With just about every benchmarking study indicating that the independent advisor industry’s organic growth rates are closer to zero, or just a few percentage points once market gains are subtracted out, now is the time to bring a renewed focus to marketing.

As someone who didn’t grow up in the financial services industry, it’s clear that there is an opportunity for our industry to more actively embrace and adopt modern, digital marketing strategies and approaches that are proven to work in other industries, and even ours in small scale. My experience includes over 20 years in consumer and brand marketing for a number of the largest media companies in the country and, as a result, I have always been intrigued by the art and science of generating new clients.

The wealth management landscape has changed dramatically in just a few short years, as advisory firms are now faced with a much more challenging environment, on multiple fronts, in order to drive organic growth. The macroeconomic environment, with rising inflation, higher interest rates, and market volatility that we can expect to continue have led consumers to slow down their decision-making time so that they can see what will happen next. The competitive environment has also increased sharply in recent years with an influx of low-touch, low-cost financial planners and wealth managers promising consumers a lot for a little. Unfortunately, traditional referral activities are just not enough to make up for the client churn and asset decumulation as they age, resulting in minimal organic growth.

These are just a few of the factors that make organic growth important. Organic growth is a key element to help firms weather the storm and, in fact, can come out in an even stronger position once market cycles recover. However, organic growth is not an “if you build it, they will come” endeavor—it is a science that requires a structured and methodical data-driven approach. It may also require you to leave things that you considered to be absolute truths behind if the numbers don’t support them.  

Here’s a topline look at how to approach direct-to-consumer growth:

A strong digital client lead generation engine requires three important things rooted in a “test and learn” approach. First, firms need to refine their message and target audience – are you targeting the right people and are you doing it with a differentiated message?  There is a large total addressable market for wealth advisors, by starting with a clear audience (which you can expand) you mitigate the risk of spending a lot of money on something that may not work.

Second, firms should be open to testing a wide array of digital lead generation sources such as including, but not limited to, paid search, paid social, CTV (connected TV ads, i.e. ads that run within streaming content), retargeting (advertising to visitors of your site that did not become a lead), and nurturing email campaigns (delivering content to leads that did not convert to clients). Nurturing campaigns are a great way to amortize the cost of your lead generation marketing since you already paid for the lead, but it didn’t convert. Simply emailing these leads, at little cost to you, will likely result in new clients which can help drive down new cost per lead expenses. Based on the results of these campaigns, you can learn what is working, and optimally allocate your resources towards those channels.

Next, firms need to conduct audience testing with a strong focus on the benefits that you bring to your target markets to uncover those key messages that will help drive investors to seek you out and take action. This can be done through creating look alike modeling, which is where you create groups of people who look like your current clients and then find them through the sources that I talked about above. If you don’t have the resources to create a look alike model, firms can leverage audiences that various social media platforms have already created. For example, Meta has audiences of art collectors or you can target doctors on Linkedin.

Finally, and probably most importantly, firms need to develop an internal sales team that can follow up and convert leads into clients. While not all firms are of the size to be able to allocate resources to new hires specifically for lead management, you can dedicate part of someone’s time to focus on lead management, such as calling leads quickly, qualifying them, and closing the business. Leads that proactively reach out to you are usually high quality. If these leads are not followed up on immediately, they can quickly become disinterested and move on, resulting in a missed opportunity, likely to severely dampen your marketing ROI.

Because a client generated through these channels didn’t necessarily think of your firm before they got to you, the client experience you provide in the beginning of the relationship is critical. What is your process for onboarding clients? Is it digital, seamless and frictionless with a minimum of paperwork so they start to experience the benefits of your planning and investing process quickly?  If not, be sure to address that new client experience as part of the onboarding. The first six months are key to creating a satisfied and loyal client that can end up being a happy referrer for you.

Without a doubt, there is real work and investment required to regain your organic marketing muscles, so discipline, commitment and patience are most certainly required. However, our experience has shown that building out your organic growth engine gets rewarded in increased business value and the ability to attract the industry’s best advisors who want to grow with you.

Gary Foodim is the chief marketing officer for Mercer Advisors and a former Conde Nast senior executive.