It is the state capital as well as the home of The University of Texas and Dell Computers. It is also known as the Live Music Capital of the World with a very eclectic music scene. You can hear any type of music on any given weekend. In fact, Austin hosts two major music festivals a year: South by Southwest in the spring and the Austin City Limits (ACL) Music Festival in the fall. During each of those weekends thousand of music fans from all over the country descend on Austin because of its reputation as a great music city. It is the city’s brand that brings them.
What about your practice or business would cause people to descend on or seek you out? What are people saying about you? What is your reputation? What is your brand? These may be questions you have never considered in relation to your retirement plan business but they are important ones to contemplate.
Your brand is everything a client or potential client will see and hear about you as well as their thoughts and feelings after the initial engagement. It includes the materials and their experiences with you, your team and your firm such as:
- Your firm’s name and logo
- The brochures you use
- Your processes
– Plan bench marketing
– Client service
– Client communication
– Participant education
- The workshops you deliver
- Client events
- Your pitch book
- The appearance of your office
- How you conduct the quarterly plan reviews
- Your investment review and selection process
- How the phone is answered including the voice mail message
- You and your staff’s expertise
- How clients or potential new clients are greeted when they first arrive at your office
Everything says something about you and your brand. And the more important elements are the experiential ones.
Today, products are very commoditized. Just look at the iPhone or iPad. Since their introduction, how many other companies have come out with similar products? The differentiating factor, however, is the experience when you purchased your product and what happened after you took it out of the box in your office or at home. Did it work and were you wowed with the utility and functionality? It’s no different for the retirement plan business.
Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com said, “It has always seemed to me that your brand is formed primarily, not by what your company says about itself but by what the company does.” As we have moved to a service driven economy this has become even more important. Peter Montoya in his book The Brand Called You says a great brand is “A clear, powerful, compelling public image.” It sounds a little bit like he is talking about your reputation doesn’t it?
Think of it this way, if one of your best clients has been approached by a friend or business colleague and asked, “Hey, who do you use for your retirement plan and what can you tell me about him or her?” What would your client’s answer be? Is it the answer you would want them to give? Do you know how they would respond?
I would suggest that this is one of the most important questions you can ask of yourself and your business. As best you can, you should control the answer your client would give in the hypothetical situation above. The payoff is having current clients sing your praises so that their friends, acquaintances and important business relationships seek you out for the information you provide, your sage advice and solutions offered.
Right now, you might be thinking, what does all this talk about brand really do for me? Well, let’s take a look.
First of all it helps people, your clients and potential customers, see you as different. Average doesn’t sell, differences sell. In a world of average, being different is good and being viewed as exceptional is even better. A strong brand identity will provide you with that reputation of excellence allowing your notoriety to precede you in the market.
It also helps people to want to see you because you have the answers to their questions and solutions to their issues. The retirement plan business is complicated. When you take into consideration ERISA, The Pension Protection Act, 404(c), fiduciary liability and all the available investment choices, it can be confusing even for us and we’re immersed in it everyday. For a plan sponsor or plan participant it can be overwhelming. A well-designed and executed brand strategy will position you as a “must see” person causing people to seek you out for the calm you can bring to their turbulent financial world. It’s about harnessing the power of “word-of-mouth” marketing.
By the way, branding yourself and your business really isn’t an option. You already have a brand--everyone does. Your brand today is either attracting new clients or pushing them away. What I am suggesting here is that, with a little effort, you take control of your brand versus just letting it happen. It is an important element to your long term retirement plan business success.
Now, go get them talking about you!
Gary A. Weuve is a Registered Corporate Coach with CPI Qualified Plan Consultants.