Beauty is only skin deep. Image isn’t everything. You can’t judge a book by its cover. The English language is filled with expressions intended to emphasize the same point: that you shouldn’t make judgments based solely on appearances. Does that mean branding isn’t important? Certainly not. We live in a society where image matters. It’s human nature to size up people and businesses based on what we see and experience during our interactions with them online, in print, or face-to-face.
Financial advisors should use branding to communicate their core values, differentiate themselves from competitors, and reinforce that their products and services are the ones best suited to meet client needs. Unfortunately, there are some fairly vocal proponents in the “don’t waste your time on branding; clients choose you because of who you are” camp. This thinking process is flawed because it fails to take into account one basic fact: There are a lot of people who don’t know who you are yet.
Before we discuss what is involved in creating a great brand for your financial services firm, let’s define what branding is. Branding can be described as the process of using words, images, and values to identify a business and its products and services. However, great branding is about much more than a logo, company colors, or a glossy brochure and website; your brand is defined by your core values, reputation, and how you engage your clients.
The public perception of your firm will be characterized by the experiences people have with you, and it is critical that all of your marketing assets echo the same image and message you project in person. Having a clear and consistent message will ensure that when people talk about your firm, they are presenting the message you want them to.
Factors to Consider
An impression of your brand is formed the moment someone interacts with your firm, regardless of what channel they come through. Print materials, a website, marketing campaigns, and the customer experience are all a direct extension of your brand. When building your brand, take these factors into consideration:
- Your personality, style, and preferences
- The culture of the community where your business is located
- The appearance of your office, inside and out
- Your standards of client service
- Your dress and grooming
- Your employees’ dress and grooming
- Your current client profile
- Your ideal client profile
- Social media presence
- Anything that has your logo on it
Authenticity Combined with Adaptability
As you develop your brand, make sure you stay true to your core values and personality while making adjustments for your target market. There’s a balancing act that must occur between these two areas so you can develop a brand that is effective and authentic. On your website, for example, it would be counterproductive to have photos of people standing on yachts and waving martinis around if you live in a blue-collar farming community.
Consistently Answer these Questions
An effective brand is consistent across every channel, communicating and reinforcing the same key messages over and over again until they make an indelible mental imprint. Great branding engages emotions to make an even stronger impression on the minds of clients and prospects. Your brand must clearly articulate who you are, what you do, how you do what you do, why you do what you do, who you serve, and why you are the best choice. Spend a sufficient amount of time evaluating your current brand to ensure it answers all these questions.
Print Still Matters
Even printed materials such as brochures, newsletters, and invitations are essential to your branding strategy because they are a tangible representation of your firm that clients may keep and refer to later. In face-to-face meetings, branded folders and brochures reinforce your connection to the client while showing that you are organized and prepared for the meeting. Branded forms, newsletters, and other collaterals give clients the perception of professionalism and permanence.
Web Strategies Are Vital
Social media and web marketing are vital to a comprehensive branding strategy. In today’s fast-paced digital world, professional brochures and advertising are no longer enough to keep up. Increasingly, clients and prospects are moving online to search for solutions and advice, and a website might be their first contact with your firm. Having a professional web presence is critical to ensuring that you are in control of the information people find about you online.
Social media use among financial advisors and consumers is on the rise, and the benefits of using these tools are clear. A quick review of research shows that:
- LinkedIn Tops all other Social Networks in Google Search Results. – Small Business Chronicle
- 77 of the world’s 100 largest companies maintain a corporate Twitter account. Media outlets are the most active users. – Jeff Bullas
- Facebook users age 55 and up are the fastest growing demographic on social media, and are among the most active Facebook visitors. – ZDNet
- Pictures, videos, and multi-media content get 53% more “likes” and 104% more comments than text updates. – Hubspot
Changing environments and a crowded marketplace for financial advice and products make it imperative for financial services firms to develop and communicate a cohesive branding message. When combined with a good reputation, a great brand is like icing on a cake. It will help you attract clients, retain their business, and encourage referrals. Strong branding maximizes your return on marketing efforts, ultimately increasing your bottom line. Above all though, make sure to deliver on your brand promise. While having a beautiful brand will attract clients and prospects to you, it’s what you do in the long run that matters most.