For those financial advisors surveyed for this year’s Report Card series, their firms’ consumer advertising and marketing support initiatives are becoming more important elements in the advisors’ efforts to grow their businesses.

Case in point: an average of the overall importance ratings in all the Report Cards in the “firm’s consumer advertising” and “marketing support for advisor’s practice” categories have increased steadily in the past four Report Card series. The overall average importance rating for advertising is up to 7.8 this year from 7.2 in 2009, and the overall average importance rating for marketing support now sits at 8.0 vs 7.8 in 2009.

Still, there’s no clear consensus regarding what kind of advertising or marketing support strategy has proved to be most successful. Instead, advisors surveyed for this year’s Report Cards pointed to three distinct differences in strategy:

National vs local campaigns

Advisors who ply their trade with the banks or bank-owned brokerages were more likely than their counterparts at regional or independent firms – even if these independent firms operated nationally – to prefer a national advertising campaign over a grassroots effort.

More than one-third of advisors with the big banks or bank-owned brokerages who rated their firms favourably in these categories said they did so because they agreed with having one consistent branding message across the country, citing the size and perceived stability of their firms. “People recognize our brand from coast to coast,” says an advisor in Ontario with Toronto-based TD Canada Trust. “I’ve never had any issues with prospective clients not knowing who I worked for.”

Advisors with smaller firms tended to gravitate toward community-based and self-branding strategies rather than expecting their firms to do any mass marketing. “When you don’t have the millions of dollars that the banks have to spend on advertising, you have to be a little more creative,” says an advisor with Edmonton-based Servus Credit Union Ltd., which operates exclusively in Alberta. “We do a lot of charity work and local events at our branches. I think it’s more effective anyway, since [this style of marketing] creates more of a community atmosphere for our clients.”

Traditional vs new media

For the most part, senior advisors having established books of business and advisors having predominantly older clientele prefer advertising campaigns through traditional media such as newspapers and television. “Most of my clients have already retired,” says an advisor in Atlantic Canada with Toronto-based CIBC Wood Gundy, “so they’re more likely to flip through a newspaper or turn on the radio than use any kind of social media.”

However, other advisors noted that their clients – not necessarily just the younger ones – have become increasingly web-savvy. This, coupled with the recent creation of formal guidelines for social media by the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada, has seen many firms and their advisors begin to realize the importance of marketing initiatives using new media. (See story on page C7.)

“[The web] is a vast marketplace of potential clients that traditional media doesn’t reach – and, for the most part, it’s currently being untapped,” says an advisor in British Columbia with Vancouver-based Canaccord Wealth Management. “If you can learn how to tap into that market successfully, you’re going to have a huge advantage.”

Although most financial services executives say they won’t abandon traditional methods anytime soon, they also realize that expanding a firm’s market share may soon become synonymous with expanding its online presence. “We think technology plays a huge part in the business,” said Earl Evans, CEO and head of Macquarie Private Wealth Inc. in Toronto. “If you don’t move with it, if you don’t embrace it, you’ll fall behind the pack.”

Custom materials vs templates

Ask any advisor what he or she is looking for in personalized marketing support and the top two responses are likely to be quality materials that help them differentiate their services from the competition and the ability to receive those materials for a fair cost or, better yet, no cost at all.

But advisors were split over whether customized materials or templates were the best way to reach out to new or existing clients. On one hand, custom materials give advisors the ability to send a message that is distinctly their own. Says a Macquarie advisor in Ontario: “I’m not stuck with the same kind of pamphlets or newsletters that every other advisor out there is using. Our marketing team is great at helping each and every advisor develop his or her personal brand.”

On the other hand, templates can reach a greater number of clients without requiring much time or effort from advisors. Furthermore, templates also remove a lot of the guesswork in adhering to compliance standards, explains Mike Cunneen, senior vice president of London, Ont.-based Freedom 55 Financial‘s wealth and estate planning group: “We have many pre-approved templates, which definitely speed up the process a bit. Most of them can be sent out with just a couple clicks of a mouse.”IE

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