Ep. 237: Content is King: Boosting Marketing Engagement with Kevin Darlington, Broadridge Advisor Solutions

Come on in and sit back and relax. You’re listening to Episode 237 of the WealthTech Today podcast. I’m your host, Craig Iskowitz, founder of Ezra Group Consulting. This podcast features interviews, news and analysis on the trends and best practices, all about wealth management technology.

My guest for this episode was Kevin Darlington, General Manager and the Head of Broadridge Advisor Solutions. Kevin has been at Broadridge for 8 years. Before that he was Managing Director of Client Solutions at HNW, a strategic Marketing Communications Agency to the wealth and asset management industries. He was there for almost 12 years, where he led the entire product and service line of this expansive stage marketing and technology firm.
 
I thought it was a great conversation, I was excited to have Kevin on as Broadridge is a major player in the digital marketing space. I always wonder why they didn’t call it Broadridge Advisor Marketing Solutions but it just Broadridge Advisor Solutions but they do their main focus is marketing. We covered a number of topics, one was how crowded the digital marketing space is. If you look at the advisortech map, that Michael Kitces and I work on which you can find at Kitces.com, there are 30 or so products in the digital marketing space. We spoke about Broadridge’s annual Marketing Trends survey, and we talked about what it means to have a defined approach to marketing.
 
But before we get started, let’s talk about tech stacks. At Ezra Group, we’ve seen tech stacks of hundreds of RIAs and let me tell you, most of them are loaded down with tech debt. So you shouldn’t feel too bad about yours. But let’s face it tech debt is like a giant anchor, holding back your business growth. If you want to free your firm for exponential growth, you should run, not walk to our website EzraGroup.com and fill out the Contact Us form. Our experienced team can evaluate your current tech ecosystem, deliver targeted recommendations, optimize your existing systems and operations or run an RFP and help you implement new software to take your firm to the next level. You can take advantage of our free consultation offer by going to EzraGroup.com.

Topics Mentioned

  • Broadridge Advisor Solutions
  • Standing Out in the Crowded Advisor Marketing Space
  • The Importance of a Defined Marketing Approach

Episode Transcript

Craig: This is going to be a fun interview. I’m happy to introduce on the program Kevin Darlington, General Manager and Head of Broadridge Advisor Solutions. Hey, Kevin, thanks for being here.

Kevin: Craig, thanks so much for having me!

Craig: It is more than my pleasure to have you on the program, Kevin! Where are you calling in from?

Kevin: I’m in North Jersey. It’s a beautiful, sunny day here. Spring has sprung. If I get a chance to listen to the podcast, I’ll be listening to it outside, hopefully, or in the car. But it’s so beautiful out here. We’ve got one of those rare Eastern seaboard spring days where you feel like being in front of the computer is not a natural act.

Craig: This is a hidden reason why I had you on the program. I just wanted to get more New Jersey people represented.

Kevin: Now we’re a crowd of two today here.

Craig: We could have done this in person somewhere. We could have met on the parkway or the turnpike at a rest stop and had this conversation.

Kevin: Absolutely.

Craig: Next time. Next time I have you back on the program, we’ll do it in person somewhere in New Jersey at an undisclosed location.

Kevin: Yes, it sounds good.

Broadridge Advisor Solutions

Craig: All right, so let’s jump right in. Can you, Kevin, please provide us with a 30-second elevator pitch for Broadridge Advisor Solutions?

Kevin: Sure, yes. Broadridge Advisor Solutions is in the business of helping advisors and firms of all shapes and sizes grow their businesses. That’s in both the United States and Canada, so pretty much all of North America. We do that through content marketing and software-as-a-service. Our ethos has always been… An advisor who’s a customer of ours says it better than I can, so I’ll quote him. He says, “If I can educate my clients, I never have to sell.” I think we very much subscribe to that.

Kevin: Broadridge Advisor Solutions is proud to serve about 100,000+ advisors in North America, enabling them to communicate on a one-to-one basis with clients in a way that’s always relevant and timely, but also on a one-to-many basis through channels like social media, email, and their websites. All that to say, it’s to help them attract more of the right prospects, convert more of them into clients, and then nurture those relationships.

Craig: That is everyone’s goal in all businesses—capture more clients, nurture them, and sign them up. The advisor marketing space has become really crowded as of late. I’m sure you’re aware—I know all of our listeners are aware—that I partner with Michael Kitces on the Advisor Technology Map, which you can find on Kitces.com. On that map, we’ve got a digital marketing category. It’s just loaded. It’s got like 30 products in it, Broadridge being just one of them. How do you stand apart from all these other competitors in the digital marketing space?

Kevin: Yes, it has gotten a lot more crowded. I’ve been doing this for a couple of decades now. I think when I started, there were two or three different key players in the space. But as you said, now it’s an awful lot more. I think that the different players try to bring a different spin to how they help advisors grow. For us, I would say the common thread has always been around quality, trustable financial literacy content as the fuel that drives engagement. And that’s changed over time, I’d say.

Kevin: As advisors are trying to meet the ever-growing needs of their clients and prospects for high levels of personalization and relevance, our view is that to meet those customer needs and those prospect needs, you need both high-quality content and quite a bit of it.

Kevin: We are proud to be a software provider. I’d say what separates us from the rest of the pack, Craig, is that by producing content and by curating third-party premium content, we have curated—I’d say unequivocally—the most comprehensive financial literacy library on the widest range of topics and across the different types of consumption. What I mean by that is that it’s not just articles, calculators, videos, infographics, and seminars—it’s all of the above. Allowing firms and advisors to access that content and deploy it at the right time, at the right place, and at the right channel is what I would say is our secret superpower.

Craig: That is impressive, and that’s also quite important, especially for larger wealth management firms, broker-dealers, and such to have their own learning management systems. Can your content fit easily into a learning management platform?

Kevin: It can. I would say we’ve done a lot over the years to make our content more portable. I think for us, the common use case that’s important is that the content is going from an advisor or a team to her, his, or the team’s prospects and clients. I’m not going to name any names, but if you’re the big wealth management brand and you’re looking to plaster content out in the public space just for your firm, that’s not been our model. We are here to help the advisors and teams at the point of prospect and client connection.

Kevin: Learning management systems for things like credentialing or crediting investors is something we’ve looked at. I’m not sure if that’s, Craig, what you’re talking about or [if it’s] more learning management systems for the advisors. But in that case, we also offer continuing education for advisors. We do a little bit of those as well.

Craig: Yes. I was talking about a learning management platform for advisors. Some of our bigger broker deal clients have learning management platforms that we work with, helping them build out advisor content. They’re always looking for good sources of content that can be easily imported into their LMS. Sometimes it’s in PDF format; it’s not easily parsable, searchable, and importable into these types of systems.

Kevin: Yes. The vast majority of our content is HTML content, so we try to make it portable. I would say that the use case is probably not a garden variety for us. But when applicable, especially in the case of continuing education and things like that, we create content for which the audience is more of an advisor. But I would say the vast majority of the content we curate or produce is meant for the audience of the end investor.

Craig: Indeed. Moving on to the next topic, I was impressed with the acquisition of AdvisorStream by Broadridge back in 2021. We had followed that platform—how they had improved in the market and built their position. It was a pretty smart move, I think, on your part to acquire them. That’s been three years. What new features have been added? What have you been doing with these guys? How have they been growing? Has it been integrated into other parts of Advisor Solutions? What’s the story?

Kevin: Yes, thanks. I got to know the founder, Kevin Mulhern, a number of years before the acquisition. To your point about the space getting more crowded, we’ve been servicing the big firms, the midsize firms, and the small firms. We keep our ears to the grindstone as best we can. The name AdvisorStream kept popping up on our radar. Advisors would tell us: “Do know these folks? Have you talked to them?”

Kevin: I had the opportunity to go up to Toronto to meet Kevin years before, and I was impressed with the approach that he had, which was the same. They were trying to solve the same problem, which is: How do you help advisors and firms engage clients and prospects to grow their businesses? Whereas Broadridge had taken the approach that we produce content and a lot of that content we get lettered with FINRA, whereby we can make sure to create high-quality content that’s consumable for varying levels of sophistication and on a wide variety of topics.

Kevin: Kevin and the AdvisorStream team had gone out and directly licensed content from a marquee list of third-party publishers. Not only that, they had a fantastic piece of software that they had built, which enabled the deployment of that content always within the advisor’s brand across channels and on a one-to-one basis.

Kevin: To the next part of your question—how have we put these things together?—I would say it was like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What we had and what AdvisorStream has, we’ve absolutely put together. I would say it’s the way that we go to market. The AdvisorStream platform with all of the Broadridge content with our websites integrated so that the firms and their advisors can access, personalize, and push content across websites, social media channels, and email on a one-to-many and one-to-one basis. We’ve invested heavily in that.

Kevin: New things that have happened—there’s a longer list, and I’m sure your audience cares to hear here—some of the bigger things that I’ll do a drive-by on are: We recognize a lot of firms wanted to think more about precision touchpoints to drive specific outcomes. We’ve honed this idea of surgical-level campaign creation and campaign management, where you can target specific audiences. You can create journeys geared toward specific audiences. And the content that you have to drive certain outcomes, depending on the level of interaction, is very wide.

Kevin: We’ve done a tremendous amount in our analytics area. We’ve done things like introduce multi-language. We’re now multi-language, both in the software and in the content. We’ve also expanded our approach to social media and enabled an interesting level of collaboration between the advisor-level user base and folks who support the advisors. We’ve done a lot more in terms of enabling field-level and home-office folks to bring a bit more firepower to help their advisors use social media channels and get more results and ROI out of that. Let me pause there. I could go on and on, but you can steer the conversation any way you want, Craig.

Standing Out in the Crowded Advisor Marketing Space

Craig: Kevin, I’m going to steer the conversation here. That was a very comprehensive answer. I’m going to go backwards. Expanded social media collaboration between advisors, home offices, and support staff, delivering more results in ROI. Can you drill down on that? What do you mean by expanded social media collaboration between these? How does that work? How is it driving more results?

Kevin: There are a couple of things. One thing we hear a lot of people talk about is: What are the ingredients that tend to drive social media engagement? We find interestingly that it’s not always the crunchy financial nitty gritty content that always gets the best results on social media, but sprinkling in a smattering of more slice-of-life personalized content. Charities that the advisor or firm is involved in or things like that are also a nice way to have a healthy diet in social [media].

Kevin: One aspect is that we created more capabilities that allow the advisors to put their personal brand a little bit more on display. But the other part is that a lot of the firms that we work with would say that the content Broadridge—both through our proprietary and third-party content—brings is fantastic. But bigger firms are investing in their own proprietary content as well—things that they want to make sure are reaching the echo of their advisors and clients through social media channels.

Kevin: It’s this idea where home offices can set up social media posts so that their advisors can opt into a series of communications that will then automatically flow out to their clients and prospects. It could be on a variety of topics. “Hey, follow our series on estate planning” or “Follow our series on end-of-year tax planning.” And then the home office can help enable that on a more automated basis, oftentimes using a lot of their proprietary produced content and they can do that and get that scale that I think a lot of firms are looking for.

Craig: Cool. I think that’s super helpful. And it makes a lot of sense for the home office to be able to build out those options for advisors. Especially if you have thousands of advisors, why would they all build their own series on end-of-year tax planning? Most of it is just the same content, just branded logos and such, white-labeled. They may want to tweak it a little bit or add a little bit of personal touch to it, but that saves a tremendous amount of time. Is there also tracking in their integration to marketing platforms?

Kevin: Yes. Firms we work with tend to use Adobe Analytics, Google Analytics, or some derivation thereof. We’re just about to release an upgrade to our home office analytics. On the platform, the home office folks and all those stakeholders can see program-wide what’s working, what’s trending, and all of that. That’s something we hang our hat on—the ability for firms to see: Who are my most active advisors? What are they doing? How do I maybe get more of my less active or less effective advisors to emulate that? That’s a little bit of our mantra—the analytics should be driving behaviors. All that can happen within the system. But all that data can easily port into those other third-party systems I mentioned.

Kevin: The other thing to mention about some of the things we’ve been doing where we’ve been placing our investment is that, as you’d probably guess, we view this as a very, very adjacent technology to CRM. I mentioned one-to-one communications; we were always impressed with the AdvisorStream tacking that. The algorithms that they had built to enable the system to help the advisor understand “What should I be sending to Craig versus Kevin?” and make it push-button easy to send. That’s all fantastic. And that capability is valuable. But in so many places, it couples perfectly and sometimes even I would say it belongs in the CRM.

Kevin: [With] all the big box CRMs and more wealth-specific CRMs, we’ve been doing more to make the edges between the applications of CRM and this content marketing platform a little bit more seamless. You can have a little less of that swivel chair problem and get the most out of your activity, whether you’re in the CRM or whether you’re in our platform.

Craig: Indeed. It’s so important to be able to move back and forth between these different applications and be able to integrate with whatever tools the wealth management firm is using.

Craig: More of our enterprise clients will use a Salesforce for CRM, but they might use a HubSpot for marketing, and then they have integrations between those two. Will AdvisorStream integrate into HubSpot so that you’re tracking prospects and then integrate into Salesforce so that you’re tracking content going to clients?

Kevin: I would say Salesforce, yes. And already very big, yes. We integrate, I would say, very deeply into Salesforce. A lot of the capability on the one-to-one communication lives now natively in Salesforce and in other CRMs. HubSpot, I would say not so much. We don’t have an integration directly with HubSpot. I don’t know that we would.

Kevin: HubSpot is a fantastic platform. I think of it as purpose-built slightly differently. We try to put a healthy balance of control within the home office marketing and compliance folks and the advisor, airing a little bit more towards making this a system that advisors can be pretty hands-on with. Whereas HubSpot—I’ve been a marketer my whole career—is a powerful platform for pretty sophisticated marketers. We don’t have an integration there, but the CRM is definitely, I’d say, the center of the bullseye of where we will continue to integrate more deeply.

Craig: What about other advisor CRMs like Redtail, Wealthbox, and AdvisorEngine CRM?

Kevin: Yes, yes, and yes. In fact, Wealthbox, I would say, is the one that we’ve probably been doing more work with of late. A little bit of Redtail. But I would say it’s a good time to be an advisor in terms of these technologies. You mentioned it before; the rather crowded place of marketing tech for advisors is similar to CRM tech for advisors. I think with more choice naturally comes better quality. We see those CRMs as really strong partners. We look and try to have relationships where we understand where they’re taking their roadmaps, and we try to bring them into the fold on where we’re taking our capabilities. It’s a nice, virtuous circle. We think of them as really important partners as we think about the path ahead for us.

Craig: That’s awesome. All right, let’s shift gears. Broadridge recently conducted a marketing survey of 400 advisors, and there were some really interesting results. Can you talk a little bit about what’s behind the survey and how you guys came up with it?

Kevin: Yes. Look, there’s a—maybe a little cliche now—saying, but I’ve always thought it was pretty apt that the marketer doesn’t choose the channel, the consumer chooses the channel. To me, that’s a good way of essentially saying that if you’re trying to market and grow your business, you need to be where the customer is, what the customer prefers, and how they want to engage [with] and consume information. It’s changed since I got into this business, and it’s changing faster and faster.

Kevin: We do two key pieces of research. One is that we partner with Dow Jones for a piece of research where we try to understand investor sentiment and what investors want. But the other one is that we ask advisors: How are they reaching prospects and clients? Where are they spending their dollars? What’s working? What’s not working? We do it yearly because, more importantly than what we might see with any single annual cut of the data is: How are things changing? And where are things shifting to? For us, it’s become a valuable bellwether to help us understand, particularly with the growth-oriented advisors: Where are they shifting their priorities and dollars to? And how do we meet them where they’re headed?

The Importance of a Defined Marketing Approach

Craig: Annual is way better when it comes to these surveys. I don’t like the ones that are every two or three years because the trends are the most important part of the data. I want to see how things are changing over time, not just a snapshot. In this recent survey, a couple of statistics jumped out of me. One said that advisors with a defined marketing approach generate 168% more leads and onboard 50% more clients than those without. What is the definition of a defined marketing approach?

Kevin: As much as we love to talk about the shiny objects in this space—[such as] “What’s the new channel?” AI, and things like that, which are all relevant—I think that this question somewhat gets overlooked. In my mind, a defined plan is a plan that allows you to hold your marketing specifically accountable. You need to know where you’re spending and you need to know what’s generating your ROI. That’s a defined plan. It stems from concrete marketing objectives.

Kevin: What are your marketing objectives? Therefore, based on those objectives, what is your plan to invest both money and time to reach those objectives, and then evaluate your plan specifically to understand and optimize that investment over time? To me, that’s what a plan is.

Kevin: I think, Craig, this has been consistently the biggest single predictor of better results for advisors, more so than how much they’re spending, more so than what channels they’re investing in, and more so than what demographics they’re targeting. Having a plan is the thing that seems to separate the most effective growth-oriented advisors from the rest of the pack.

Craig: I like that—concrete marketing objectives. What I found with some advisory firms is that they have an approach, but it’s a little fuzzy. It’s not quite concrete; maybe more like Jell-O. And that’s probably a reason why they’re not getting the same results you’re seeing in your survey.

Kevin: It’s antithetical to the whole model that advisors practice with their clients. The model that they practice with their clients is goals-based, where you’re tracking against specific quantifiable goals. Anything but that, in terms of marketing, I would say has a pretty insidious cost if you’re not concrete about it, you’re not specific, and you’re not measuring. I worry even less about the spend. The survey tells us that, on average, it’s about $16,000 to $17,000 that advisors spend on their marketing. That’s in terms of dollars.

Kevin: But you mentioned Michael Kitces earlier. He’s looked at: How much time are they spending? I think that if you’re not defined about your objectives and you’re not tracking both time and the money you’re spending, that is a very good recipe to waste both time and money.

Craig: I couldn’t agree more with that, Kevin. We are running at a time. I think I can sneak in one more question. Also in the financial advisor marketing trends report, you noted that 49% of advisors surveyed saw an increase in inbound prospect requests, up from 43% in 2022. What do you think is driving this? Is it fear about the economy? Is it post-COVID stress? Something else? What’s going on here?

Kevin: Yes, 43-49%. I would have to remember how that’s tracked over time. But I think the big macro factors that you just mentioned are good reasons why that would be.

Kevin: If advisors right now are not more on offense than they have ever been before in terms of having a strong digital presence to attract the right types of inbound prospects, I would say if you’re growth-oriented and you’re not on offense, shame on you.

Kevin: The times when markets are seemingly on autopilot and it seems like everybody seems to be doing well and there’s reason to be optimistic are the same times when Jane and John Q. Public are most apt to say: “I’m good. I don’t need a financial advisor.” But when these macro forces come into play, maybe they put a little bit of a storm cloud or two on the horizon, where more and more individuals are realizing that “It may be time for me to seek out a professional.”

Kevin: I would say that that time is now. If there is a silver lining to times of uncertainty, it’s that it’s a very good calling card for an advisor to say, “Hey, this is what I’m here to help you with.”

Craig: I want to encourage all my listeners that the time is now, as Kevin says. There’s no time like the present. Kevin, you said it all. We are now out of time. How can people listening find out more about Broadridge Advisor Solutions?

Kevin: Yes, thanks so much, Craig. BroadridgeAdvisor.com would be the place to go. We’d love to have you come take a look at the research that we talked about and learn more about us.

Craig: Kevin, thanks again for being here. I’m super excited that you were on the program.

Kevin: It was my pleasure, Craig. Thanks so much. It was a lot of fun.

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The Wealth Tech Today blog is published by Craig Iskowitz, founder and CEO of Ezra Group, a boutique consulting firm that caters to banks, broker-dealers, RIA’s, asset managers and the leading vendors in the surrounding #fintech space. He can be reached at craig@ezragroupllc.com

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