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Brand on the run

Coca-cola culture has not entirely escaped financial services, with highly visible and recognisable brands such as Fidelity and Jupiter jumping off hoardings wherever you look.

Alongside them are the high-street banks which, until recent branch closures, dominated the country&#39s high streets. Then there are the venerable life offices with histories stretching back centuries, with figures such as the man from the Pru having entered folklore.

Against this backdrop, some have questioned the typical IFA&#39s scant attention to brand, which often extends to no more than a simple letterhead and a loyal client bank. But opinion is divided about whether this is complacency or common sense.

IFA Promotion chief executive David Elms vehemently denies the assertion that there is no national IFA brand, pointing out the widespread recognition of the blue roundel.

According to Elms, IFAs have two options – either they rely on branding on a collective level through the blue roundel logo or they can develop a brand of their own.

And while there are a limited amount of IFAs who can afford to develop their own brand, Elms is strongly of the opinion that most simply cannot afford to do so and will depend instead on the communal £2.7m IFAP spend.

“IFAs will need to be convinced of the benefit of devoting more resources to branding before putting their hands in their pockets,” says Elms.

Hargreaves Lansdown marketing director Theresa Barry has a different take on the subject despite coming from one of the most distinctive IFA brands. She says: “Brands can only be developed over time and depend on trust. You earn your brand, you can&#39t buy it. This is where the dotcoms went wrong, spending a fortune on brands alone. Many small IFAs have a strong brand in the minds of their customers and in the town and villages in which they live; it is just that the media might not appreciate it.”

However, there are those, such as consultants Impartial managing director Mike Owen, who think IFAs&#39 approach to branding could be more sophisticated. While customer loyalty is a strong starting point, he says IFAs could take a more innovative approach to the question of brand and new marketing opportunities such as the internet.

Owen also distinguishes the collective IFA brand and that of individual practices. A major difference between the networks and the nationals rev-olves around branding, with the salesforces of the nationals having to submit to a much tighter control in accordance with the brand whereas the network members have grea-ter freedom to project their own identities.

By their very nature, IFA businesses have to cohabit with the major brands. Hargreaves Lansdown is in the unusual position of having an IFA brand strong enough to be used for white-labelling and stand alongside the providers. Barry does not believe there is a danger of the smaller IFAs identity being submerged.

She says: “I do not think it is a problem. It is like Tesco selling brands such as Heinz – I don&#39t think that selling lots of different brands detracts from your own brand.”

Some believe that the advertising spend and brand image of the providers assist the IFA.

Owen says: “IFAs can piggy-back off the expensive advertising of the providers and generic campaigns such as the AITC&#39s.”

He says the looming possibility of mutli-ties is concentrating the minds of some. If multi-ties do become a reality, clearly IFAs will have competition that will be very heavily bolstered by major bands.

Already, there has been an outbreak of “affluenza”, as the new rash of wealth management services set up by banks to grab a slice of the IFA market like to refer to their subject. They come with distinction brands and glossy campaigns such as Inscape, Abbey National&#39s offering. Should IFAs be concerned? Not necessarily, according to Barry. She does not believe IFAs should be unduly concerned and thinks the banks are vulnerable to the persuasiveness of the ad men.

She says: “We do not use advertising people as we would rather do it ourselves. After going to the bother of explaining your business to them, you might as well have done it yourself. But we try to ensure that everything we send out has a consistent personality and gives the vague impression of coming from the same person.”

While Elms is unwilling to speculate about possible changes to the polarisation regime, he does not see that the IFA branding, which he refused to divorce from the blue roundel as needing to change. “To change would be a waste of resources. It is best to work with what you already have,” says Elms.

But as a collective concept, Owen points out the brand can be soured by a single rotten apple. So the issue of control when it comes to brand is paramount, whether for the single IFA or the channel as a whole.

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