A $3.4-billion DFA RIA sends his social media presence sky high with a 'Yep, I Built That' strategy

'Street cred' may attract like-minded clients but Mark Matson is also taking a calculated risk with his staunch political stance

Sunday 9.30.12 by Kelly O'Mara

Brooke’s Note: If anyone were to doubt the social media presence of Mark Matson, they’d only have to look at the comments on the bottom of this article in the short time that it’s been published.

RIA Mark Matson, founder of Mason, Ohio-based Matson Money, is a big Mitt Romney fan, an even bigger supporter of free markets, and a small-business owner. So, when President Obama said at a campaign event in Virginia, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that,” Matson was outraged.

Matson, for one, had built his business from scratch, charging $10,000 on each of his three credit cards to get it off the ground 20 years ago. Now, his firm has $3.4 billion in advised assets and Matson also runs a successful coaching service for advisors.

Most advisors might keep that outrage inside, holding to the maxim that there are three things you should avoid talking about: religion, politics, and money. But not Matson. He made a YouTube video with his wife and daughter mocking Obama’s statement and created a Facebook page called, Yep, I Built That. Both have been wildly successful: The YouTube video has garnered 920,000 views and the Facebook page, which encourages small-business owners to post photos of themselves and their employees outside their business holding a sign that says “Yep, I Built That,” has 105,000 fans and counting.

The risk, Matson believes, has paid off, creating a community of potential leads down the road, increasing the number of views for his own personal website and his show, Matson Money Live, and getting him appearances on Fox and CNBC. See: RIA/advisor coach Mark Matson invests half a million in a public television special.

“It’s better to take a position than to be nobody and not take a position,” says Matson. See: One RIA in Seattle confronts Occupy Wall Street and writes a tough-love letter.

'You didn’t build that’

What Obama said at the campaign event in Virginia on July 13 was: “If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

At first, Matson thought about taking a photo of himself and his employees in front of his firm holding a sign saying, “Yep, I Built That.” But, he thought, why not go bigger? His social-media director, Zack Shepard, suggested they create a Facebook page. And the first thing he posted on the page was a satirical video that he wrote and the video crew from his office helped shoot.

The video, 'Honey, You Didn’t Build That,’ shows Matson’s daughter, Madison, proudly showing her parents the Popsicle-stick replica of the Washington Monument she built at school. Matson and his wife, Melissa, reminded her that she didn’t cut down the trees used to make the Popsicle sticks, nor did she build the school or the roads that lead to it. They also suggested to the increasingly crestfallen child that it was not fair that she got an A+ when other kids got an F.

Despite the popularity of the video and the Facebook page, the question now is: Will that actually help Matson’s business?

“I’d like to be able to say I had this big plan for return-on-investment, but it really wasn’t like that,” says Matson. See: Why compliance experts are apt to dislike Facebook.

The Romneys and the Matsons get photographed in front of the campaign jet.
The Romneys and the Matsons get
photographed in front of the campaign

The obvious risk

The vast majority of people on Matson’s Facebook page have supported his position and have posted variations of their own business photos or criticisms of the current administration.

“I did build my business with no help from our current president. I resent being told I didn’t do it alone,” posted Corina Amy Talkington Yetter.

But, some visitors have expressed their opposition to Matson’s stance and had their own criticisms.

“Maybe if you chopped down some trees and built a log cabin, by yourself, then you could claim that. But when you buy materials, made by someone else, use infrastructure built by others, safety measures put in place by federal and local government, then you should change it to 'We built this business, but I run it,” wrote Chad Coady.

Obviously, that’s a debate that is also playing out offline. When an advisor takes a public position, there will be people who agree with the advisor and people who disagree. It’s a simple calculation, says Pat Allen, principal of Rock the Boat Marketing in Chicago.

“I don’t know if it’s high risk, but the risk is obvious,” says Allen. See: In this election season, cast your vote for president in private — not in your firm’s newsletter.

While Matson says he hasn’t lost any direct clients, two advisors from southern California who outsourced assets to him did take their $20 million in assets and leave, he says.

More than a marketing scheme

“It’s kind of like gambling in Vegas, sometimes it pays off,” says Gerri Leder, president of LederMark Communications in Baltimore.

When Matson thought up his plan, he didn’t have a clear idea how this would pay off for his business, but that’s exactly what makes him an entrepreneur, he says. Real entrepreneurs create things “not always knowing in advance how they’re going to make money.”

He may not have gotten any business from the venture so far, but the hits to his website skyrocketed and the views on his company’s videos and on his own Matson Money TV has more than doubled.

“The street cred of our social media went from a 2 to a 10 overnight,” says Matson. See: Social media: There’s a bigger mistake you could make than offending the SEC.

Matson’s next move is to continue to build up the community on the Facebook page by offering copies of his book and of T-shirts for people who post their own pictures and participate. Then, he’ll start to offer tips for the small businesses, things that have worked for him. Small-business owners, after all, are the perfect client base for financial advisors.

“There’s a lot of business and entrepreneurial growth strategies I’ve employed and there’s a lot bigger community that can benefit [from my ideas],” says Matson.

Gerri Leder: It's kind of like gambling in Vegas.
Gerri Leder: It’s kind of like
gambling in Vegas.

Of course, that’s a long-term plan that involves a lot of work getting to know the people on the Facebook page and on YouTube, instead of just pushing his own agenda.

“I’m not looking for a quick cure-all. I’m looking for a long-term community,” says Matson. “Otherwise, it’s just a marketing scheme.”

Taking a stand

When Matson was 12, his father, an insurance agent, gave him his first copy of Think and Grow Rich and he imagined one day he’d start his own business. “I always dreamed of owning a company with true value,” says Matson.

In 1991, he put $30,000 on his credit cards and cashed out $30,000 from his supplemental executive retirement plan, taking the penalties. It took him eight years to reach his first $300,000 in assets. “It was tough,” he says. But, through “a lot of hard work and dedication,” he says, he’s become successful. And, he thinks a lot of that is because of the free markets — which is why he strongly supports Romney. See: Advisor Spotlight: Mark Matson on his $2.7 billion investment coaching business.

“Obviously, I feel Romney takes a huge stand for free markets,” says Matson. In his media appearances — including one on Fox Business where he said the biggest danger to the economy would be Obama’s reelection — he talks about small-business owners and “about this president and how he doesn’t serve free markets. I’m not ashamed to say that.”

“I think it’s time for courage out there. Advisors need to find their voice,” says Matson.

Too risky?

While there may not be another advisor that has done quite what Matson has, it’s not uncommon now, says Allen, for people to express their beliefs and preferences. It’s not that different from an advisor, in the past, putting a bumper sticker on his or her car. Now, there’s just a more public platform online, and social media allows people to find other people who agree with them.

It’s no different, Allen says, than her clients who love marathons and try to attract their own fitness-happy clients or from advisors posting photos of their family online to portray themselves as family-centric. She expects that it’ll become more and more common for advisors to take political positions. Matson was simply an early adopter, which gives him “a huge amount of leverage,” she says. See: Early adopters of social media, RIAs are growing disenchanted with its power to drum up new business.

“In the future, there’ll be a certain amount of fatigue,” says Allen.

But, even in the future, many advisors will still think twice before taking stands that could alienate about half of their potential and current clients. Leder says that when she sees investment firms hold election-themed forums, they try to present both sides and appear balanced, so that people feel educated and informed — not agitated. What Matson is doing isn’t anything like that and is a “huge risk,” she says. See: How to execute a social media strategy: Take a college kid to lunch.

“I wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole,” says Leder.

Mark Matson | Mitt Romney | Gerri Leder | Matson Money | Pat Allen

Barack Obama | LederMark | RocktheBoatMarketing