Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, phosphoric acid, natural flavors, caffeine. Alone, these ingredients mean nothing, but attach the name Coca-Cola and hundreds of images are instantly conjured up: the smell of summer barbeques when you were a kid, the rush of caffeine while trying to stay awake and write that paper in college, the infamous Diet Coke guy commercials in the ’90s. All of these feelings are the result of one thing: branding.
While providing financial advising services may not evoke the same kinds of memories, building your brand is just as important. In order to be successful, you must distinguish yourself from an immense number of competitors. But if you all offer relatively the same kinds of services, how can you make yourself stand out?
What’s in a name?
Webster’s defines a brand as “A trademark or distinctive name of a product or manufacturer.” But a human being does not necessarily fit this definition.
Miki Dzugan, president and principal consultant of Rapport Online, an online marketing planning company, defines a brand in two parts. “There are two things we generally refer to as a ?brand.’ One is the physical representation – the company logo. The second is the bundle of qualities that we hope people have in mind when they see our brand image or think about the brand name. For example, 3M equals innovation, major corporation and high quality products. The second brand is not wholly under our control. For example, Enron equals …” Dzugan says.
You, as an advisor, have the unique opportunity to build yourself as a brand. Your name is your brand and you control the things associated with it through the kind of service you and your company provide. Quality service should become synonymous with your name. This will earn you more than referrals – it will also keep your existing clients happy. They will spread the word of the good work you’ve done for them and the personal touches you added, such as handwritten thank-you notes and consistent contact, and that will burn your name into their minds.
Why build a brand?
Building a brand creates an identity for your business. Mark Brown, of Denver-based financial planning and investment advisory firm Brown & Tedstrom, says it’s important to build a brand because it allows a firm to create a personality that attracts people to it.
“It identifies those attributes we want to communicate to our clients.”
Brown says the best way to build a brand is through reputation. “In our business, our brand is our reputation. It has to start there. And if you damage your reputation, it won’t matter how many ads you run or where you run them.”
He cautions that building a reputation takes time and one of the biggest mistakes advisors make is expecting an immediate return.
“Brands are built over time,” he says. “Another big mistake is not targeting your message to the specific audience you are trying to reach. Trying to be everything to everybody is just not possible.”
Maintain a narrow focus and branding will become easier. Use avenues that seniors can relate to and that will help develop and maintain personal relationships with the client, which often lead to referrals.
On Call PR Public Relations Director Linda Hamburger says the senior audience is different from latter generations because they’re more interested in the information than the presentation.
“It’s true seniors are generally a more conservative group than Gen X, Y and Z. They’re no longer looking for dazzle as much as information and assurance,” Hamburger says.
“Why? In part, because older adults tend to have more time to pause and shop and consider the consequences of how dollars are spent. They also have more years of personal experience and are less prone to peer pressure influences. So, older adults generally don’t need as much razzle-dazzle and a softer, or more ?edutainment,’ approach is appreciated, rather than ignored. That includes selecting choices of font, color and logo usage.”
What to do
The best way to build a brand depends on personal preference. Many advisors need to experiment with different approaches to see how their clients respond.
Larry Woodward is a 24-year veteran of the advertising and marketing business. He is the president and CEO of Manhattan-based Vigilante, an urban marketing firm that targets African-American consumers. He says the easiest way to build a brand is to “offer consistent value and a little something more … over and over.” He cites Starbucks as a classic example of taking an ordinary product or service and making it into a multi-million dollar idea.
“One of the best examples is Starbucks,” Woodward says. “You expect good coffee. The little something more is the lifestyle environment they deliver. And then they continue to surprise by trying to up the ante.”
Offer client events that situate you in their mind as having that “little something more” and watch your business grow.
Hamburger suggests running your message across as many platforms as possible. “[Find] a unique advantage that sets your brand apart, that makes it memorable and is something that your target market can readily identify visually and identify with.”
Exercising restraint is important, though, when you have a limited amount of funds.
“If you only do one thing, do it exceedingly well,” she says.
The quickest way to situate yourself in the mind of a consumer is with consistency. Repeatedly offering your service and ideas in the same manner reminds the customer what you are all about. It helps burn your purpose and importance into their minds.
“Always keep in mind that message continuity is the key that will always unlock the door to effective branding,” says Jeff Hilton, president and co-founder of Integrated Marketing Group, a marketing and branding agency. “And although basic branding efforts must be focused and persuasive, they must most of all speak to your current and prospective clients with one voice. Remember that you will tire of your message long before the customer does.”
Building a brand is an ongoing process that should last the life of your career. There are scores of financial advisors out there, but only you have that X factor and the ability to bill yourself as the one-and-only advisor with it. Don’t be shy. Put the word out there in a consistent manner that will attract clients and constantly remind them why you’re the only one for them.