Shaping your brand

By Laura Curtis Ferrera | March 16, 2010 | Last updated on March 16, 2010
7 min read

It’s proven that marketing is a leading indicator of success in terms of asset gathering, which in turn leads to increased revenue. And I truly believe marketing is particularly important (and potentially easier) during uncertain markets, when investors are skittish about heavy-handed sales techniques and investing in general.

The one mistake I made years ago was to start giving out actionable marketing ideas without walking clients through their branding homework first. A decade’s worth of experience has shown me that, before you can channel the power of marketing, you must have a firm grasp of your brand.

So, here, I will set the stage for future columns by establishing a shared lexicon — a vocabulary through which I can build your understanding of some key concepts.

Marketing and branding are different

In simplest terms, branding is about nailing down your identity: who you are, what you promise, what you stand for, and what sets you apart.

They’re called brands because the most effective ones burn an indelible impression into people’s minds, and the term originated when ancient Egyptians burned their stamp of ownership onto livestock.

Marketing, meanwhile, is a series of steps an advisor takes to get that identity across to various stakeholders—clients, prospective clients, staff, family, friends, colleagues, and centres of influence—and inspire a demand for it.

Before you set a marketing course, you should be able to express your unique value proposition (your relevant point of difference, or the identity you want to own) so concisely that you could dash it off on a cocktail napkin. Like the classic elevator speech or log line, you should be able to relay the basic benefit of your offering in a few bullet points.

Here’s an example. There’s an advisor who operates in Ontario’s cottage country. His cocktail napkin originated as, “A financial planning expert for local, affluent neighbours.” Not a bad start, but it limited his scope for targeting non-resident cottage owners, and it failed to differentiate him from the other dealer and planning shops in town.

So, he evolved his cocktail napkin into: “The go-to resource for affluent cottagers who need planning strategies to pass property down to the next generation.” This refinement positioned him to target not only local residents but also out-of-town cottage owners in a two-tiered targeted marketing plan.

Here’s another example. An advisor targets farming communities focused on raising dairy, pork and broiler chickens. Originally, his napkin was: “An advisor who serves his community, makes house calls to conduct planning sessions, grew up on a farm and knows the business of agriculture.”

While that’s all still true, over time it became secondary to his core message. His cocktail napkin evolved to reflect his more specifically targeted expertise: “An advisor who offers real value to farmers by understanding the intricate economics related to the value of farming licences, land holdings, and the smooth divestiture and succession of Ontario farms.”

Step 1: Pass the napkins

Get out of your office, use a small cocktail napkin (which forces you to be concise), jot down bullet points about what you do best as an advisor, or what you do that is unique and will connect with your audience. Don’t try to put sentences down-just ideas.

Consider what clients particularly appreciate about you, your team or your services. Is it your trustworthiness and reliability, sophisticated investing strategies, financial planning prowess, international expertise or retirement specialization?

Perhaps you have a particular strength in helping people identify their goals, or in coordinating concierge-level advisory services for busy, affluent businesspeople. Whatever it is, get it down.

When your point-form cocktail napkin is ready, test it. Give it to people who know and support you, and ask for their feedback. Is your offering legit? Does it truly capture you and your business? Does it make people identify with you and want to work with you? Is it memorable?

Step 2: Create a boilerplate

Now’s the point when you translate the bullet points from your napkin into a boilerplate.

This document has to roll your unique value proposition, mission and vision statement, core values and qualifications into one polished, concise message that encapsulates what you’re all about. It should be no more than a short paragraph of text.

The reason I’ve suggested you work in bullet points is only because thinking in full sentences can trip you up. Just get your ideas on the napkin and then hand it off to a professional writer and editor. To help you define and promote your brand, consult a marketing professional at your firm (they know more than you give them credit for) or hire a freelancer.

A boilerplate is text that can easily be reused in new contexts or applications without being changed much. For example, a one-pager piece introducing you, an intro slide for a client PowerPoint presentation, a profile on statements . . . basically any application that reaches prospects or current clients. This also becomes your log line when people ask, “What do you do?”

Step 3: Boil it down to develop a tag line The final step is to create a tag line derived from your boilerplate. Boil down your boilerplate.

Whereas your boilerplate is a necessary element for long-form marketing one-pagers or PowerPoint presentations, a tag line (or positioning line) is a nice to have, but not a need to have. Ask the same writer who worked on your boilerplate to express the essence of your offering or differentiated advantages as creatively, concisely and memorably as possible – in fewer than eight words – without resorting to clichés.

Your tag line can be used at the bottom of an e-mail message, on the back of your business cards, as a domain name for your Web site, on ads, or on invites. Essentially, you can put it any place you need to convey to prospects or clients who you are and what you do in a small amount of space.

Here’s an example of how the marketing team at Macquarie Private Wealth created its own branding.

We named our in-house boutique creative services department “Macquarie Integrated Marketing.” We then identified the boilerplate as “Creative, customized, responsive, resourceful support services and materials to help our advisors maximize their growth potential and strengthen existing client bonds through consistent, compelling branding and marketing.”

Then, I had a very talented VP of Communications, Debbie Yuen (those who know her call her a marketing rockstar), craft the tag line, “Return on Ingenuity”—which, like any good tag line, is far more than the sum of the boilerplate’s parts.

A package of napkins

Once you’ve done your first cocktail napkin branding statement for your broad-based audience, do separate offshoots for each of your target audiences.

Do one for each of the groups you want to focus on: prospective clients, staff, colleagues, centres of influence, and each client group you want to target. For example, dental professionals—what do you offer that is of value to these independent entrepreneurs? Or, if you choose to focus on charitable giving, how do your services help investors who are interested in leaving a legacy?

Consider each group’s needs, motivations, demographics (age, gender, income, occupation, education, marital status, household income), and psychographics (lifestyles, attitudes, self-concepts, beliefs, opinions, and personalities).

Recognize that your clients’ needs change over time and respond to those changes.

Finally, tell your staff about your brand and make sure they buy into it before announcing it externally. This will build a sense of teamwork, encourage new levels of commitment and delivery and define roles and expectations. All of these are essential in a service-oriented business like ours.

What Branding is (and isn’t)

A brand is not a logo or a distinctive business card. It is a promise of performance that offers assurance in an uncertain world.

We have a basic need for control and reassurance. It’s good to know that when you order a cup of Starbucks coffee it will taste the same in Dubai as it does on Bloor Street. Brands help us divide up the world (Holt’s shoppers versus Walmart shoppers). They create rituals and become a familiar, dependable part of our lives.

A brand becomes a collection of perceptions in your clients’ minds, created by your interactions with them. If a brand doesn’t keep its promise, it will lose its meaning.

A brand built on reliability must be constructed slowly over time, but can be lost quickly. For example, an advisor might base his or her brand on many years of regular, reliable, clear communication with clients. If the markets decline suddenly and he or she doesn’t get in touch right away to reassure investors, the brand will take a hit.

Brands strike a balance between rational benefits (left brain) and an emotional connection (right brain). A brand that costs less can be undercut; a brand with performance advantages can be outflanked, but a brand that makes an emotional connection is difficult to replace because it’s won a place in our hearts.

Here are some famous examples of how effective branding leverages emotion. When we choose a Volvo, we’re buying the reassurance of safety, whereas when we choose a BMW, we’re buying the exhilaration of performance.

Put another way, Charles Revson, maker of Revlon cosmetics, said, “We don’t sell cosmetics, we sell hope.” And children choose sweetened breakfast cereals because they are fun. We don’t just choose soap; we choose to have a little luxury in an ordinary day. When we open a jar of spaghetti sauce, we’re seeking an authentic Italian experience.

When you can express why your clients choose you, or why they should, then you have your brand in hand. Want more actionable marketing ideas and insights to help you win new clients, build your book and strengthen existing relationships?

  • Laura Curtis Ferrera is the senior vice-president of marketing at Macquarie Private Wealth.

    Laura Curtis Ferrera