Financial advisor firms now have a bona fide alternative to traditional outbound marketing tools such as cold calling, direct mail, newspaper, yellow pages, out-of-home and local radio. For local advertisers, these traditional media channels are notable for their cost inefficiencies and reliance on intrusive, push marketing tactics that consumers have become adept at ignoring or avoiding altogether. The alternative, born of the digital age, is referred to as inbound marketing.   

Inbound marketing is more effective than traditional media when it comes to exposing an advertiser's message to their target audience, boosting visibility for the firm and building brand consideration. So what is "inbound marketing?" In short, inbound marketing involves garnering the attention of prospects by publishing and distributing content that helps your firm get found, drive traffic to its Web site and entices prospects to engage with your firm.  

The reasons to consider inbound marketing as part of your firm's marketing mix are compelling. Chief among them is the ability to cost-efficiently generate new leads as part of a firm's client acquisition efforts. According to a study conducted by HubSpot in January 2012, inbound marketing yielded a cost-per-lead that was 61% below that of outbound marketing approaches.  In addition, leads generated from inbound channels converted at a higher rate, 14.6% versus a close rate of 1.7% for outsourced leads and 7.0% for referrals.  

By way of background, there are four pillars to developing an executing a successful inbound marketing strategy:
1. Creation and distribution of timely, relevant content
2. On-page search engine optimization
3. Off-page search engine optimization
4. Social media marketing

The development and distribution of relevant investor-oriented content that engages target customers in a meaningful way and facilitates the development of a relationship with the firm is the most important element of any inbound marketing strategy. While content can be accessed from a number of third-party providers, savvy firms have begun to invest in "branded" or custom content. The reason is twofold, first of all it distinguishes the organization and its information offering from the competition and it relates the firm's perspective to its target audience in an engaging manner. Of note, consumers have a favorable view of custom content and the companies that provide it. In fact, in a recent CCC/Roper poll, 75% of the 1,000 consumers surveyed indicated that they believed that firms providing custom content were "interested in building good relationships with customers." The same percentage stated their preference for receiving information about a company through articles rather than in an advertisement.

When searching for a prospective financial advisor, many prospects begin online by typing in a generic search term. Herein lies the challenge. Type in the term "financial advisor" in Google and you will see that there are over 60 million search results.  Modify that by adding a location such as "Dallas financial advisor" and there are still over 4.7 million search results. Greater specificity that incorporates descriptors such as "Dallas fee-based financial advisor" reduces the number of search results to 1.0 million.  While this is certainly better than our first example, what are the chances your firm will show up on page one of the search results?

This is where on-page search engine optimization (SEO), things that can be done on your Web site, can provide firms with a competitive advantage. For starters, make sure that your Web site incorporates the use of "title tags" to describe the content of each page. Why? Title tags appear on browsers, in search listings and as the anchor text on external Web sites such as social networking sites like LinkedIn or Facebook. Creating concise title tags of less than 70 characters, which incorporate keywords to provide a brief description of the content on the page, is critical to SEO success. Other tactics include the use of descriptive URLs, header tags and keywords that help search engines crawl and index your Web site, resulting in improved search engine rankings.   

The primary off-page SEO tactic utilized by marketers is link-building. This is the practice of linking your content to other high-quality, relevant Web sites and having them link to the content on your Web site. Increasing both the number and quality of links is an important determinant of search engine ranking success.   

The last pillar of a successful inbound marketing strategy revolves around the use of social media marketing. Advisory firms should know that social media audiences and engagement levels continue to increase at an incredible rate. This can be evidenced from ComScore's December 2011 report that found that the "social" category accounted for 16.6% of Internet minutes during the month. At its current rate of growth, social activity could overtake portals as the "most engaging" online activity in 2012.

Thus, at this stage it is virtually impossible for financial advisors to ignore this important communications channel when crafting their inbound marketing plans. To do so would severely limit message reach. Integrating blogs, social network links and RSS feeds into an advisor's Web site enhances the firm's ability to distribute content and to communicate with clients and prospects at a time and place of the clients choosing.  

In the end, a well-crafted inbound marketing program will assist advisory firms in boosting their visibility, standing out from the crowd and acquiring more than their fair share of new clients. Inbound marketing is a proven, time-tested strategy. However, its adoption within the financial services sector has lagged that of other market segments, creating opportunity for those financial advisory firms willing to embrace a new approach. Firms may find confidence in the old proverb; "One who walks in another's tracks leaves no footprints" when considering their options.

Cliff Campeau is a partner with Evolutionize LLC and a regular blogger on financial services marketing best practices. Evolutionize specializes in providing independent financial services firms with a suite of proven practice development solutions including Web site development, inbound and outbound marketing tools and compliant social media marketing program support. Campeau can be reached at