HOW TO POSITION YOUR FINANCIAL ADVISORY BRAND FOR SUCCESS
There’s a sameness that has crept into the financial services marketplace – across the board from accountants to planners and brokers the brand colours, claimed expertise and the tone of voice is quite similar. It’s almost as if there’s an unconscious feeling of comfort and safety that we experience by being part of the ‘herd’ and thus we gravitate to what we know.
This is not all bad, however the issue is that it largely leads to a generic positioning that lacks anything distinctive – with the outcome being parity in all things – including price.
Yes, relationships, trust, expertise and access to wide range of lenders are important but these attributes are your hygiene competitive factors. They rarely make you different.
So, what is one to do? Abandon branding efforts?
NO, branding is more vitally important to long term success than perhaps what many of us have thought. Research conducted by Binet and Field for the IPA, put the science and data to behind this long-held assertion. They found that an ideal 60/40 relationship should exist between long term brand building initiatives and short-term demand tactics. This was explored further in research they conducted for LinkedIn which showed for B2B relationships that a 50/50 ratio should exist.
Where to begin your financial services advisory businesses branding journey?
Begin with Customer Immersion and Understanding
Research, research, research …
Over the years, it’s been staggering to witness so many businesses skip this vital part of their beginning. The good news is that it’s never too late to go back to the beginning and conduct some foundational client research that will act as a platform to formulate strategies, plans and actions.
And I am here to dispel the myth that research is expensive and out of reach for many SMBs. It’s not and there’s a research plan for every business size out there. Considering that the cost of failure is many times the cost of market research cost should not be a factor.
Step 1 – Fact finding
Begin with ‘desk research’. Today, this old-fashioned term is more likely to be a concerted effort to conduct a thorough web scrape of available data. Utilise the 4Cs – Customer, Company, Competitors and Channels, to provide focus and structure to your researching effort. This task can easily be spread across multiple team members for group engagement.
Step 2 – Curate observational facts for insight hypothesis
Next, you’ll want to create tables with identified factual observations paired insights. An observation could be something like, the market is growing at 5% and an insight ask the ‘so what question’. In this use case, the insight might be – at 5% market growth going for brand switching is unnecessary because there’s plenty of growth in the market for all competitors. These become your hypotheses on which to make all kinds of marketing decisions, including branding decisions.
For example, a Financial Advisor might use Roy Morgan Research to gather facts on the target audience. Like target audience groups that have above average use of financial advisers.
Step 3 – Guided interviews and conversations
Now that you have your hypotheses, it’s time to get out and about with a discussion guide and have meaningful conversations with all stakeholders – potential customers, customers, suppliers, employees and media. You can use an experienced market researcher for this role or again on a lower budget, you can share this role across your team with the benefits being speed and the collective empathy and understanding that comes from having team members involved in these conversations. Just remember to record and document. It is research after all.
Develop a Foundational Branding Strategy
It’s now time to get creative and set your position – What is your story? Do you have an identified customer hero who faces a villain that is going to take some effort in beating? Are you able to resolve the customer’s key pain points?
Most importantly, do you believe it? Will it get you up in the morning to strive and achieve your vision? And can you begin to envisage the types of distinctive assets that will be able to create and become famous for?
If you haven’t realised it, we’re at the fun stage! Now you and your colleagues have the chance to set a path for a unique and distinctive positioning based on a strong human insight and an ownerable benefit and brand truth points.
Branding Build Blocks
Workshop and research your brand hypotheses
Now it’s time to bring your team up to speed on the hypotheses you’ve created that provide an understanding as to how the market works and the deep empathy you now have with your prospects and customers. And workshop is a great way to tease out the essence of your branding strategy. You can socialise all of the above and form opinions and direction – From your hypotheses around market structure, ranked importance of attributes, naming, key benefits, customer types / segmentation and their importance, brand archetypes and personality.
A final luxury if your budget permits would be to perform a quantitative research test. We must always remember that while it’s fine to make decisions based on our gut, observation and collective wisdom of the group, that they are subjective decisions with no definitive evidence existing to support these decisions. A statistically robust sample provides a stronger from of evidence.
A final point to note at this point, is that the impact of your brand positioning will also play-out in your company values, who you employ, the way you reward or recognise the team, and how you deliver your customer experience, so time spent at this stage is time well spent.
Creative Territories for Branding
It’s one thing to have a great strategy, however in time no one is going to remember your strategy. Our goal at this stage is develop a creative idea that will spark intrigue and imagination in the minds of our clients. And over time, it will represent the experiences clients have of your business and our challenge is to make them distinctive and memorable.
Share and rank your ideas
Get collaborative and put all of your ideas on a wall, no matter whether you are using an agency or not. Use your agency and or your creative leader to start carefully peeling back the layers of each idea territory. Explore the ideas further – how will they extend into various media channels? How will they scale into the future? Can they be used to address tactical media issues that arise?
A great exercise to undertake at this stage is to road show the ideas with clients and other stakeholders. You will likely experience what we in the creative industry call a ‘tissue session’. Some of your best ideas may not pass the test and it’s often hard to hear the brutality of feedback when you are invested in its creation. Despite this, it’s better to wear some initial, short-term disappointment than pursue a creative direction that is unlikely to succeed in the long-term.
Decide, Refine and Build Foundational Branding Assets
It’s decision time! You need to land on a brand territory and start the process of building out your brand identity.
We begin by building out the key brand assets such as the brandmark, secondary logos, colour palette, typography, photography style, and graphic devices like patterns and shapes. We then translate how these assets will come together as a brand identity system across a variety of media and applications. Effectively, at the end of this process we have the basis of a brand style guide.
However, our work, is not finished! I’m sure we have all heard the statement that content is king and indeed it is. It starts with foundational or evergreen content. These are the items that are going to serve us well for a length of time, up and down the sales funnel like brand story videos, document templates, brand advertising, office or environmental design and the website.
Often clients are keen to jump straight into the process of lead generation, however without these long-term assets, then your short-term lead generation activities are less successful. Organising your content along the following lines is a great starting point, making sure to balance your scarce resources between the evergreen assets and the disposable assets.
Content type/purpose matrix
Branding success is possible for your financial service advisory business, despite the highly relational nature practitioners tend to have with their clients. This relational nature of the business should be harnessed and leveraged wherever possible, however there is always a need to have an eye on the bigger branding picture. That is that the brand is able to penetrate more widely than an individual could on his or her own. The brand works for you 24/7 and a successful brand is a magnet for the business – bringing in new clients and maintaining revenue margins.
Branding worth doing? You bet it is. However, a branding journey in financial services marketing requires the courage to be distinctive, which is part discipline and part creative vision. So, I challenge you to set the bar high and don’t be tempted to cut corners because in the end you will only be defined by customers you don’t like.