From the September 2011 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

September 1, 2011

The Branding Game

Best practices survey report, part 1 of many.

Back when I was nine years old my beagle Cleo dragged a possum she had killed, or more likely found, through the house. It was twice her size. The muse spoke to me and I said, “I think she bit off more than she can chew.” That phrase, of course, became worldwide, though I never received credit.

It’s a statement that’s now come back to haunt me. In the July Research, I published an appeal to fill out a “Best Practices Survey.” I listed 25 skills that I considered the core group of “best practices.” But I wanted to know what you think; hence the survey. I promised to send each participant a complete report, as well as a copy of my new e-book How Referrals Happen. All of the above is coming.

My “possum” is this: I got a vast amount of data. 218 advisors filled out a monster 58-question survey. My thought was to present the list of best practices in this article. With all the data I gathered, the article would take up the entire magazine, and while my editors love me, they don’t love me that much. So I’ll be presenting the material in installments.

Branding Elements

Let’s start with branding. My favorite author on branding and positioning is Al Ries. Writing with his daughter, Laura Ries, in The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, he said: “What is branding? From a business point of view, branding in the marketplace is very similar to branding on the ranch. A branding program should be designed to differentiate your product from all the other cattle on the range, even if all the other cattle on the range look pretty much alike.”

Let’s go a little bit more deeply into this. I have defined “client marketing” as “the sum total of all communications directed at one’s clients.”

In each of these communications, whether oral, written, visual or whatever, you are communicating something about who you are. That’s your brand. If your clients come into an office with a cluttered reception area, that tells them something about you.

There are many elements you can select to communicate your brand. My survey asked about 10 of them. The table on the facing page shows one of my survey questions on branding and a compilation of the answers.

Now hold it. Don’t just skip this chart. It tells quite a tale.

I separated my survey responses into two groups. On the left, those with less than $50 million AUM. On the right, those with more.

You will find more of the people with greater success in the industry (measured in terms of the fabled AUM) are using more of these branding elements, except the two I have highlighted in yellow Take any element except the two I have highlighted in yellow — a company Facebook page and postcard mailings. A company page on Facebook is most likely an age phenomenon; it’s something that appeals to people who are likely to be younger, and poorer.

Another branding question was: “What other branding elements, not mentioned in the previous question, do you use?” Let me hammer home my point: Advisors with more than $50 million AUM are using more of these “other branding elements” than people with less than $50 million.

I downloaded all of the text answers from my survey program for each group, “More than $50 Million” and “Less than $50 Million.” I have compiled the two lists for you. You can download them at www.billgood.com/bestpractices.

Let’s consider a few branding elements in more detail.

Brochures

People identified three different kinds of brochures. A company brochure is intended to communicate safety, security, longevity and all the other things that would make a person feel secure investing their life savings with you.

A personal brochure is important to communicate who you are. And obviously, a team brochure tells something about the people who work for you.

As one who has spent untold tens of thousands on color printing — and who loathes it intensely — I would use three different documents as opposed to one.

I might have my corporate or group brochure published as a hardbound book. Sure, it’s expensive. But how expensive is 1,000 four-color brochures?

Using print-on-demand sites such as blurb.com, you can produce a smashing presentation book — plus, you can modify it easily as staff and conditions change. Love the concept!

Few things are more important than a proper presentation of your credentials. The three brochures mentioned here will get the job done. Also consider a list of references.

Office Décor, Look, Feel

Late last year, I was in the Detroit area and went to visit a lot of my clients. Many of the offices I visited were top-notch, professional-grade “presentations.”

However, I visited one office that had been professionally decorated, color-coordinated, correctly lighted and there is no way I would have known it was a financial advisor’s office. It could just as easily have been one of those executive suites, and the next guy in the suite could have been selling squirrel pelts or something. (My southern roots with possum and squirrel are showing.)

After professional decoration, the two most important elements to brand your office are your brag wall and your bookshelf. Your pictures of your family are important. Tools of your trade are important. It’s a financial advisor’s office. Make it look that way. Make sure what people see communicates your brand.

Sponsoring Local Charities

An old friend of mine, Bill Tennison, sadly deceased at too early an age, had one of his offices in Colorado. Every year at the 4H Club auction, he always bought the prize-winning steer. No matter who he was bidding against, he bought it. After doing this a few years, he became extremely well known among the big ranchers who also sat on top of countless millions in mineral rights. Pick an event or charity and stick with it.

Maybe it’s only the high school hockey team. Maybe it’s a little league team. But every year, they need to come to you for a small donation. Buy them shirts, hats, and by all means get your name on them. Successful financial advisors are most often active in the communities they serve.

Best practice summary: Successful financial advisors have a brand and they repetitively communicate it through multiple channels.

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