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Your brand – it’s not on the outside… it’s inside!
How important is a brand for a financial planning business? After all, financial planning is a business that is all about the relationship. The personal touch. The aptitude to connect with clients one-on-one. The ability to give great advice. Absolutely. But building a brand doesn’t take any of these characteristics away. If anything it provides the opportunity to enhance and strengthen these attributes.
Firstly, having a brand helps build trust. Whilst a client may trust you as an individual, having a brand that is trustworthy means they will trust all that is associated with your brand. Your staff. Your advice. Your solutions. A brand enables you to build something bigger than yourself. But it may come as a surprise to hear that the benefits of a brand are not just about getting clients on board.
A second benefit is that it becomes a magnet for good employees. In a book entitled, How Google Works, Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg highlight the importance of being able to attract high quality staff. Which means of course that brand talks to the culture of your business. Brand and culture are inseparable. Put another way, brand and culture are two sides of the same coin.
The third benefit of having a well-developed brand is that it facilitates succession in your business. Having a sound brand means clients will draw comfort from continuing to do business with your business, even if you are not there. Having a robust brand makes your business saleable, whether to internal staff or an external party. They will draw comfort from the fact that clients won’t run for the exit when you depart.
But not all brands are born equal. So what are the characteristics of sustainable brands? First and foremost, ideally your brand stands for something. Call it your vision. Call it your intent. Even your value proposition. The key is to have a clear answer for potential and existing clients, employees, suppliers, or anyone who asks you the question: what does your brand stand for? Another way to put this is, what is your brand essence?
Seth Godin, author of a book on brand entitled The Purple Cow which explores how you stand out from the herd of cows that look so similar to you, relates a story about brand essence: “I got an email from someone who had hired a consulting firm to help his company find its true brand self. They failed. He failed. He asked me if I could recommend a better consulting firm. My answer: the problem isn’t the consultant; it’s the fact that if you have to search for a brand essence, you’re unlikely to find one.”
Once you know your brand essence, it is finding ways to express it in all that you do. So the second characteristic of a sustainable brand, is that the brand is about everything to do with your business. Nothing you do in your business can be divorced from your brand. So it’s not just about your logo, or your newsletter or your website. They’re just shop-windows on your brand. Your brand is not about what’s on the outside, it’s all about what is inside.
Martin Lindstrom, who wrote a book called Brand Sense, suggests that when we think about expressing our brand, we need to do so in a way that encompasses all our senses. Most often businesses prioritise expressing their brand from a visual point of view. But Lindstrom argues that great brands make use not only of the sense of sight, but touch, sound, taste and smell as well. Who hasn’t noticed the smell of the interior of a new car? But did you know that it comes from a factory-installed aerosol can?
We challenge businesses on our Adviser Programmes to assess to what extent they engage all the senses of their clients when dealing with them. What do clients hear when they phone you? What do they smell when they come into your office? What’s it like to touch your documentation, your business card? Is there a taste that they can associate with your business? Lindstrom argues that the more senses a brand engages, the greater the brand loyalty.
But whether you engage with only one or two senses, the third and possibly most important characteristic of a sustainable brand is that it is all about consistency. From the font you use in your documents, to how your phone is answered, to how your staff are treated, to what your office looks like and the coffee you serve. Consistency builds brand. Inconsistency erodes your brand.
To test the consistency, and pervasiveness of your brand, Lindstrom suggests that you “smash your brand”. What he means is that you should test to what extent your clients recognise your brand without your logo or brand being visible. A great example of this is Coke. Even without a logo, most people would recognise the classic glass coke bottle. Similarly, they would associate the colour red and the concept of happiness with Coke. Lindstrom provides a check-list of attributes to “smash your brand” and test to what extent your brand is recognisable without the logo or name being visible. It is an exercise worth doing.
Mark Hurley who runs a US business, Fiduciary Network which invests in financial planning businesses, argues that building your brand is a key step in building value in a financial planning business. Some financial advisers may disagree; pointing out that financial planning is a personal relationship business. Even if this is your view, the reality is that you are in fact building a personal brand. So surely building such a brand with intent is better than not?
At a recent session on a Fundhouse Adviser Programme, the Head of Marketing at a large asset management business observed that the IFA market is distinctive for its lack of distinct brands. He also demonstrated the significant competitive and economic benefits of having a recognised and trusted brand. In the increasingly challenging white water rapids of a fast-flowing and tumultuous industry, there is no doubt a robust brand provides the opportunity not just to stay afloat but ride the rapids with confidence and enthusiasm.
Seth Godin, Purple Cow – Transform your Business by Being Remarkable, Self-published, 2003 & 2009.
Mark Hurley et al, Creating, Measuring and Unlocking Value in a Wealth Manager, Fiduciary Network paper, June 2010.
Martin Lindstrom, Brand Sense – Sensory Secrets Behind the Stuff we Buy, Simon and Schuster, 2005
Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, How Google Works – The rules for success in the Internet Century, Grand Central Publishing, 2014.