Can You Scale Advisor Marketing? Yes. Here’s How.
Yes, you can find opportunities to market financial advisors at scale—but first, you have to know where to look.
Scale is a question I’ve been working on solving my entire career, ever since I was first hired by John Hancock to build value-added marketing services for advisors. The first challenge was trying to scale myself, since there was only one of me and hundreds of advisors. It wasn’t easy. But I’ve learned many lessons since then that might help CEOs and others find their path.
First, some context. Right now, I hear from advisors who feel like they’re hanging on for dear life, trying to retain assets and expand their share of wallet. When it comes to accelerating organic growth, they don’t know where to start. What’s more, they are rethinking every industry vendor relationship, asking “Am I getting enough value from this organization for what I’m giving?” That’s why it’s particularly important now to articulate how you can help advisors grow.
How exactly do you market financial advisors at scale? I want to consider two main business models separately:
- W-2 Model: All employees are integrated into the same system and march under the same flag.
1099 Model: The national brand is advisor-facing only. Acquired firms maintain their own doing-business-as (“d/b/a”) names and identities in local markets.
Where to look for scale depends on your model.
The W-2 Model: One Flag, Planted Everywhere
One of the main levers for driving top-down growth is brand equity. For proof, just look up. Every mountaintop in the business is owned by a marquee consumer brand. You can see the payoff they gain from having consistency and cohesion across markets in messaging, differentiators, and client experience. Their consumer brand is also the face of their pipeline for attracting, acquiring and nurture leads.
Can you scale national branding? Yes. It’s one of the most direct ways to accelerate growth from the top down. Instead of offering scattershot support for individual practices, you can allocate resources to a national corporate infrastructure to accelerate all advisors’ growth. That includes a strong brand identity (if you don’t already have one), packaged lead generation programs, automation platforms, SEO, social media air cover, referral partnerships, and more. You can also build out a national consumer experience, which can buckle onto your lead-generation machine, or go deep with a proprietary investment process or products.
Wondering where do you get the resources to fund this? Redeploy them. A lot of you have built internal advisor marketing departments packed with brilliant, talented professionals. Why not elevate them by letting them do real marketing instead of short-order content delivery?
You can’t affordably scale an on-call internal agency that was built to serve individual advisors and teams. It ends up playing Whac-a-Mole, jumping from one emergency brochure or PowerPoint to the next, catering to the squeakiest wheel. Inevitably a few influential advisors get deluxe treatment while most feel underserved. Adding staff to compensate is prohibitively expensive.
I started out in exactly this kind of job. All I wanted was to walk into top management with hard numbers and say, “Here’s how I can justify everything I’ve been doing.” In an on-call marketing role, you can’t.
Instead, free your marketing people to build your national brand, and they will amaze you. They can dissect your market segment, set objectives, develop strategies and tactics, and deliver measurable outcomes and metrics. They can turn your national brand into a growth-generating machine. Just free them to do it.
There are many ways to scale up a W-2 model organization from the top down. You just have to know where to find them.
The 1099 Model: Build a Team of Giants
I love seeing individual teams blossom. They are so good at human-to-human marketing, which is far outperforming the corporate variety right now in generating organic growth.
The question is, how can you drive organic growth at a faster rate than competing platforms? Where are the levers of scale you can pull?
In the decentralized model, scale is built differently. This business is B2B, not B2C. The only brand that matters is your name recognition and credibility within the advisor community. Your consumer brand equity doesn’t matter. The only face consumers see is their advisor’s.
That’s why a centralized marketing department doesn’t scale in a decentralized model. It’s cost-prohibitive to serve independent teams with different consumer brands, processes, and philosophies. You can’t afford an internal agency for each d/b/a.
The truth is, the best advisor marketing comes from advisors themselves—not from corporate. So is there anything marketing can do to drive growth?
Yes, if you look for scale in the right places.
Marketing isn’t about outsourcing things. It’s about giving advisors a framework to enable them to succeed in their own way. As a result, what you fund may not look much like traditional marketing at all. Instead, your investments might include:
Coaching. Marketing coaching may be the most important yet least understood strategy for accelerating growth. What’s a marketing coach? Everyone understands what a sales coach is, or what a practice management consultant does. Marketing coaches bring the same discipline to the marketing function. Experienced marketing coaching is a rare, quite specific skill—a practice management function, rather than something found in traditional marketing departments. However, its value is becoming increasingly well recognized.
Once you push coaching across every advisor and every team, you may be surprised at the results. We run marketing bootcamps for advisors, and it’s thrilling to watch a team come into its own and flex muscles it never knew it had. Roll up each team’s gains across your corporation, and watch how far they take you.
Peer experience sharing. Advisors love learning from other advisors. There’s something about listening to a peer walking a similar path that inspires a whole other level of confidence than hearing from experts and influencers. Sharing experiences isn’t about copying methods or blindly following advice that might not fit. It’s about analyzing others’ success to find your own way to solve a problem. You can drive scale in peer learning by building a community for sharing experiences, or giving your advisors access to the curated and guided communities that already exist. Develop a community, foster it, and then let it thrive.
Accountability. In truth, most advisors already have all the knowledge, learning, resources and tools they need. Access and availability aren’t the issues. Accountability is. Your gym has more equipment than you’ll ever know how to use. There’s an on-demand learning program for every subject. But you need the discipline, focus and commitment to actually use it properly.
That’s why people pay for personal coaches, both at the gym and in business. We need someone to hold us accountable, push us forward, help us overcome fear and obstacles, and keep perfection from being the enemy of the good.
Building accountability into your model is critical for achieving scale. All the resources in the world will just sit idle if you leave advisors without accountability to motivate and inspire them. Peer groups, coaches and bootcamps (at FiComm, we run an Advisor Marketing Bootcamp that combines all three) will give you the accountability you need to move from concept to scale.
What you’re building is less of a marketing department and more of a self-help organization. Achieving scale can be tricky, but I am very bullish on 1099 models. As businesses get bigger, they become harder to grow. A local team has more room to climb, and the agility to do it faster. What’s more, bottom-up growth can’t be achieved by delivering corporate content at scale. Relevant humanized content is far more effective, but can only be created by advisors in the field.
I don’t have all the answers to marketing financial advisors at scale. But I’ve made it up a mountain or two, and I like to share what I’ve learned with everyone coming up with me. If you have any questions, I’m right here.