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How to be a Thought Leader in the Digital Era

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Aug 3 • Strategies • 2027 Views • No Comments

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Quite a bit of jargon exists in the financial services industry, and the term thought leadership now falls squarely into that category as well. But thought leadership is more than a buzzword – it is a method of creating a stand-out brand that clients and prospects are drawn to, and one in which other advisors want to take part. The continued growth of the financial advisor community coupled with ease of access to information through digital channels makes becoming a thought leader a critical aspect of your success. As a thought leader, you have more influence than the average advisor which positions you as an expert in your specific area of focus.

Of course, serving clients is atop the list of priorities on a daily basis, but becoming a thought leader should come in as a close second. In doing so, it is important to understand that thought leadership is not your sales presentation or pitch; it goes far beyond day to day business and client interactions. Thought leaders have established themselves as influential advisors in their communities, and nationally, with strong brand recognition and an even stronger reputation among clients and peers. But tackling the objective of becoming a thought leader is not a simple task; it is necessary to carve out your influential place in the financial services industry by following a strategic plan. Here are the steps you can take to become a thought leader in the digital era.

Develop a Differentiating Message

The majority of financial advisors offer similar products and services to clients, and with the vast number of advisors available in today’s marketplace, it is important to develop a message that differentiates your practice from the next. The process goes beyond stating years of experience, earned designations or prestigious firm affiliations; differentiation is built on a specific focus area, or a specific client demographic. Saying you work with baby boomers does not carry as much weight as saying you work with individuals who work for the federal government who plan to retire in five to seven years. The same specificity should be used in describing the services you offer. Asset managers and financial planners are a dime a dozen, but offering strategic retirement income planning for high net worth individuals makes your brand clearly stand out. Your unique message should reflect who you want to have as a client, and it should radiate throughout your entire brand and marketing strategy.

Create Engaging Content

Once you have developed your differentiating message, it is integral to infuse that value proposition into content. In today’s digital environment, clients and prospects can quickly Google the term “investment planning” and immediately see tens of thousands of results on the web. Sources may vary, but in most instances, the message and the format is the same. To become a thought leader in your unique space, it is crucial to create content that goes a step beyond what every other advisor is publishing.

Generic content that is not differentiated, uses heavy industry jargon or is badly written is far removed from what your audience wants or needs. Engaging content, such as long-form blog posts, white papers or case studies are an effective way to set yourself apart from the competition while providing valuable information to your readers. Infographics and videos also hit the mark when it comes to thought leadership and ultimately, engagement, as they offer something different than the competition. Regardless of the form used, quality content offers a simple-to-follow arrangement including paragraph headers, bulleted points or lists, and is free of rambling and complex theories.

In managing your content development and output, it is important to make sure its relevant to today’s marketplace and also stands out from the crowd. For instance, writing or speaking about important topics, such as retirement income needs or global events like Brexit, is an obvious choice; what may not be so obvious is your unique voice on the topic. Your content should stand out because it relays a story only you can tell. Maybe it is that you share a controversial perspective, or a method to analyzing an event or investment that trails off the beaten path. Regardless of the content focus, take care to make it different.

Distribute Digitally

While creating engaging content is paramount to becoming a thought leader, it does little good if it is not shared in the right way. Clients and prospects are quick to gather information from the Internet, and so your content should be there, too. Start with your own website or blog, as the people who are already familiar with you will find your content easily. Then, expand your most valuable content to other mediums, such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. These social media channels can reach a large group of individuals in mere seconds, and quality content tends to travel far.

Partner with News Media

Having a digital content strategy is key to establishing yourself as a thought leader, but connections with local and national news media still play a roll. Traditional news media outlets have strong reputations within communities and demographics, making a partnership imperative to becoming a thought leading financial advisor. Media outlets also have large distribution channels that can propel your message to the masses in a quick and easy way. Think Forbes, Investment News or your local newspaper.

To establish a partnership with local media sources, start with a list of local and national journalists who cover your competition and begin to build relationships through networking. Once you have established a rapport with the media, submit articles to be placed, pitch ideas for a story or provide feedback on their existing news stories. Sharing content on these credible sites and print publications boosts your brand and reputation, and helps you reach an audience you may otherwise never engage with.

Engage with your Followers

As you consistently share content, it is necessary to stage engaged yourself. If there are comments left on one of your posts, make sure to take time and respond. Additionally, taking part in group discussions through social media sites is a smart way to stay in the game. You may join specific groups on Facebook or LinkedIn that bring together your ideal client and make it a point to consistently share your thoughts in the comments, either on your own posts or on others. It is also beneficial to link back to other influencers in the field, whether they be individuals, companies or news sources. As you begin to build rapport with outside sources, ask that they share your work to their audiences, too.

Each of these actions eventually lead you down the path toward thought leadership, but your message must first resonate with important people in order for you truly achieve that prestigious title. Are you sharing information or perspective that makes people stop and think twice? If so, you’re on the right track. Remember that influence is the ultimate goal, with each of these strategic steps guiding your way. Develop a message that is truly unique and focused, and then create content that is directed toward your ideal client. Get your messaging in front of your ideal audience by using a broad range of digital avenues, and always remember to stay engaged yourself. Thought leadership does not come easily, but utilizing these strategies in a smart, planned way is the most effective way to begin your journey.

Then, before you know it, a message you shared on your recent blog will appear on the local evening news, then make its way to a major news network, like CNBC. A conference producer may see that broadcast on television, and subsequently ask you to speak at a national conference. With that type of notoriety, you can nominate yourself for the Barrons’ top advisor list with confidence because you are a thought leader.

Dan Sondhelm

Dan Sondhelm is the CEO of Sondhelm Partners, a firm designed to help financial companies attract investors, strengthen distribution and build brands.

Dan was nominated by MutualFundWire in 2009 as one of the Most Influential People in Fund Distribution for his guidance and perspective to help companies grow. Dan frequently contributes to the financial news media and presents or moderates at industry conferences and webinars.

Prior to establishing Sondhelm Partners, Dan was a senior partner and senior vice president at SunStar Strategic for more than 20 years. In this role, he was instrumental in helping boutique and larger firms develop strong distribution and marketing programs.

Dan earned an MBA from the Kogod College of Business Administration at American University in Washington, DC.
Dan lives in Alexandria, VA with his wife Jenna, twin children Madeleine and Gabriel, and cat Remy.

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The above article is for educational purposes only. Investment professionals should consult their compliance departments before accessing or implementing any of the marketing ideas, practices or advice found in the DigitalFA. Your use of the DigitalFA website tells us you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service.

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