Advisors Big and Small Hitch on to Branding Trend

From corporate campaigns to personal marketing plans, advisors focus on brands that promote a desired public image

Putnam Investments announced Wednesday that it was kicking off an awareness-building campaign to highlight the distinction between anticipating change versus reacting to change.

Why now?

Because financial advisors and their clients need to continually anticipate the evolution of the markets and be ready to seize opportunities as they arise, according to the Boston-based money management firm.

The awareness-building campaign, called “New Ways of Thinking,” officially begins Monday with a series of new print, direct marketing and online ads, along with what Putnam calls “content-driven, multi-media vehicles” that communicate the need to incorporate innovative investment approaches into more traditional investment models and mind sets.

“The marketplace needs to think today about tomorrow,” said Robert Reynolds, Putnam’s president and chief executive, in a statement. “The past five years have brought extreme swings in market conditions, driven by a confluence of factors that left many investors shell shocked and ill-prepared to either seize unprecedented investment opportunities or protect their portfolios from downside risk.”

Putnam is not alone in seeking change. The public profile of advisors is growing by the day, ever since the 2008 crisis forced investors to study their financial services firms more closely. By the same token, advisors big and small realized that they had a public relations problem on their hands as they reached out to reassure investors during the crash. The outcome five years later is a sharper focus on image management and brand promotion – a trend that until now was on only a few advisors’ radars.

'I Get a Lot of Questions About Branding'

Like Putnam, LPL Financial this year is focused on polishing its brand while helping affiliated registered investment advisors and hybrid RIAs evolve their businesses. LPL is pushing Advisor Institution Solutions, an ensemble of solutions for advisors that runs the gamut from broader research to improved technology to assistance with social media apps such as Twitter.

LPL President Robert Moore“I get a lot of questions about branding,” Robert Moore (left), LPL’s president and chief operating officer, told a crowd of about 200 affiliated advisors at the firm’s alternative investments symposium in New York on Jan. 31. “Your choice to associate with LPL has value. You’re at the heart of the end client’s experience.”

While LPL has no plans to put its name on football stadiums or golf tournaments, the notion of branding has become critical as the “flawed models” of wirehouse brokerages give way to new ways to offer advice, Moore said.

“The financial services industry is at a low ebb in terms of tarnished brands,” he said, pointing to big banks such as Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase. “They’re doing precious little to enhance their image. We stand apart from that.”

On the smaller end of the scale, advisors who directly serve consumers are waking up to the fact that the details count. One such former advisor, the blogger Average Joe, who describes himself as “a guy who’s been in hundreds of advisory offices,” talks about how first impressions count the minute someone walks into a reception room.

 “It made a huge impression on us when we walked into a financial advisor’s office and the receptionist remembered our name and greeted us warmly,” wrote a commenter on Average Joe’s blog. “She was a perfect host. After four prior meetings at other firms that didn’t go so well, this advisor earned our business. And it all started up front with her.”

3 Tips for Promoting a Firm

Dan MoisandSimilarly, Dan Moisand (left), former president of the Financial Planning Association and a principal at planning firm Moisand Fitzgerald Tamayo, writes in the January issue of Journal of Financial Planning about his frustrations in trying to help a friend choose a planner in a part of the country where he doesn’t have a professional network.

After spending hours online searching websites, Moisand concludes that planners need to do some work polishing their personal brands.

“Financial planners are terrible at marketing,” Moisand says. “One does not need to be a marketing expert to see just how bad the planning community is in this area.”

He lists three simple tips for planners to do a better job of promoting themselves:

1)     Tell Your Story. Describe your clients, your practice, your specialties and your background. “A listing that is little more than name, address and phone number isn’t interesting or helpful to anyone,” Moisand writes.

2)     Say It in Plain English. Avoid jargon or tired clichés like “we will help you reach your goals,” he advises. “That may be true, but it gives no hint about whether you may be a good fit for a client.”

3)     Review Your Web Presence. Moisand notes that he first thought planners who didn’t have a website were making a big mistake – until he saw some of the websites that do exist. “Cheap website templates,” he says, “look cheap.”

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