By Kirk Lowe
In our "always on" world, the truth is only as far away as Google and Twitter. "Fake it until you make it" is much harder for financial advisers to pull off these days — especially online. When you are building your brand and marketing collateral, it's become critical to be authentic, because it's so easy to peek under the hood.
Branding and marketing deservedly have earned a bad reputation over the last 30 or 40 years. If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, the marketers contend, you should baffle them with hullaballoo. That may have actually been true five or six years ago, but it's increasingly less effective and publicly scrutinized today.
For the most professional advisers, it can be incredibly frustrating to see other firms who you know can't deliver what they promise making statements about who they are and what they do when you know they've chosen the "baffle them" rather than the "dazzle them" route.
Some advisers pose as holistic or comprehensive planners, yet they don't have the experience or resources to be what they say they are — and it might feel as though, by overpromising, these advisers are attracting clients who are searching for a firm such as yours. These firms are out to eat your lunch and that they are doing so by misrepresenting their value. It doesn't have to be this way if your market yourself properly … in other words, better.
First, take comfort in knowing that clients are getting much better at knowing how to look past the hype. Advisers who aren't who they say they are, are taking a huge risk. If they can't prove they provide the services they market, they will be found out. If there is nothing to read about them online, people will assume they are hiding. They have hollow brands.
So, although it can be frustrating, seeing people posing as experts and using titles and keywords that an actual expert would have is not the problem. We should really be thinking about what to do about it.
You've all seen home pages on which advisers claim to do holistic planning. Yet they provide nothing to support the fact, such as a defined process, content or articles describing what they do, no pictures or videos of explanation, and nothing but curating other people's content.
As a gross overgeneralization, there are two types of financial advisers that contact us:
Type 1. Advisers who actually offer a great product and service, but who struggle to market it effectively because other people are positioning themselves as the same. They don't get any credit because everyone claims they do it. It's pretty easy to help them. It's all about depth and demonstrating credibility. Posers don't offer a lot (if any) evidence that they follow a holistic planning approach. Authentic holistic advisers have a compelling advantage — they do what they promise.
Type 2. Advisers who claim and believe they offer holistic planning when they don't. Some advisers may have a different opinion about what holistic planning is. Holistic planning is about more than just identifying and taking into consideration the entirety of a client's present and potential future financial situation. Holistic planning includes understanding the client's underlying motivations and aspirations, hopes and dreams, and giving their money more meaning.
Type 2 advisers should understand that they can't just "front a brand" and then not deliver on it. They can't just hijack someone else's brand because it sounds interesting. Eventually, it will catch up with them. I'm guessing that this is probably the single biggest reason for client attrition: overpromising.
It may take some time for the client to wise up, but eventually it will happen. And, we've all heard that it's significantly more expensive to attract a new client than it is to retain an existing one.
The solution for these advisers is to help them understand what they do best and who their ideal clients are, then help them build a brand around services they actually provide so clients get what they expect. A practice will be more successful if an adviser appropriately defines his or her strengths in a way that will be attractive and have a high perceived value to the ideal audience.
At the core of the branding process, so many important things go into running a successful practice. The branding process should help you:
• Uncover your passion.
• Discover your brilliance.
• Define the people you want to work with and you can help most.
• Articulate your services.
• Fine-tune the processes and systems that make sense to deliver to your clients.
And throughout this process, it helps to be real, be true to yourself, be true to your clients and work to your strengths.
Having an accurate brand means getting to work with people you enjoy most and having increased confidence because you stay within yourself. You will also see more and better referrals and more online exposure (generated by others) through social media and online communities.
You will save time because you are clear about what needs to get done to fulfill the brand, which helps streamline systems and processes based on what's important.
People come to me all the time saying, "I'm different." When we dig down, that may be true, but they are expressing their "difference" the same way 99% of financial advisers are — and they end up looking like a commodity in an overcrowded market. The right brand turns all that around, and indeed, you might be — to your ideal audience — the best financial adviser ever.
Kirk Lowe is founder and president of TactiBrand Inc. Find him online at www.KirkLowe.com or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.