Achieving success in any market requires communicating to customers why they should choose you, not your competitors, and a strong brand does just that.
The Institute of Financial Planning recently published the results of its Accredited Financial Planning Firms benchmarking survey, which show that many advice firms are happy with the way their brand is communicated. For example, over 75 per cent of respondents believed their website was a true and accurate reflection of their brand.
But some advice firms allow the communication of their brand to slip down the pecking order as they spend time dealing with their clients’ needs and getting to grips with regulatory change or the latest piece of software. Fifty-three per cent of firms surveyed by the IFP were not sure or had never asked if their clients knew what the brand stood for.
For advice firms, a brand should convey the values and quality of the service provided, focusing on the firm’s strengths so that clients and potential clients feel that their personal finances are in safe hands.
Lucian Camp Consulting founder Lucian Camp says: “Having a clear, strong distinctive brand is important in today’s world. You have to stand for something clear and attractive in the eyes of the target market. If people can’t see what’s special and different about your business, they’ve got no reason to choose it over everything else.”
A strong brand also helps to attract new staff. IFP communications director Sue Whitbread says: “The stronger the brand, the more likely a firm will attract higher-quality staff. More qualified and experienced staff will be excited about joining a company with a strong brand.”
Firms should start by deciding what type of brand they want to be – clarifying what they stand for and the values they want to reflect.
“You may have to go into a darkened room with a towel around your head to figure it out,” says Camp. “And when you’ve done that, you need to make sure that what you are in the real world is in keeping with the brand.”
Camp previously worked for an IFA firm that claimed the most important thing it did was enable clients to have peace of mind. “But talking to clients revealed that they could never understand what was said in their statements. It was incomprehensible and seemed to be saying things that were worrying to clients.”
For example, some statements told clients that the value of their portfolio had gone down with no justification or explanation of the figures. “That was causing clients unnecessary worry. The company was saying it stood for peace of mind but it was not doing it in real life.”
Camp says building a brand need not be expensive, time-consuming or difficult. Many firms are local brands which have been established by word of mouth or via low-cost digital media.
Market Financial lead consultant Graham Doggart says it is important for firms to aim their marketing efforts at the right target.
He says: “I’ve had clients who have made radio appearances that resulted in zero conversions. I’d say people should run a mile from radio. It would have worked 10 to 15 years ago but will not have an effect now.”
Adviser view: Darren Laverty, director of sales and marketing, Foster Denovo
The relationship with the client is the most important thing. Brand is secondary. The adviser is the real brand; that is our product and we have to ensure it is fit for purpose. We need to focus on making advisers the best they can be so that clients buy them. If clients like and trust that person and feel emotionally connected, they decide whether they can work with them. The brand comes later. It helps to finalise the client’s decision and provides a comfort factor.