I see an abundance of evidence suggesting the RIA world is moving into a stage of marketing “haves” and “have nots.” The industry’s real growth is fueled by the bigger firms who have differentiated messages, specialized marketing technology platforms, in-house experts and sizable budgets to focus on marketing and lead generation. At smaller firms, marketing investment tends to be centered on a website, maybe some collateral and sales support, client appreciation events and the like. While these are helpful to win new clients one at a time, they aren’t scalable growth programs. 

It was a watershed moment when Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA) invited me and about 20 other marketing professionals to their first-ever CMO Forum. For several years, DFA has hosted forums for CEOs and COOs to help industry leaders gain insights and best practices about running RIA businesses. I asked the organizers why they initiated the CMO Forum and got this response from Bryce Skaff, DFA’s head of strategic relationship group:

"Dimensional's CMO Forum provides an opportunity for marketing leaders to collaborate on ways to create ideal client relationships. In the 25 years we've been working with financial advisors, we've seen their core offering evolve from investment management to wealth management to a successful client experience. Owning and articulating a clear sense of an advisory firm's purpose will help ensure that success."

The people who attended the CMO Forum had impressive backgrounds ranging from advertising to product marketing to successful financial services marketing careers, and the firms they represented managed a combined total of well over $100 billion in assets. We can now fill a room of RIA industry marketing experts, when just five years ago that wouldn’t have been possible.

The most compelling aspect of the DFA CMO Forum was the focus on “A Higher Purpose.” We started with a conversation about today’s transformed investors who need our industry to transform too so we can serve them better. We discussed the importance of a having a relentless client focus and simplifying the complexities to help investors feel confident and stay consistent with the plan that’s right for them. Lastly, we shared the responsibility we all feel for the impact we have on people’s lives. I expect anyone listening in on this conversation would have experienced a group of people serving a noble profession.

My hat is off to DFA for understanding that marketers are becoming the flag bearers in our industry. They elevated the discussion in terms of our responsibility to help people with their complete financial lives, including how they feel about money and their personal priorities. There was a lot of conversation about moving with the trends—demographic trends, technology trends and communication trends—to keep our industry and its messages relevant. This is where marketers can truly add value, by understanding the markets we serve, not just the markets we invest in.

At my firm, we think about consumer trends, our clients, our purpose and our message all the time. Like DFA, we have a really strong, mission-driven culture and that higher purpose drives our innovation and fuels our marketing. We have an ecosystem of marketing and technology supported by a team of industry experts we recruited to help us continue to grow exponentially. We’re constantly researching, testing and refining what we do.