More importantly, brands provide an emotional connection between you and your customers as well as you and the influencers who can direct highly qualified affluent prospects to you. Brands add value to commodity products and protection against competitors. Branding is no less important for financial advisors than it is for any other marketer. So what do you stand for? What does your brand stand for? One of the tools in an investment advisor's toolbox should be his or her "professional brand."
An investment advisor's brand, when properly communicated, acts as a significant differentiator that results in greater business success. Brand equity translates into greater achievements by enabling advisors to more efficaciously source, close and maintain affluent clients. When there's considerable professional brand equity, the halo effect is powerful and generates potent benefits, such as enhancing the ability to obtain high-quality referrals from other clients or shortening the sales cycle.
Few Investment Advisors Have A Professional Brand
Few investment advisors are creating professional brand equity. In a 2010 survey of 628 investment advisors (Figure 1), only 16.2% displayed meaningful brand equity (Figure 2).
In today's hyper-competitive environment, advisors need an edge. However, the great majority of investment advisors are not capitalizing on the opportunities provided by creating and managing their brand. Constructing a professional brand is a straightforward process that involves three central questions:
What are the "core tenets" of your brand?
Who is the target audience?
How will the brand be communicated?
While we tend to talk about these questions sequentially, they are actually a collage. The answers to these questions are interrelated. Investment advisors also tend to refine their thinking as they attempt to answer each question.
It sounds like a cliché, but it's critical that a brand make a great first impression-whether it's with potential clients, referral sources, competitors or the media. But it's just as important to create an impression that will be remembered long after the initial meeting, says an expert in the field.
"One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is with a succinct visual identity, a refined message and polished materials," says Martine Cameau, principal of Cameau Design LLC of Winter Springs, Fla.
Cameau has an eye for brand identity after a long career helping financial service providers successfully distinguish themselves from their competitors.
"Brochures, presentations and business cards get left behind as a representative of you and your expertise," Cameau says. "They're read, passed along, revisited, evaluated and compared to similar materials without the benefit of your presence, so they have to work on a stand-alone basis."
Easier said than done? You bet. A lot of people try to tackle the design themselves because they're excited by the challenge or believe keeping the process in-house can reduce expenses. Cameau says that's a classic example of underestimating the skills needed to turn the "essence of an idea into a high-impact brand." Consulting with an expert can make a big difference, she says.
"A brand is a very personal thing, so naturally people want to have a say in how theirs evolves. The objectivity of a design professional can help balance the passion and focus of an advisor with effective results," she says.
This means making sure the client is an intrinsic part of portraying the overall look and feel of his or her business. "I learn as much as I can about each client-understanding what makes them tick, how their offerings are unique, the mindset of their typical customer. Their personal likes and dislikes are all part of the equation," explains Cameau. "My goal is to create something they love because it truly reflects who they are and how they work. When an advisor can point to his collateral or Web site with a sense of pride and confidence, it speaks volumes."
One of Cameau's satisfied clients, the managing partner of a New Jersey-based hedge fund, agreed that quality counts.
"We get unsolicited comments about the quality of our business cards all the time," the partner says. "The crisp logo, the weight of the paper and the high production value all tell our clients that we are serious about our business and belong in the high end of the market."
High quality is often synonymous with high cost-a potentially bitter pill to swallow in these tough economic times. But Cameau warns that cutting corners can undermine your other positioning efforts. "A brand is much more than a logo," she says. "Ultimately, it's a combination of things, and when a key element is missing or inconsistent, your overall message is weakened."
Cameau suggests taking advantage of new printing technologies that allow for smaller production runs. "Until just a few years ago you needed to commit to a fairly high number of units to justify the cost of a print run, but every year more steps in the production process become automated and can be handled remotely," she says. "All these advancements have made it possible to do a small job at top quality that doesn't break the bank. This is especially important to advisors with a relatively small universe of prospects, like the affluent."
The migration toward digital marketing helps, too. "Many of my clients do as much as possible online or digitally," Cameau says. "There are a lot of advantages to electronic documents-immediate access, no printing or postage costs, no outdated inventory and easy customization-not to mention the eco-friendly approach of having a nearly paper-free operating environment.
"Communication is at the heart of all strong relationships," Cameau concludes. "Your professional brand is another form of communication, one that helps set expectations and pave the way for more meaningful client interactions."
For more information, visit www.cameaudesign.com.
- By Hannah Shaw Grove
An advisor's brand is the essence of who he or she is-as perceived by the advisor's targeted audiences. It's the image the investment advisor wants others to associate with his or her professional persona.
The core tenets of a brand are more expansive and revealing than an investment advisor's mission or vision statement, or value proposition. They define how an advisor achieves results and resonate with the needs and wants of the target audiences. The core tenets embody how a wealthy prospect becomes a wealthy client and how a wealthy client remains one.
A core tenet with respect to the super-rich, for instance, is to be state-of-the-art. The investment advisor's brand must communicate that he or she has an in-depth understanding of extreme wealth and is using the latest thinking when it comes to managing money. One approach to making this tenet a part of a brand is through a structured thought leadership initiative-a strategy to solidify the advisor's standing as an expert authority. However, only about 6% of investment advisors are focused on being thought leaders (Figure 3).
Identifying a target audience is critical. An advisor's audience will always include affluent prospects as well as currently wealthy clients. It can also include intermediaries such as attorneys and accountants, who can act as gateways to new high-net-worth clients. Geographic considerations also come into play. In effect, what needs to be defined is the brand's "zone of influence."