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Brand Strategist Andy Nairn

Practice Management > Marketing and Communications > Client Outreach

The Key to Attracting Clients Is Simpler Than You Might Think: Branding Whiz

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Differentiating your practice in a “stupidly distinctive” way — for example, GEICO’s gecko character — can work wonders to make you stand out, argues Andy Nairn, known as the U.K.’s top brand strategist, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

“A lot of companies really beat themselves up to find some hidden killer difference,” says Nairn, founding partner of the agency Lucky Generals. But it’s not just being different. You need “to do things with an extra level of flair and creativity” that make you memorable.

In his book, “Go Luck Yourself: 40 ways to stack the odds in your brand’s favour” (Harriman House – 2021), Nairn, named one of the five leading creative people in advertising by Business Insider, reveals how to improve your luck because, he says, “effort and talent are not enough.”

Financial advisors can increase the odds of being lucky if they pay attention to what’s around them outside of the financial services world.

But the first step is wedging a foot in the door. In the interview, he explores ways to do that, including realizing that “fortune is in the details” of how you present yourself, your firm and your brand.

He also discusses how to turn misfortune into fortune and his six-step method to deal with a crisis.

Nairn, 52, earned a law degree, but when he “stumbled” into advertising, he dropped the idea of becoming a practicing attorney, he recalls.

His agency has offices in London and New York City. ThinkAdvisor recently held an interview with the Scotsman, who was speaking by phone from London.

Here are excerpts from our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: “It’s better to be stupidly distinctive than deeply different,” you write. Please explain.

ANDY NAIRN: GEICO’s gecko [advertising campaign] is a good example. It doesn’t really mean anything, but the ads are very memorable and distinctive, as opposed to another insurance company that [talks about] having many different ways of doing things or a special product that no one really cares about.

But isn’t it important to tell and show exactly how a firm is distinctive?

A lot of companies really beat themselves up to find some hidden killer difference. But a lot of the best companies aren’t necessarily all that different. It’s that they do things with an extra level of flair and creativity to make them memorable through advertising or their services.

Don’t spend your time trying to find a product idea that’s revolutionary or a positioning that’s so different from everyone else because [chances are] it won’t be interesting. You can’t bore someone into buying something.

You have to do something that’s different but distinctive because of the way you do it. Then people will remember you.

When an investor is choosing a financial advisor, how can an advisor become top-of-mind for them?

The research says to just make it easier for them. Don’t require them to read a huge load of stuff or go to a complicated website to find out more about you.

Instead, have a simple name, a branded thought or a brand asset — like an icon or logo — that’s immediately memorable. Or have a really quick and easily understood reason why you might be better than all the other advisors out there.

You can nail a long story in a sound bite that says why your advice is better than everyone else’s.

What does that accomplish when it comes to acquiring new clients?

For starters, you’ve got to get in the room [a foot in the door]. Then, when you’ve done that, you can have a longer, more professional conversation about why you’re the right guy.

A lot of companies don’t realize that they’re not even in the room in the first place. They’ll have a long-winded story argument [with a prospect] that presumes they’re in the room, but they’re really just waiting to do that.

How, essentially, do people make choices?

[When] choosing a brand, they tend to be a little bit on autopilot. That’s true with a lot of professional decisions, including choosing a financial advisor.

Their decision can be [based on] something as simple as a recommendation from a friend. That goes for whatever market you’re in — financial services or something more trivial. People make very quick decisions based on their instincts and emotions.

For instance?

The Scottish [have a reputation] for being good with money and all those kinds of clichés. So a lot of big pretentious companies in Britain feature a Scottish accent in their advertising just because people trust it. (I’m from Scotland.)

It’s said that the devil is in the details. You write that fortune is in the details, too. Please explain.

Virgin Atlantic [a Lucky Generals client] flies the same planes as everybody else. Its distinctiveness is in the tiniest details.

For example, when they [serve] salt-and-pepper shakers [with meals], the bottom of the salt shaker says, “Pinched [stolen] from Virgin Atlantic.” So they almost encourage you to steal it and take it home with you. It becomes a talking point.

Many years ago they started serving ice cream when showing movies in economy class, whereas most other airlines treated everyone in economy as cattle class. And in the upper-class cabins, they started to give passengers massages.

So what you’ll remember about flying with them is the ice cream or the salt-and-pepper shakers or the massage because they’re distinctive and stand out.

Conventional thinking might be to just [expand] leg room. If everyone else has 36-inch leg room, we’ll go to 37, and the next company might go to 39. But to take a complete jump to the side and say, “We’re going to give you ice cream or a massage, that’s more like, whoa! Where did that come from?

For years, a U.S. money manager had a big ad campaign in which the headline read, “I hate annuities. And you should too.” That was indirectly putting down people who choose to sell annuities.

To stand out, is it ever a good idea to knock the competition?

Perhaps it’s good to say something mildly controversial when that means you have a distinctive point of view and aren’t like everybody else.

Consumers may have [figured], “I thought annuities were a good thing. But here’s someone saying he hates them, and I should too.”

So they probably read that [ad] and contact[ed] the company.

That’s what I mean about getting your foot in the door. I’m sure there’s much more to this guy’s argument than saying, “I hate annuities.” But that gets you into the room.

He has already massively increased the odds of success by doing that. Once there’s a face-to-face meeting or a Zoom call and an involved conversation, he could explain in detail that they have this rigorous process and so on.

It’s quite challenging to get a foot in the door, isn’t it?

Most companies fail by not getting into the room in the first place.

Out of all the firms, a consumer might [interview] two or three at most; the two that seem the best, that have a point of view.

[In the case of the annuities ads], they might decide, “I’ll speak to the guy who says annuities are terrible, and I’ll speak to one other guy and then make a decision.”

To cope with a crisis, you suggest taking six steps: Clarify, Review, Involve, Serve, Invest and Strengthen. One can remember them as an acronym, CRISIS.

About “Invest,” you write that companies that “cut nonessential costs but continue to invest in marketing support and innovation emerge stronger after a recession.” Does that apply to the global economic crisis occurring right now?

Yes. A lot of companies cut advertising in a crisis. That’s an oversight and a mistake. It’s one of the most common mistakes in business.

There have been a fair number of studies on recessions that have proven beyond a doubt that the companies that continue to invest in their brands come out disproportionately better on the other side.

Other companies will save and bank money, but somebody else is going to spend some and get people’s attention in a way that will make it harder for [the non-investing companies] when the recession [is over].

Please discuss the step you call “Strengthen.”

Companies should aim to improve under pressure and in chaos. This means making supportive changes that have come about through disruption and accelerating improvement that [has resulted from] the chaos.

Companies should ask: What is this crisis forcing us to do that will make us better — not just what will make us survive, but how can we improve?

To what extent did the pandemic cause companies to improve?

A lot were forced to think about their digital channels and how to make them grow; how can we pivot and sell more things online?

So a crisis can force you to take action that you really should have taken years ago and then come out stronger on the other side.

Firms that try to keep “people’s spirits up” in a crisis can be helpful and “appreciated,” you write. Humor can be used “in the right way, at the right time.” Is it appropriate for financial advisors to use humor in a stock market crash, like the one many expect to soon occur?

Yes. I think they can. But [the assets] are people’s livelihood; so you have to be careful about not mocking them and their plight.

One of the ways human beings cope with bad circumstances is by using gallows humor even in the darkest times. If we’re going to hell in a handcart, while we’re scared, disappointed and angry, we can often find humor.

You can use some humor to draw attention to the craziness of the stock market, how emotional or illogical [investors] are, or how other advisors are operating [with bad judgment], and then say, “But we’re different because of XYZ.”

So you must follow up by saying, “… which is why you need a company like us that can see through this craziness.”

That’s an effective way to draw attention to yourself and to say something that’s different from other people because most are going to be super-serious.

You can be serious once you’ve got people’s attention. That is, once you’re in the room, you can direct attention to why you’re the best person for the job.

“Lucky people tend to have better peripheral vision, whereas unlucky people tend to focus on just the job at hand,” you write. Please elaborate.

When you stumble over something you weren’t looking for, it can force you to deliberately think about other perspectives in the world.

If you’re a financial advisor, you might just stick to your own category and look to other advisors.

But by thinking, “What can I learn from medicine, the sports world or music, or any number of worlds that look unrelated to financial services,” you can unlock a bigger change than just by trying to behave like everybody else in your own sector.


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