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Dissecting the pathology of UHNW wealth managers who want brand building without marketing

Iconoclastic, clubby and referral-oriented ways still attract the ultra-rich -- but a sleek LinkedIn page might be what Gens X, Y, millennials and hip boomers demand

Friday, September 26, 2014 – 6:22 AM by Guest Columnist April Rudin
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April Rudin: In one instance a client realized how important his LinkedIn profile could be after a journalist cherry-picked facts from it for an article about his firm after he'd offered a 'no comment.'

Brooke’s Note: If there is one thing that wealth managers to the very rich fear more than going on the dole, it is being mistaken for an ambulance chaser. Why that is the case can be left aside. But what is so bad about a lawyer who would have the initiative to literally chase down vehicles with sirens blaring and lights flashing then barge into the waiting room at a hospital and do a legal house call right there on the spot? I’d have to seriously consider hiring that enterprising guy or gal. As a marketing consultant to wealth managers for the very rich, April Rudin battles the mentality of advisors who are terrified of appearing to try to win new accounts. Marketing is somehow repugnant to them — even though they desperately want the results, like survival, that good marketing can bring. This article may help some people challenge their own deeply ingrained assumptions about such matters.

I recently got a call from an old-line wealth management firm in Boston that wanted to redo its website. They knew, after leaving it static for a decade, that it needed sprucing up, but part of them felt like it was perfectly fine.

After all, its graphics featured the lighthouse and gold clock that so many other wealth-management firms use to convey timeless values, eternal vigilance, ports in storms, and the ability to look just enough like competitors to say: We have no crazy ideas that’ll get you or your money in trouble. See: Social media is effective with ultra-wealthy clients but forget the Morgan Stanley approach.

Still, the principals of this de facto Cabot, Lodge wealth manager were determined to express to prospects that they were, in fact, better than their competitors in essential ways.

As a person who helps wealth managers to create professional marketing, I thought to myself: Here it comes. They say somebody who went to Harvard will always find a way to work it into conversation in the first five minutes of conversation.

The amount of time that it takes an advisor to the ultra-wealthy to say they are the same as competitors — but different — often occurs on a tighter schedule than our Harvard man’s deep desire to express his heart’s pride.

The referral myth

When I told the Cabot Lodge-like crew that print fonts and more deeply pixeled photos of lighthouses were one thing but they should consider overhauling their online and offline branding — including their positioning, messaging, LinkedIn profiles and other social media — they were certain that I did not know why new clients come to a firm with air as rarefied as theirs. See: The one act of image-ination RIA’s must undertake before debuting on social media.

“But we get all of our business from referrals!! We just want to be current, that’s all.”

That little word, “current,” says it all.

My most loyal readers are by now familiar with the crazy world of financial-services marketing and how many wealth managers, hedge fund managers and asset managers are hard-wired with left-brained thinking that yields binary on/off and black/white answers.

What makes them so adept in executing on investment ideas and standing by them with steely resolve can also misinform their branding instincts. After all, they do what they do in back rooms and nobody can do what they do exactly in their customized way.

It is an article of faith for many wealth managers that their client prospects, like their clients, want exclusivity and discretion—that they look for wealth managers through close-knit networks of friends, kin and professional acquaintances. It follows, they believe, that a firm that flies “under the radar” will be far preferable to one that is highly visible, clear and out there with its marketing message and branding profile. See: Are ultra-high-net-worth clients really worth it?.

Party crashers

But while wealth managers are right about the ultra-rich’s appetite for exclusivity, they’re wrong about the branding visibility thing — much the way that the people who market Bentleys, Gulfstreams, Tiffany necklaces and the Ritz Carlton would be wrong to stop marketing.

It’s at this first encounter with a marketing paradox that wealth managers suffer a bifurcation of the soul and cling to what they know and what assuages their sense of noblesse oblige.

Yes, referrals are the most important source of new business in wealth management, particularly among the ultra-rich. And the wealthy do like to feel they’re being catered to by a group or firm that only the truly elite have access to. It’s arguably a carry-over from the days when you quite literally needed to know somebody to access stocks and bonds before the Quick & Reillys and Schwabs came along and mucked it up. See: $2-billion HighTower practice hosts UHNW event relating to financial — and personal — security.

But since online brokers crashed the party, so has everybody else — and this has made flying under the radar like a World War I dirigible a luxury one can’t afford. See: Thoughts on 'robo-advisors’ served cold, compliments of Kitces and Waymire.

Too exclusive?

Visibility has become far more important today versus 20 years ago. Wealthy people believe in their advisors but they are also as addicted to getting a quick read on virtually everything with a quick Google. This is especially true when it comes to Gen X and Gen Y. See: What to make of Sallie Krawcheck’s emergence as a Twitter-sphere celebrity.

No matter how many Uncle Georges and Aunt Jills have recommended you to them, these younger prospects’ first impressions will be formed, perhaps irretrievably, by LinkedIn profiles and company websites. Millennials will be turned off by any whiff of a firm or a person that can’t get over themselves, so to speak. See: The big impression Mark Tibergien and his reverse mentor, Kayla Flaten, 25, made on me over a Manhattan lunch.

Adverse event

Getting this message across to old-line-minded wealth firms is my eternal struggle and often it takes an adverse event to make it happen.

In one instance a client realized how important his LinkedIn profile could be after a journalist cherry-picked facts from it for an article about his firm after he’d offered a “no comment.”

Suddenly, he was very eager to control his own story, manage the information available about him online. See: How to use LinkedIn to win more business in your niche.

Suddenly, he realized that a task he’d associated with filling out a form at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles defined his personal brand for thousands of people.

So recall what makes people truly feel like they are part of an exclusive club — impeccable service, professionalism and communications. But also do the prospect one more favor. Make them feel welcome by having a branding that reaches out to them like you want them — and that makes them feel like they don’t need to take a wrenching trip in a time machine to have their wealth well managed.

April J. Rudin is the founder of The Rudin Group, a wealth marketing solutions firm specializing in UHNW/HNW client acquisition. strategies. It is the mash-up of wealth marketing, digital/social media and next gen. The Rudin Group represents the sum effort of April’s experience, relationships and know-how in creating effective, visible campaigns.

Mentioned in this article:

The Rudin Group
Marketing & Public Relations
Top Executive: April Rudin

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