ahead of the curve, if you will, and just really be in touch with keeping it real and personal.

Patrick: Yes. I think the future, honestly, as much as we create systems and you can shift the tactics and the platforms and you can participate in that arms race, which we will, and we do, I still believe that influence is the way to go. And so I think long-term where we’re kind of angling for our RIA, and I think, kind of, the next generation of larger RIAs will also do this. But building up influencers that can provide leads to advisors and you just scale the influence in each of the specialized markets. I feel like that is a better long-term strategy. That feels more natural to the consumer and to the advisor than trying to figure out tweaks to different tactics and platforms and channels. Over time, it just gets exhausting and frankly, the results are going to get worse and worse as we continue to do this.

Greg: In terms of the best influencers, is there a common attribute? Are you seeing it manifest itself more on platforms, be it Twitter, YouTube, et cetera? Or is it the whole package of what they bring to the table? What do they have in common in addition to expertise on their subject, which seems like table stakes?

Patrick: I would say that they need to resonate very uniquely with that specific market. I’ll give you an example. If you look at Reese Harper at Dentist Advisors, he gets it. Reese understands his clients probably more than they do. He’s got a term for them, dentists called entreprofessionals, and he produces a ton of content. Produces content through his blog. He’s got gated content. He’s got a podcast he’s been doing for years, webinars. And he’s built an entire marketing team to scale that and distribute it out through all the different platforms. And in addition to that, he’s not just stopping with the content. He’s building strategic relationships with folks that are also focused on the dental market, like CPAs, attorneys, business coaches, practice management consultants, people in billing, technology vendors.

He’s gone really deep. It’s not just about a dynamic personality that can create content on a specific problem. It extends past that. You have to be a strategic thinker. Or you have to have a team that can work to build those partnerships in collaboration with the influencer, so that you get that lift on the audience that you’re going to need if you’re going to build a practice around influence. So, I think Reese is probably the best example that I’ve seen in the industry. And then obviously the larger ones like Edelman, Fisher investments, they take in different angles. It’s more around the retiree market. So you can see that it’s educational, in at least Edelman’s case. I would say Fisher…sometimes it’s educational, but with a little bit of a twist on it. So that would be my thought. There’s not one way to do influence. A lot of it will just really depend on the psychographics and demographics of your audience.

Greg: Right. But it seems like you’re saying that what must be there is genuine respect from those who you’re speaking to, or your tribe, so to speak.

Patrick: It has to be genuine. It can’t be forced. It can’t be faked. I mean, I tried. So for me, when I was originally starting my practice, I was focused on retirees and I was like, well, you know, what if I was to build, to become the next Edelman? If I created a bunch of content for retirees, and I started doing radio and virtual seminars and summits where I’d invite hundreds of people out. And I got about 10 steps into that. And I realized that there was just a fundamental mismatch between my mindset and the mindset of a pre-retiree or retiree. I was more about expansion and optimism around outcomes and creating optionality in my life. And most retirees are looking to control outcomes, looking to control risks, which makes them great clients for financial advisors, for financial planners.

But for me, who I was as a person, it was a terrible match. So I ended up pivoting that into entrepreneurs and business owners, and started to build an audience and relationships there. But it’s not nearly as scalable from a digital and traditional media standpoint because entrepreneurs are just going to be inherently more skeptical. They’re going to be more relationship oriented. They’re going to be much more about the tribe. So for me, my marketing strategy was flying around and going to masterminds across the US and internationally and just becoming known as a cool person who talked about these things in a way that wasn’t walled off or felt weird to them. So that was kind of how I found my tribe. But everybody’s a little different. You just got to start with yourself as an advisor. 

Greg: Well, sadly, we’re almost out of time, but before I jump to the last question, are there any final points that you want to make that we didn’t go over? Any high-level points that you want to hit?

Patrick: I would say the biggest thing that I learned doing this business in a variety of different ways—consulting with advisors, starting my own practice, growing it, selling it, now working with advisors all around the country who have a desire to grow their own business—it’s you have to start with yourself. You have to figure out who you are, who you were meant to serve, why you want to serve them and everything else will flow out of that. So just make sure that before you create a marketing strategy and a bunch of tactics, or pay someone to do social media for you, invest the time and energy in figuring out who you are as an individual, who you gain energy from working with, and who drains you. If you can do that, you’re 80% of the way there, because most advisors are just looking for anyone that can fog a mirror and has over $500,000 in assets. And if you end up in that place, it’s going to be a long road home, and it’s going to get more and more expensive to acquire clients.

Greg: Finally, for advisors, what can they do today to get a little closer to their goals you just described? You’re offering the template. What can they do to move the ball?

Patrick: We call it an avatar, where we actually map the mindset, psychographics, demographics, problems, desires of the market that we’re targeting. I think it’s just sitting down—and you could search online even and just type in ‘how to create an ideal client profile’ and you’ll see templates. You can start with a story brand once you get an idea of who your ideal client profile is. What story are you going to tell them as a person to become compelling during their journey? And I think mapping out who your client is, doing an ideal client profile exercise, and then probably going through the story brand and figuring out what your approach is going to be to get them interested, will get you about 80% of the way there. And you also have to be honest. You have to be honest about if you want to create influence or not.

If you don’t want to create influence, then you need to team up with someone or a firm that can help you do that potentially. So just being honest about who you are, who you want to serve, and then taking those incremental steps, you don’t need to have it all mapped out. I think that’s another issue with advisors is they want to have that complete plan end to end so they can put marketing on the shelf and say that they’re done. Marketing is never done. It’s an iterative process. Some things will work. Some things will not work and that’s okay, because if something’s not working, it gets you closer to something that will. So I’d just say, view marketing as a never ending iterative process where you’re constantly learning. You’re constantly evolving. You’re getting a little bit better each day. That will give you the right mindset to be successful growing your practice.

Greg: That sounds like excellent advice. Thanks so much for sharing that, Patrick.

Patrick: Of course, Greg. Thanks for the question.

Greg: My guest has been Patrick Brewer, president and CMO of WealthSource. Thank you for listening. This is Greg Bartalos. Please subscribe and check out all our podcasts at barrons.com/podcasts.

Write to Greg Bartalos at greg.bartalos@barrons.com

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