If you haven’t taken the steps already this year, now is the time to assess your brand for what it is. As you push through 2023 and beyond, there are a few checkpoints to consider making your business-building initiatives in the near term produce long-term dividends. And it all starts with an honest assessment of your brand—the foundation for your future success.

Your Brand =Your Reputation
Your brand is why people trust you and choose to work with or refer business to you and your firm. Your brand is how your firm shows up outside your office—how you look and what, where and how you say it. To get an accurate assessment of how your brand shows up—it's time to go undercover.

If you’ve seen the show Undercover Boss or heard about “mystery shoppers,” you understand the concept of going undercover to assess areas of your business firsthand. This is the mindset of where you need to begin in order to experience your brand like a prospective client.

You Want To See It How They See It
Step out of your role as the business owner and/or trusted advisor and put on your “top client” avatar. Think of your ideal prospect who hasn’t yet heard about you but has a need and is getting ready to embark on a journey to find you. In this mindset, get to work assessing your brand journey. 

While there are many ways a brand reaches a prospective client, online is often the first step to brand engagement. Whether organically or by recommendation of a trusted referral, Google is how many prospective clients garner their first impressions. It offers quick, comprehensive insight into what a brand represents.

What are you looking for? Your brand is comprised of three distinct components:

• Visual identity = appearance. How does it look? Do you have a cohesive visual identity (i.e., “look”) across all materials and platforms? Your visual identity consists of your brand name, its purpose or promise, logo, fonts, colors and contact information.

• Verbal messaging = values. What does it stand for? Do you have a compelling message that connects with your ideal clients? Your brand messaging needs to tell your story in a way that resonates with its target audience. Verbal messaging is the framework of your brand story and should articulate the company's who, when, how, what and why.

• Experience = engagement. How does it act? Is the experience you’re creating for your target market the one you want to project? The brand experience begins at their first interaction. How you make people feel when they engage with your brand has a lot to do with how they will receive, remember and recount your brand to others.

When reviewing any brand objectively, you’ll want to consider these four questions:

1. Is BRAND cohesive?

2. Is BRAND consistent?

3. Is BRAND credible?

4. Is BRAND compelling?

Next, Benchmark
Think about what competitor names show up when first meeting with a prospective client. Identify two to three firms you’ve been in the running with when an ideal client is considering a new financial advisor. They can either be in your geographic location (city/region) or serve the same marketplace (doctors/veterans). Remember, this is your undercover prospect research—while your “ideal client persona” may be looking for you online, the likelihood they're considering a competitor or two is high. It’s important to understand not only how your individual brand shows up but how it compares to your direct competition too.

Visit their websites and social media accounts, and review their owned content, whether on their site or a third-party platform like YouTube. Consider their earned media exposure. Are they regularly quoted by the media? If so, where, how often and on what types of topics?

Now, answer the four brand assessment questions about each of your competitor’s brands: Is their BRAND cohesive? Consistent? Credible? Compelling? Make a note of how they look, what they communicate and how it makes you, as a prospective client, feel.

Now, Go Undercover
Your turn. To get an objective perspective, bypass your browser history, cookies and other stored data by using an incognito browser and see how your brand shows up. Apply the four brand assessment questions to your own brand experience.

1. Is it cohesive? Look at your visual identity. Do the colors, fonts, tagline and contact information all match? To put forth a professional brand, you want to ensure that all access points to your brand are visually aligned.

2. Is it consistent? Can your ideal prospective client quickly identify who you work with and how you can best serve them? Do your verbal messages align with your prospective clients’ unique needs? Have those needs evolved? Is there continuity across all available materials?

3. Is it credible? You may say you’re the best financial advisor to help a prospective client reach their financial goals, but is that believable? Do you show up as an authority to the outside world?

4. Is it compelling? Does the cumulative online brand experience tell a compelling story, or does it leave a prospective client with unanswered questions or new objections?

Consider all the places where you showed up:

• Owned Media: Website, blogs, social media, company videos, podcasts (your own)

• Earned Media: Third party listing sites, media interviews, awards, podcasts (others), TV interviews, press releases, reviews or endorsements

• “Other” Media: Paid media does not typically come up in a search, however personal ventures may. Tags and “likes” by others on social platforms and details about personal projects, family activities, reviews you’ve made, non-profit work, and similar all contribute to the online brand story.

You don’t want your online brand to be the reason why someone doesn’t move forward with you. First impressions are largely formed before you even know you’re being considered. How you show up online matters—be sure it tells the brand story you want to be told. 

Apply A Brand-Aid
Does your brand need some work? The easiest “fixes” are owned media, listings, and links back to your site. Update what’s missing or incorrect to give the right impression of your brand. The items that show up that can negatively impact your business, the first line of defense for inaccurate reviews or unrequested tags showing up online (after asking the other party to remove them) is to push them down with more earned and owned content.

Identify the gaps by determining what your competitors have that you don’t. What action items need to take place to get you to an even ground? How about ahead? Let this be part of your marketing strategy for 2023 and beyond.

Market research is a critical component of brand evolution and advancement. It allows for the discovery of what’s “really happening” within a business and how it shows up in the greater consumer marketplace. By taking a step back and assessing the brand journey from the perspective of an undercover prospect, you can more easily identify what’s working great and what needs immediate attention. By understanding your competitor's position, you can make more informed decisions on your marketing strategy too.

Solidify the foundation of your brand and business to strengthen the impact of your marketing. Take the steps needed to grow and protect your greatest asset and become brand strong(er) in 2023 and beyond! For a white paper with actionable advice on this topic, visit https://advisorpr.com/brandup/

Alana Kohl is the founder of AdvisorPR.