An anonymous author once wisely said, "Put your future in good hands -- your own."  That sentiment is certainly applicable when it comes to the art of practice development for financial advisors.  

In a hyper competitive business segment such as financial services, it is very difficult to differentiate one financial advisor from another. Spending hard-earned money on advertising without a well-crafted, relevant message that resonates with your target audience will likely not help your firm stand out from the crowd.  One might further argue that spending valuable dollars on paid advertising support with or without a compelling message is a luxury that many firms simply cannot afford in these challenging times. If your firm is like many in the industry, business development has been difficult, revenue growth has been slower than anticipated and profit margins are under pressure. 

So where is the best place to focus a firm's resources in an attempt to jump start the client acquisition process?  The answer; "Owned Media."  Let's start with the "Why."  Leveraging owned media to communicate with your clients, business alliance partners and prospects costs virtually nothing. Further, consumer and business to business media usage trends favor owned media over many of the more traditional "paid" media channels such as television, radio, newspaper and direct marketing.

What is owned media? Simply stated, owned media are those message distribution channels which you control. These typically fall into one of two categories; 1) Fully-owned outlets such as a firm's website or blog.  2) Partially-owned outlets such as social media networks like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. 

Fully-owned media is important because it allows a firm to directly interact with its clients and those prospects that want to engage with the firm (after all they visited your website or went to your blog). Importantly, the firm can control the timing and nature of the communications which are disseminated via fully-owned media giving it the opportunity to carefully craft and manage the firm's brand "voice." Partially-owned media can complement the firm' efforts on-site, extending its message reach into the digital universe by tapping into like-minded connections, groups and communities... target segments that share the interests of the firm.

So why don't more firms leverage this important communications asset?  In our advisor marketing practice the feedback on this question is typically centered on the false belief that "my clients and prospects are older and don't use the web or social media."  Really?   According to a recent Pew Internet Project study, in 2012, for the first time, over 50% of Americans aged 65+ are online.  Further findings from the study included:

· 60 percent get news online.

· Approximately 10 percent of older online users blog.

· One in 10 post comments on news stories and or share links.

· 13 percent of adults 65 and older have smartphones that can browse the Web.

Once the myth of target audience technology adoption "shortcomings" is dispelled, the dialogue turns to the true reason for the under-utilization of owned media: a firm's lack of branded content.

Clearly, to leverage owned media an advisor firm must have something to say or share in order to support their communication efforts. Whether in the form of white papers, articles or editorials, a firm will need to create custom content that reflects the firm's position and philosophy and which seeks to differentiate the firm from its competitors  In the end, a mix of educational perspectives, articles authored by the firm on various investor-focused topics and or a couple of sentences to introduce 3rd party content deemed relevant to the firm's target audience will provide the greatest flexibility.   

The potential uses for branded content on owned media channels are many and range from crafting advanced content offers on-site to support the firm's lead capture efforts to posting material to the firm's blog and social media networks or by incorporating the articles into a monthly newsletter.  Perhaps best of all, branded content will assist a firm in breaking the through the clutter of "sameness" that permeates the category and the estimated 400,000 advisors that are vying for market share with your firm.

Historically, marketing has been focused on talking at people and distributing messages to individuals whether they were open to receiving them or not.  With owned media there is an opportunity to boost client and prospect engagement through two-way dialogue and inviting feedback.  This is an excellent method to enhance the firm's position, perceived subject matter expertise and to broaden its digital footprint thereby increasing firm awareness and traffic to its website.  Best of all, these outcomes are within the reach of each advisor.  As Thomas Edison once said: "If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves."

Executed properly, the use of owned media as part of a firm's practice development efforts will extend message reach thereby increasing awareness of the firm and its offering. For prospects exposed to the firm's message through owned media channels, they just may be interested enough to pick up the phone and call your firm to arrange an appointment. Clients may be impressed enough that they will forward your content to associates, friends and family members which could yield valuable referrals.

So if your firm is looking for a cost efficient means of enhancing its client-acquisition efforts, start with owned media. After all, the price is right and the results will speak for themselves.

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 Cliffc@evolutionizemypractice.com.