It’s the new year, the perfect time to better your brand. Can we take a few guesses about your practice? You offer comprehensive financial planning and/or wealth management that puts your clients’ goals and needs first. You have a dedicated process that begins with learning about your clients before developing a custom plan, investing wisely, and monitoring the plan for success. You might have a holistic approach—but in any event, your firm is independent, and you offer outstanding client service. Great! The only problem? That’s what the other 310,000 financial advisors out there say.
At Commonwealth, we work with many advisors on branding and marketing, and virtually all start with the same descriptions for their practices. The ones who don’t are the ones we remember—because they stand out. And that’s exactly what branding can do for you. Here, my colleague Sarah Howes and I will discuss how you can better your brand to attract your ideal clients.
What Is Branding?
Branding is your firm’s identity; it’s what first comes to mind when people think of you. A good brand should convey the people you help and the problems you solve, and it should include intangibles. Are you friendly? Easy to talk to? An expert at solving particular problems? Your brand also includes your look, your voice, and the way you make people feel. A well-executed brand sets the strategy for your website, client communications, social media, and events, and it can include your approach, community, and what makes you different.
With a solid strategy, your brand helps you achieve your goals. When you’re clear on your goals and vision, it’s easier to determine what impact you want and need from your brand, how to make decisions to evolve your brand, and how to measure your results.
The Brand Makeover: First Steps
1) Get to know your current brand.
- Ask team members to write down how they answer common questions such as “What do you do?” or “Where do you work?”
- Look at the results. Did most say the same thing about your practice, or did you get different answers? Did you like what your staff had to say? If not, it’s time to brainstorm and develop a good, consistent answer that reflects your firm.
- Ask clients how they perceive you. Questions like, “How do you describe the work we do?” or “What adjectives would you use to describe us?” can give you key insights. Your brand isn’t owned by you; it belongs to your clients. They connect and interact with it, and it means something to them. Listen to how they describe you and how they feel about you to further your brand strategy.
2) Examine what you’ve learned. If you’re happy with what you’ve heard, start using the words and terms learned from your clients—what appealed to them might appeal to someone else, too. Your website and messaging shouldn’t sound like a financial advisor but, instead, like your ideal clients. Plan to build the words and phrases into your website and social media, in articles and company brochures, and into a value proposition that the whole team can relay.
3) Find out how you stack up against competition. Search for I need a financial advisor/wealth manager/retirement plan expert in [your location]. What page did your firm appear on? The point here is about ease and accessibility—how hard should a prospect have to work to find you? Perhaps you need to pay attention to your search engine optimization and your use of social media, both of which can help you show up sooner in the Google rankings.
Next, search for your specific firm name, as well as advisors’ names. Even if prospects were referred to your firm, they’ll probably google you. You should see what prospects will see!
From this feedback, you’ll get an idea of what’s working and what’s not. Now, you’re ready to move forward with a good strategic vision to gain the maximum impact.
The Brand Review
Compare your brand assets to evaluate how consistent your design and messaging experience is. Include your website homepage, e-mails (a designed newsletter format and regular client communication with your e-mail signature), any printed pieces (e.g., brochure and letterhead), and materials a new client would receive.
Returning to your goals, list your objectives, and then ask yourself the following questions:
- Does your branding consistently reflect your core message and values?
- What do you want your clients and prospects to feel when they use your content?
- How do you want them to respond?
- Do you feel your materials will support your firm’s move forward?
From this review, you’ll see either that you’re consistent or that you fluctuate. If you like what you heard in your interviews, and clients and employees consistently confirmed your brand values and core message, then you’re in a good place. Still, you could evaluate how to further increase the impact of your brand.
If you didn’t like what you heard in your interviews, then you should determine what your brand means and how it’s used. It may be time for an update.
The Brand Refresh
Successful brands refresh their visual identity on a regular basis, maintaining what people know and love about the brand while bringing in new elements. Southwest Airlines, known as the low-cost airline, refreshed its brand by retaining colors from the original logo, changing the font, and removing the airplane. Now, the logo is a heart that carries the airline’s primary message: “Without a heart, it’s just a machine.”
Taking time to clearly define your purpose and positioning is a critical first step. Even if you have done this work in the past, goals and audiences change. We offer a worksheet that walks you through your business goals to help you arrive at your brand positioning. It also helps you define your audience, uncover what your audience cares about, determine where you offer the most value, and develop your positioning statement.
The Elements of Your Brand
From the position work, develop a one-page brand summary that includes the following:
- Core message: What’s the one thing you want prospects and clients to know about you?
- Vision and mission: One or two simple sentences will do here.
- Core values: Think of three to five values that your firm consistently conveys.
- Voice and tone: How do you want your brand to make prospects and clients feel? List three adjectives and what those adjectives mean to your brand.
- Positioning statement: Refer to the worksheet mentioned above. Include one to three messages to support your positioning statement.
- Target audience: One sentence should capture it.
Work on Your Brand’s Foundation
Your logo, primary messaging, and a design system are the foundation of a strong brand. Your logo should be memorable and support your strategic positioning, as it has the most exposure and should capture your brand’s emotional appeal. If you want a refresh, it’s likely that changing up your color palette or fonts is the way to go. But remember, you want clients to recognize the logo as yours.
Consistent messaging is critical to strong brand execution, and your company changes with time. New developments and improvements may present the perfect opportunity to update your core message. Just ensure that it reflects your clients’ point of view, so they see the benefit of working with you.
Finally, a design system includes colors, fonts, icons, imagery, and related guidelines on how to use each element. It helps maintain consistency and quality. Flexible brand standards will allow your brand to evolve while staying cohesive and supporting your broader strategy.
Enlist help. Professionals who work with design and messaging are experts of strategic brand development and can help you further develop your brand, whether it’s to change a font or your whole look.
The positioning worksheet can help you share your vision with outside professionals. From there, they will be able to work with you to further develop a brand summary. Be sure to circulate the summary to key stakeholders, including employees, clients, and colleagues, whom you can rely on for honest and useful reactions and input.
Better Your Brand
The best way to better your brand is to ask questions and listen. With an openness to evaluate and evolve your brand identity, you can improve the impact your brand has on your business and more effectively attract your ideal clients. Make 2020 your year to stand out from all the rest!
Have you made it your goal to better your brand this year? Are you doing the work in-house, or do you plan to hire an agency or leverage freelance talent? Please share your thoughts below!