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Almost all advisors in Canada – 98 per cent to be precise – struggle with marketing themselves, citing lack of time as the culprit, according to a recent survey from Broadridge Financial Solutions Inc.

The Lake Success, N.Y.-based firm reports just one in five advisors have a well-defined marketing plan in place. But of those who focus on marketing, 63 per cent saw inbound requests increase in the past 12 months compared to just 32 per cent for those who don’t have a marketing plan.

Figuring out where to spend marketing dollars is one of the biggest challenges for advisors. That hits home for Andrew Charles Jackson, founder and chief executive officer of Vancouver-based marketing agency North Shore Digital.

His company spent 18 months working with advisors on Google advertising marketing services but has stepped back from that business for a couple of reasons.

For one, converting cold leads to clients is not a quick process as it can take about 3.6 months, on average, according to the Broadridge survey.

“The other issue is how many points potential clients will touch before they reach out,” Mr. Jackson explains.

Specifically, a Google search often suffices when looking for a landscaping firm, but someone researching an advisor might check multiple online destinations including social media.

This longer, more complex due diligence made it difficult for North Shore Digital to attribute marketing expenditure directly to specific leads, he says, adding this uncertainty discourages advisors from digital advertising.

Word of mouth is still a winner

Mr. Jackson notes that word of mouth and referrals are still more likely to generate proven leads.

The Broadridge data back up this assertion as the survey found that by the 1.7-month mark, word-of-mouth referrals converted more than twice as quickly as cold marketing prospects.

There are some overlaps between word-of-mouth referrals and digital channels. Social media, for example, continues to be an important marketing avenue, with four in 10 advisors in North America reporting they’ve obtained clients via social media channels.

Broadridge didn’t break down what proportion of these were paid (advertising) versus earned via direct interaction and word of mouth. The survey found LinkedIn and Facebook are the most popular social media platforms for advisors.

Still, social media isn’t the most popular digital marketing investment among advisors in North America. Instead, two-thirds of them invest in website design and hosting, the service North Shore Digital concentrates on for its remaining financial services clients. Two-thirds of advisors across North America invest in this activity.

The survey notes that 62 per cent of advisors find their websites ineffective at generating leads. However, direct lead generation isn’t the point of websites, says Darryl Jackson, founder of Toronto-based Jackson Advisor Marketing.

Effective content is a great way to nurture a lead, he says. Even if you can’t track every e-mail to a specific conversion, it helps build credibility.

“Newsletters and blogs can reinforce knowledge, caring, and expertise while helping to shorten the conversion of a prospect,” he says. “Directly converting a prospect with a blog or newsletter doesn’t typically happen.”

Kevin Darlington, general manager and head of advisor solutions at Broadridge, says automation has a role to play in feeding this content to prospective leads and existing clients alike.

“As soon as the prospect has raised their hand in any way, what we’re finding is the best advisors are using good techniques, technology and strong content to nurture those leads on an automated basis,” he says.

This automation is especially important if you’re lucky enough to be dealing with many new prospects at scale, he adds.

Back to basics

However, not everyone in Canada’s investment landscape is focused on digital marketing, Mr. D. Jackson says. Specifically, he says that after an extended period of stasis, an old approach – traditional mail – is back.

“Now, clients’ inboxes are jammed with e-mails but their [postal] mailboxes are relatively empty. So, we’re seeing an upswing in print newsletters again,” he says, citing a 10-per-cent spike in that area.

One of his financial clients that uses both formats reports better readership of the print version.

“Yes, it’s more expensive to print and mail, but if it’s getting more engagement and follow-up, why wouldn’t you do it?” he adds.

Some aspects of digital marketing doubtless deliver great returns but this number has been static for several years, Mr. D. Jackson says. Yet, as some advisors struggle for visibility on return on investment, some of the oldest techniques are still among the most attractive.

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