3 Ways for RIAs to Build Their Own Powerful Brands

Michelle Draper delivered a presentation on Wednesday on how RIAs can build powerful brands at the Investment Adviser Association Annual Conference in San Francisco. This article is an excerpt from that presentation. To view a video of Draper exploring more on this topic, see the second page in this article.-Ed. 

When you think of companies with great brands, giant global leaders like Apple, McDonald’s or Honda probably come to mind. But here’s something you might not realize: As a registered investment advisor, you too have a brand—regardless of whether you’re a one-person operation or a large enterprise. 

What’s more, you can realize tremendous business benefits by building and maintaining a strong brand presence. Here’s how. 

Promises Made, Promises Kept

As an advisor, your brand is essentially your reputation among clients, prospects and centers of influence—the sum total of other people’s perceptions about you and your practice. You know you have a reputation and you already take steps to manage and protect it so that others will judge you positively.

A brand is no different. Maintaining a great brand (or reputation) as an RIA boils down to a key strategy: making promises and setting expectations, then meeting those expectations day in and day out. By consistently “walking the talk,” you create a personal and professional brand that tells others that they can trust you to do what you say you will do. 

A brand built on perceived trustworthiness is a huge differentiator today in the financial services sector. The good news is that independent advisors have done a great job relative to their peers at maintaining trust, as found in the 2010 Schwab Independent Advisor Outlook Study. In the Study, two-thirds of clients who made the wirehouse-to-RIA switch in 2010 said they did so because they thought they would get more personal, customized advice; 58% said they had lost trust in the full-service brokerages that had served them in the past.

If you can continue to deliver on your promises, you can maintain a differentiated brand that could drive even more business your way via referrals. 

The Three Key Steps to a Powerful Brand

Maintaining a strong brand doesn’t require an expensive marketing campaign.You can take several practical brand-building steps right now to help you consistently deliver on your promises to your clients. For example: 

1. Focus on an ideal target client. Build your business to serve a well-defined group of investors to whom you can bring significant value and with whom you have an affinity. It might be women in transition or younger affluent professionals, just to name a few. By focusing on a few groups of investors with similar needs, you’ll help ensure that you deliver the type of consistent client experience that creates a strong brand in the marketplace. 

2. Be relevant in your target client’s life. Do your homework and get to know your target clients on a deep level—going well beyond their financial details into their values, concerns, fears and what’s important to them in their daily lives. The way you present yourself to them must fit into and resonate with their life experiences. If you remember that it’s all about the client, not you, your brand should be better positioned to attract, serve and retain the ideal clients for your practice. 

3. Differentiate through a unique value proposition. RIAs typically try to differentiate themselves by highlighting their fee-only models and their roles as fiduciaries. While these are key RIA characteristics, you need to go beyond them to truly set yourself apart and build a brand that speaks to your chosen target niche. Design an offering that offers a truly unique value proposition for your niche, based on your core competencies and your deep knowledge of what your clients most want. 

At every step, the way you present yourself and your business—the messages you send out to the marketplace, essentially—must be informed by your deep understanding of both your target client and your own unique, differentiating value proposition. That includes:

  • How you look, including your logo and business cards as well as your physical look, such as the location and decor of your office.
  • How you sound, ranging from your tone and speaking manner to your phone greeting and hold music, as well as how you convey your expertise about your target market. 
  • Most important is how you act. Ultimately, it’s your interactions with those people who can help you build your business—from an initial handshake to your consultation style to your response time to inquiries—that will do the most to create the right expectations and generate trust in you and your offering.
Ultimately, your brand isn’t what you say it is—it’s what your clients, prospects and centers of influence (COI) say it is. By making sure that every message you send to the marketplace leaves no room for doubt about who you are, what you do and the value you bring to your chosen niche, you’ll position your business for tremendous success in the months and years ahead.

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