In branding, there is no middle ground. A strong brand can add to the efforts of an organization and its employees. A weak or tainted brand can undermine those same efforts. A strong brand is built over time-the culmination of years of company behavior, client experiences and well-honed messaging-and the benefits are numerous, affecting everything from hiring to client acquisition to product development to investor relations. There are no shortcuts to creating a highly recognized and highly regarded brand, but, unfortunately, a single misstep can quickly turn an asset into a liability and destroy years of goodwill and brand equity.

While this phenomenon is true for any brand, it is especially so for today's financial services firms, where things like the credit crisis and government bailouts have left a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of the general public. As more details are uncovered about Ponzi schemes, Wall Street bonuses and the questionable behavior of chief executives, it continues to erode the integrity and credibility of the entire industry.  

Silencing The Negativity
High-net-worth clients-the market backbone for a large part of financial services and a coveted population for many firms-have voiced their concern about the state of the industry and its effects on them and their overall fiscal security. This mindset is further exacerbated and complicated by the simultaneous diminution of their ranks and purchasing power. The sustained loss of private wealth has prompted a degree of suspicion about most financial providers that is contrasted by the growing desire to find trustworthy companies and advisory professionals.

This cycle of negativity will only be broken when the concerns and anxieties of the financial elite are satisfactorily addressed by the firms and professionals in question, and the relative health of a firm's brand will determine to what extent it can be leveraged as part of these efforts. When a brand has been damaged, the harmful effects must be quantified, accommodated or counteracted, and, eventually, rebuilt from the bottom up. This can take months, years or decades and a high level of financial and human capital to accomplish-a subject for another article. Healthy brands and those that resonate with the affluent population, however, can take immediate action to reinforce and evolve the positive attributes of the industry.

This issue includes a special collaboration with Bruce Rogers, the chief brand officer of Forbes Media, who shares his insider's perspective on the relationship between brands and trust and the proven ways to extend and enhance a strong brand within the ultra-affluent market (see page 40).
Now is the time for Private Wealth readers to take stock of their reputations and personal brands, begin the analytical process required to identify their natural markets and identify the tangible qualities associated with their brands and the resulting opportunities to enhance their businesses and change negative thinking. Good luck!