Someone recently commented to me, “Your vision of the future depends on how long you will be around.” If your outlook is fairly near, there may not be any urgent need to change, given that most sizable RIAs are doing well, right? But we all know that ever so slowly with aging client bases -- thanks to the massive amount of boomers entering retirement each year -- firms of all sizes will need to add more clients just to replace the assets that are being distributed. If you are looking out further than the next five years, one thing you should be devoting more resources to -- if you can -- is marketing. Here’s why:

1. Are you prepared for a marketing battle? In the old days, firms grew from friends and family. That referral stream is likely tapped out. Your new prospects exist in a digital nation where “likes” and “shares” are considered today’s referral. Today’s younger investors are being bombarded with new information all the time, but is it from you? Frankly, until a few years ago, the traditional RIA had very little “real” marketing other than a few firms with newsletters, seminars and radio programs. That’s changed. Larger, national firms like ours have hired experts and funded marketing budgets to develop brands, engage clients and create prospects. We’re changing the level of competition for mind share and market share with our marketing engines.

2. Do you know who you want to market to? The marketing adage, “Look at your clients and target people just like them” does not apply here. Think about it this way: There’s who you serve today, your current clients, and then there’s who you market to. This is where segmentation can be helpful.  Some firms today are doing a nice job of consciously reaching out to women, business owners, younger investors and other demographic sets. A great place to start is your Web site. Your clients rarely, if ever, visit it, but prospects will visit your storefront to learn all they can about you. It’s time to take a fresh look at other Web sites and your own. Are you appealing to future clients that expect a rich online experience? Would you want to be a client of your firm given its Web site? What about your profile on sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+?

3. Do you have something really interesting to market? Over the years, I’ve consulted to scores of RIAs and found one common issue: Everyone thinks they are special, but they all sound the same. It’s not just the lack of real brands, it's the lack of any credible value proposition. Too many advisors just copy each other and use the same words -- expert, fiduciary, holistic wealth manager. Boring! Find what makes you different by asking three questions: Why are we here? What do we stand for? Why does it matter to clients? Make sure your Web site and other materials cut through the jargon and clutter to get these messages across. Beg for honest feedback from some of the types of people you want to market to. 

4. Do you have the skills for marketing? Many firms pick someone in the office who has time or is creative (or hopefully both!) and name them the head marketer. Problem is, these days marketing is a real discipline. My suggestion is that you develop a written marketing plan starting with your positioning, then a strategy (e.g., we are going to focus on female executives and use LinkedIn to widen our contacts), then a tactical plan (month by month) that’s very specific and actionable. Check with your custodians; they all have marketing tool kits that will help you get started. You should set tangible goals, like the number of prospects gathered, the number of clients converted, new AUM brought in. Most importantly, track your results; don’t rely on anecdotes to measure success.

5. Do you have the tools and technology to support a marketing program? One of the fastest areas of financial services spending is marketing related technology. At a basic level, you should have a CRM system with a robust prospect management capability, which connects to work flows like automated e-mails and ticklers to remind you to reach out periodically. Prospects are your future revenue stream, but many advisors let them languish or ignore them altogether. Firms with marketing technology are able to nurture leads, prioritize them and help advisors be more effective and efficient about converting prospects into clients. The right technology allows you to measure everything and make adjustments as needed.  Modern marketing is more of a science than an art, and getting a return on your investment of time and money is the goal.

Our industry will only become more competitive with each and every passing moment. Marketing is now a key strategic priority you will need to give yourself an edge. Following these steps will help activate your marketing platform so you can accomplish numerous goals: insulate your present clients, attract new prospects, improve employee morale and offer your firm a differentiated voice from the “holistic” wealth manager down the street. 

Gail Graham is Chief Marketing Officer at United Capital, a national partnership of private wealth counseling offices. She is responsible for all aspects of marketing, branding and lead generation as well as business strategy and planning.