An out-of-towner drove his car into a ditch in a rural area. Luckily, Farmer Jones came to help with his horse, Hobo. Farmer Jones hitched Hobo up to the car and yelled, “Pull, Nellie, pull!” Hobo didn't move a muscle. Then Farmer Jones hollered, “Pull, Buttercup, pull!” Again, Hobo didn't move. Once more, the farmer commanded, “Pull, Stetson, pull!” Nothing from Hobo. Then the farmer nonchalantly said, “Pull, Hobo. C'mon, boy, pull!” And the horse easily dragged the car up and out of the ditch. The motorist was appreciative but curious. He asked the farmer why he called his horse by the wrong name three times. Farmer Jones answered, “Well, ol' Hobo here is blind as a bat. If he thought he was the only one pulling, he would not even try!”
Many a savvy marketer would agree with Farmer Jones, noting that potential clients and referral sources are like Hobo: What they perceive drives their reality.
Yet many firms are failing to define the perception of their brand in the marketplace. Creating a brand is more than images and words. It is a clear, concise and compelling message that defines the value you provide.
It should be different and genuine enough to stick in people's minds. When done right, re-branding your firm can relocate you from the “land of bland” to the “land of brand” — a far more desirable neighborhood.
When we ask advisers what their brand is, they often say it's their logo, brochure or website. These are physical manifestations of a brand that promote a firm's message, but they are not a brand. A brand is the key message the firm is sending to the marketplace about the value it offers.
Automobiles provide a simple illustration of a brand and brand differentiation. Consider Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Both are aluminum shells with four wheels and engines, much like other vehicles. But Mercedes and BMW are high-end automobiles, with one synonymous with luxury and the other admired for performance. They represent different and distinct associations that stick in customers' minds, and customers gravitate to the brand that best reflects their style.
Here are some basic principles on how a brand does and does not work:
• Your brand is a promise you make to the marketplace. This promise should stand out and drive every aspect of your messaging, marketing and client experience.
• You can have only one brand promise. You want one promise that is crystal-clear, compelling and aligned with your firm's values. When you try to convey a series of promises — for example, smart, personal and premium — your message becomes diffused and hard to remember.
• A brand promise should differentiate the firm from the competition. Again, BMW and Mercedes are good examples. They are both high-end cars, but their marketing has clearly differentiated them. What do you offer that truly reflects your firm?
• The brand promise must align with what the firm delivers. A firm whose brand is simplifying clients' financial lives isn't conveying a consistent message by using a complicated, 17-page client intake questionnaire.
• Attributes are not a brand. Often, when advisers try to explain what makes them “better” or “unique,” they say some version of, “We care, we have integrity and we provide great service.” These attributes don't describe the brand promise; they merely describe how the firm delivers on the brand promise.
The following are the elements that make up brand architecture, which is the foundation of any good marketing strategy. Defining each of these elements in a coherent, consistent message lets the right people in the right markets know that an adviser is there to serve their needs.
Let's review each of these steps to see how one client firm, FP Financial Services, was able to develop a meaningful brand that resonated with its target audience:
Defining a target market is essential to conveying the right message for your audience. Although we first tried a brand promise for FP Financial of “peace of mind,” it quickly became clear that this wasn't consistent with the firm's target clients — middle-America accumulators who were unlikely to ever have enough capital to gain true peace of mind. At some level, these individuals would likely always need to manage their capital and lifestyle carefully to maintain a good quality of life in retirement. A better fit was the notion of “guiding clients,” helping them understand where they are in relation to where they want to be, and enabling them to maximize their resources to enjoy life along the way.
This message appealed to the firm's audience of people who are, essentially, financial delegators. They lack the time, talent or temperament to manage their own finances and so choose to rely on a trusted guide — a partner — to help them define and pursue the path that is right for them.
Named after the founder, FP Financial sent the message that the firm is founder-focused and tied perceived value to him. If the goal is to build a firm that extends “beyond” the owner, both while he or she is working and certainly afterward, then a more firm-centric name is appropriate. FP Financial's owner wanted to add advisers and prepare for the founder's eventual transition out of the business, even though that was more than 10 years away.
FP Financial decided to change the name to be more “firm-centric” and moved the focus from the owner to the role the firm it plays in the lives of the clients: Guidant Wealth Advisors.
Client motivators are the reasons that target clients engage an adviser. They can be positive motivators (hopes and dreams) or negative (fears and concerns).
Based on emotions, they are powerful and compelling. An effective brand will speak directly to the motivators of an adviser's target market, thus ensuring you get people's attention. Guidant had a list of client motivators:
• Wanting to make the most of their financial situation.
• Needing guidance to make the right decisions and direction to avoid financial pitfalls.
• Wanting to know where they are and what is possible.
• Seeking clarity and confidence.
• Wanting a firm they can trust (advice, experience, ethics).
Guidant determined that its marketing message needed to reflect the needs, goals and motivators of its clients consistently “to ensure they recognize that we relate to and understand their situations, bringing comfort in knowing we have the experience to meet their needs.”
A good market position differentiates a firm and is memorable, staying in the mind of the target audience. Designed to identify and retain information that is unique and different (good and bad), the human brain must filter background noise while attempting to understand a given message. This highlights why effective positioning is important. A firm needs to stand out among the crowd, just as “We're No. 1” or “the Un-cola” does. These slogans not only position the firms they represent but also ensure that the competition cannot own this space.
Guidant's market position was “The trusted firm,” based on the premise that when you hire a guide, trust is essential. You can't comfortably follow a guide who doesn't inspire confidence. As the trusted firm, Guidant was able to articulate its role: “We help bring comfort to our clients through our knowledge and experience, and also in the personal approach we take. We listen, we care and — of utmost importance — we always act in our clients' best interests. We guide them through a process that brings value to their life by giving them the confidence of knowing they have a trusted partner to work with them each and every step of the way along their life's journey.”
Brand identity (corporate identity) should communicate intangible attributes consistently in all of the firm's messages and materials. At a firm that caters to high-net-worth clients, marketing literature should reflect affluence and luxury. If the brand is innovation, a website that's indistinguishable from that of its competitors' is out of alignment. Brand identity includes your firm's color palette and imagery, which should run consistently through your stationary, documents, logo, décor and office. All interactions and experiences with your firm should reflect your brand identity, including but not limited to:
• Marketing materials
• Building, office space, meeting areas
• Furniture and décor
• Staff appearance and demeanor
• Amenities (reading materials in the waiting room, refreshments, etc.)
• Meeting materials
• Performance reports
One client, whose branding is “Helping people make the right moves,” uses a chess piece as a logo and has a chessboard in his waiting area. If your clients are high net worth and vacation in such places as the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons hotels, this is the experience you're competing with — not the financial adviser down the street. If you have a mom-and-pop clientele, an office with 16th-century furniture would be intimidating and strike the wrong chord. If clients feel awkward and uncomfortable, they will never open up to the adviser.
This is the promise that your firm makes to the marketplace. It acts to present a singular, compelling theme that symbolizes what your firm represents (luxury, performance, peace of mind). Your brand promise serves as the cornerstone of your firm brand and brand architecture. It is the basis of the reputation you want to build for the firm.
Whatever values a firm brand claims in the brand promise require diligence at every contact point with clients, prospects or spectators. Translating a qualitative brand promise into a meaningful experience requires full understanding of the brand across your firm.
Guidant's brand promise reflects the financial planning process and the role the firm plays in navigating clients through their financial lives, providing leadership, direction, support and counseling, and working to ensure that the best possible course is followed.
This is a clear statement defining what a firm's target market can expect from its services. Most companies have value propositions that focus on the firm's unique qualities (firm-centric), rather than on the client (client-centric). Given that your target market is seeking to address its motivators, describing the qualities of a firm requires clients to stretch and connect the dots between their needs and your services.
By contrast, client-centric messaging addresses the client motivators directly and thus communicates the reasons for working with the firm clearly, with little or no interpretation required.
When firms focus on the emotional benefit or value delivered to the client, there's no doubt about the benefit the client can expect.
An awareness of an unfulfilled benefit encourages clients to assess the need for that benefit and how the firm can satisfy the need.
They then can make a positive connection with the firm. This gets prospects emotionally invested in exploring a relationship.
Guidant's value proposition is “a tradition of trust.” It focuses on their target clients' need for ethical, reliable service: “A key concern and motivator of clients when selecting a financial planning firm is the integrity and ethics of the firm. We choose to boldly proclaim that we are a firm that can be trusted to ensure clarity around this very important value.”
Brand architecture provides advisers with a meaningful framework for promoting, advertising and marketing their value to the desired audience.
Leveraging this potential requires advisers to execute on the brand consistently and across as many aspects of their firm as possible.
Excerpted from "The Power of Practice management" by Matt Matrisian (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2013), director of practice management at Genworth Financial Wealth Management Inc.