Registered investment advisors face escalating competition for client assets, and the right strategy will differentiate winners from losers, said Andrew Town, vice president of institutional consulting for TD Ameritrade, who spoke during a presentation at the 2020 TD National LINC conference in Orlando.

“Over 50% of advisors don’t have a strategy to start with, they don’t have a clear way to stand out,” said Town. “Even when they do have a strategy, the people in this business are fairly limited. If you don’t know what your strategy is, you can’t be clear on how to stand out. It’s an issue.”

Town brought up the different tracks of Nike and Reebok since the height of their competition in the athletics shoe business of the late 1980s. At the time, both companies were profitable, but Reebok was making more money and had a larger market share than Nike. Investors had no way of knowing which brand would come out on top.

But the fate of the respective companies diverged after both launched new marketing campaigns in 1988. Reebok elected to focus its branding and advertising on personality instead of the athletics niche, while Nike targeted athletes and people who had athletic aspirations, rolling out its now famous “Just Do It” motto that year.

“The next year, the New York Times ran an article in the paper talking about the competition and they talked about the two advertising campaigns,” said Town, noting that the article was titled ‘Nike Bounds Past Reebok.’ “Reebok was clearly unfocused and didn’t have a strategy, they saw themselves as a general shoe company selling western boots and walking shoes in addition to their athletics shoe . . .  but Nike was very clear they were all about helping us be better athletes or imagine that we could be serious athletes with their products.”

Today, Nike has far eclipsed what was once its biggest competitor in the athletic footwear market, largely on the strength of its marketing.

For RIAs, small, strategic choices in marketing could make the difference between rapid organic growth and stagnation, said Town.

He identified six successful marketing strategies for RIAs:

Niche Markets

Niches have been identified by many financial industry thought leaders as a good way to target specific clientele that may prefer working with a highly specialized advisor. Town argues that prospective clients should gravitate towards advisors who they believe know them better than the competition.

Exceptional Client Experience

Town said that some firms can grow organically just by providing an outstanding client experience whether or not they’ve developed a niche.

“Find ways to break the script,” said Town. “This is where advisors say, ‘We are going to do everything we can to be delightful in our experiences with people, and then they’ll be more loyal and talk to more people about it.’”

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