We are all familiar with the famous brands of the 20th Century such as IBM, General Motors, Nike, Coke and Budweiser. These brands are stamped into our minds, and they evoke in us specific thoughts and feelings. They also have something in common: These companies are selling tangible products, such as computers, cars, running shoes, soft drinks and beer.

Selling tangible products makes it easier for them to brand and package themselves. Their prospects already understand what they are selling because, at a basic level, a shoe is a shoe and a beer is a beer.

This is not the case if you are in the financial services industry. Because you sell intangible services, the branding and packaging process is much more difficult, and ironically, much more important.

It is like you are selling an “Invisible Box.” You know it is great, fantastic, incredible – it is something your existing clients love – but you’re frustrated because your prospects can’t see it. You do your best to explain what you do, but they don’t listen, and if they do, they don’t get it. Or they understand what you’re saying, but they don’t get as excited as you think they should. And you know if more people knew about your business, understood what you do, and appreciated how great it is, your business would take off.

That’s why branding and packaging is so important for financial service professionals. You have to make your Invisible Box visible.

Branding and packaging: Is there a difference?

Many people throw around the words “branding” and “packaging” without giving you a clear definition of what they mean. Some people think they are the same thing and others admit they really don’t know the difference. To demonstrate how to use branding and packaging, we had better start with a definition of these words.

Branding. Your “brand” is the combination of feelings and thoughts your company, your services, and even you yourself evoke in the hearts and minds of your clients.

Packaging. Packaging is the combination of ideas, words, images and experiences used to place your “brand” in your clients’ hearts and minds.

We like these definitions because they are simple and practical while showing how branding and packaging are different and yet inextricably linked together. Your brand is something literally “inside” the hearts and minds of your clients, and packaging is what you do to get it there. You can’t have one without the other. Your “brand” is a thing, a noun, and “packaging” is an action, a verb.

Let’s use Starbucks as an example. Their business, a combination of both tangible (coffee) and intangible (atmosphere) value, has a very strong brand in North America. When customers think of Starbucks, they have strong, vivid thoughts and strong visceral emotions fueled by our basic human need for comfort, companionship and status.

The key point is that the value of Starbucks’ brand is not something found in their stores, or their coffee, or at their head office. It is something found in the hearts and minds of their customers.

So how did Starbucks get their “brand” into the hearts and minds of their clients?

They used “packaging” of course. They put together a “package” of ideas, words, images and experiences that make a strong and lasting impression on their customers, and over time, the result is a permanent “brand” in their customers’ hearts and minds.

The four elements of packaging

Helping financial professionals build their brand using packaging techniques has helped us develop a clear model that we call The BIG Idea Packaging Model. It has four elements:

1. Your BIG Idea–Something new, better and different that helps you stand out in a crowded market.

2. Conceptual Packaging–The ideas, words, themes and stories you use to communicate with prospects and clients. Effective conceptual packaging is essential if you are to engage your prospects’ and clients’ interest.

3. Physical Packaging–The images you present in a physical form that create beauty and cause your prospects and clients to trust you.

4. Procedural Packaging–The experiences you deliver to your clients that deliver on the promises you make, enhance your integrity and enable your business to grow.

To do packaging properly, you must integrate these elements or your packaging falls apart. For example, you might communicate your concepts clearly, but if your story is boring (no BIG Idea) people are not going to listen or remember. Or, you could have a really great BIG Idea, but if your physical packaging is unappealing, no one is going to believe in you, or take you seriously. Moreover, if you don’t deliver the right experiences, and make good on your promises, your reputation will deteriorate, and foster a negative brand in a diminishing number of clients’ hearts and minds.

Your BIG Idea: Something new, better, and different

Packaging a brand for your Invisible Box begins with a BIG Idea, something new, better and different. Without a BIG Idea, your brand and your packaging, no matter how brilliantly executed, will not make a lasting and positive impression on your clients.

To help clarify this point, go to Google and type in “financial services” or “financial advisor.”

How many search results did you get? Did you get 1,000, perhaps 10,000, or maybe a million? That’s pretty typical. No matter what your business, in the age of the Internet and globalization, your prospects have thousands of companies to choose from. As a result, if the basic idea of your business is generally the same as hundreds of other companies, it is very hard to get noticed or be singled out as special.

That’s why you need to develop a BIG Idea as the first step in the packaging process. You need to determine what you can do – something new, better, and different – that helps you stand out in a crowd. Your BIG Idea needs to be new – something people haven’t heard before. It needs to be better – by solving problems, or meeting needs, or reducing complexity – something not previously offered in your industry. And it needs to be different – not just a little different from your competitors, a lot different.

Conceptual packaging: Telling an interesting story people understand

At a recent conference, we offered a free 15-minute session to help individual attendees upgrade their elevator speech, the 30-second verbal statement that describes what they do.

As we worked with more and more people, a clear pattern emerged. They either had a very simple, boring elevator speech: “I sell life insurance,” or they had a long, convoluted, and often incomprehensible one: “We are wealth integrators who offer a grid of proprietary technology to meta-optimize our clients’ return-on-asset ratios.”

In both cases, they were frustrated because they weren’t getting the results they wanted. They were not engaging the interest of their prospects.

This “failure to communicate” results from a failure to package concepts in the first place. Because there are so many things you want to say, and concepts you want to incorporate, the components of your story swirl around in your head like a tornado. We call this The Concept Tornado.

Being a victim of The Concept Tornado is one of the most common maladies in our new economy. As a financial professional, you are trying to bring together ideas and concepts, but because they come from many different sources, these concepts all too often collide and conflict with each other.

Our experience at the conference really drove home the importance of conceptual packaging: You must take all your ideas, thoughts, stories, advice, and concepts and create a story that is easy to say and understand, and, is above all interesting.

If you think about how relationships with prospects begin, you know there is a fundamental need for understanding. We want the people hearing or reading our story to understand what we are talking about. This understanding then leads to the ultimate goal of conceptual packaging, which is engagement. If your prospects understand what you are saying, you will have the best chance of engaging their attention, which in turn creates an opportunity for further, more in-depth dialogue. They have a chance to learn more about you, and you have a chance to learn about them.

If you don’t yet think the need to package your concepts is more critical than ever consider this: It is estimated that the average North American is exposed to more than 3,000 sales and marketing messages per day. If your story is boring, unclear, hard to explain and hard to understand, how will you break through this torrent of competing messages and engage the interest of your prospects?

Bill Bishop and CONTACT _Con-3E119BBC1 c s l Curtis Verstraete are, respectively, CEO and president of Bishop Information Group Inc., Toronto, Ont. You can e-mail them at, respectively, and .