How you intend to create and manage this brand was the topic of a panel discussion at the 2010 PLANADVISER National Conference.
It can seem hard to grasp at first, the concept of a brand, which is why the panelists began their discussion with defining the term and what they mean when they tell financial advisers that they must carefully craft their brand.
Gary Weuve, a Practice Management Consultant at CPI Qualified Plan Consultants, said that everything your client feels or sees is part of your brand; from the pitch book and materials to your Web site–everything about you is communicating your brand to your clients.
Todd Lacey, President of the (k)larity Group, explained how the product financial advisers are selling is essentially themselves–you are the product that sponsors will buy into. And the most tangible thing they are able to grasp is your brand. He said to think of your brand as “an extension of your firm’s values…you can’t come up with an effective brand unless you have clear values.”
And Michael Maresh, an adviser in the Maresh Yoshida 401(k) Group, says that a major part of that client experience needs to be consistency–the client needs to be experiencing the same things in order for your brand to really take shape. The other panelists immediately reinforced the importance of consistency–everyone on your staff needs to behave in the same way, and send out the same message, in order for the firm’s brand to be most effective.
Setting up your brand
Lacey said that the first thing to do when working on your brand is to list your values, then to come up with a name. The name of your firm can either be based on your name (such as the Maresh Yoshida 401(k) Group) or as a description of your practice. But be careful with the latter, said Michael Goss, moderator of the panel and Executive Vice President of Fiduciary Investment Advisors. If you make the name too specific, you can pigeonhole yourself and make any sort of expansion difficult.
The next most important thing to do is design your Web site (which is probably something most financial advisers would want to outsource).The site needs to have more than just your logo; there should be feeling and thought put into it. And then, you should carry this design over to everything else; letter head, business cards, presentation materials, and email signatures–everything the clients are seeing needs to be consistent.
You should also incorporate this brand into other social networking sites you may have, such as Twitter or LinkedIn (which was the topic of another panel discussion, “Technology and the Modern Adviser”). When handling your Web site or anything else online, Maresh reminded the audience that it’s very important to “keep it fresh, not stagnant.”
Think of it as an investment.
For those advisers who are still unsure of why it’s so important to have a strong brand, the panelists told the audience to think of your brand as an investment–eventually, it will lead to the growth of your business.
“We all think of ourselves as sales people and want to run around getting clients,” said Lacey. “Developing a brand can feel fluffy–but it’s not, it’s long term.” He said that being able to discuss your brand when meeting with prospective clients can make a huge difference. He always takes the time to explain that his brand, (k)larity, means that his firm will help to clarify the confusion around retirement plans.
Maresh agreed and said that it can be a great way to differentiate yourself from the competition and that you’re allowed to get a little creative. He said it will take an investment of both time and money–using professionals to make your Web site stand out, for instance–but a brand is not something you can have just a little of.
And for the advisers that still think they don’t need a brand or have a brand–all the panelists said that no matter what, everyone has a brand. It’s up to you to make the most of it.