Brand: What Does It Mean for Advisors?

Written by: Kim Mackrill

When I say the word “brand,” what is the first image that pops into your head? Probably something like the Nike Swoosh, the Golden Arches, or even Mr. Clean’s bald head.

What’s the first advisor brand you can think of? Likely something like the green TDA logo or the Vanguard ship.

Those are all great examples of logos , which are actually just a small part of a company’s brand. The term “brand” – originally used to refer to the mark a rancher would burn into his cattle – has come to include basically every aspect of a company: logo, colors, fonts, language, business cards, dress code, target clientele, and it even includes several items you have no control over, such as people’s perception of your firm and the emotions they feel when they interact with you.

As a financial advisor, you’re not “branding” items like a rancher – slapping your logo on your website and products just to show that you own them. That’s not what a brand is anymore, especially in the advisory industry. You’re creating experiences for your clients, you’re adding value to their lives and pocketbooks, you’re plotting a safe course for their future. All of that is part of your “brand.”

There’s a big difference between an advisory firm’s brand and pretty much any other industry’s brand. One of the main reasons is that advisors aren’t allowed to use many of the marketing tactics that help establish brands in other industries:

  • Testimonials from people who have good opinions of the brand
  • Proof that the product/company works
  • Guarantees or warranties
  • Many advisors seem to take this as an excuse to not worry about how their brand is perceived. They use an out-of-date logo, a website that was built ages ago and is difficult to navigate, never show any transparency, and wonder why new clients aren’t steadily coming their way.

    Clearly, branding is important to the advisory industry. But what does it look like?

    First, let’s establish a working definition of brand:

    The objective but immaterial sum total of user experiences around a person or company that is based in fact and emotion.

    That’s a little technical, so let’s break it down.


    We’ll start at the end of the definition. Whenever a prospect or client interacts with you, your website, your receptionist, your quarterly reports, your newsletters, or your client onboarding process, they have emotions about those interactions. You want those emotions to be as positive as possible. Advisors are a dime a dozen, but a remarkably positive experience is the kind of thing that gets shared.

    Let’s think about this in terms of your internet service provider. Regardless of which one you use, they are trying very, very hard to create a brand that says they are customer focused, customer friendly, and affordable.

    If you are like most people, those probably aren’t the first adjectives that come to mind when you think of your provider. Maybe it’s the long wait to talk to a helpful human when you have a problem or the monthly bill being higher than they said it would be every month, but most people are struggling to find a brand that’s lovable in that space.

    The companies themselves are trying. They’re putting out cute little robot figures and adorable people in commercials to try to show how wonderful they are, but to convince you, they have to overcome the emotion of their many negative user experiences. In the US, internet service providers haven’t been able to curate their brands well , primarily due to their abysmal customer service.

    Now think of Target. Target used to be pretty much the same as Walmart, KMart and the like. It was just another discount retailer. But then Target got smart.

    They made their aisles wider. They focused on partnering with specific designers to bring them to the mass market. They started purchasing with very specific clientele in mind.

    The result is a brand following that no other discount retailer can match. Target found a way to emotionally connect with customers that gave them much greater market share. People don’t just shop there because it’s cheap and nearby. They shop at Target because of how it makes them feel. Which is to say, most people feel very good inside of a Target.

    In both cases the perceptions of these brands have been built by consumers. They are influenced by the companies but what ultimately matters is how consumers perceive the brand.

    What Can Advisors Learn from Internet Service Providers?

    One of the main reasons people dislike internet service providers so much is because they seem to have no idea how people want to be treated. Somewhere along the line, they become company-focused rather than customer-focused. On the other hand, Target found success by understanding and delighting their customers.

    Think about areas of your firm that feature client interactions, whether it’s on your website, in the office, or on the phone:

  • Is your process easy for end users to navigate? Consider your onboarding process, client portal, how people schedule appointments, how they contact you…..
  • Are you focused on client or company satisfaction?
  • What parts of your process could be frustrating for end users?
  • Are you difficult to get a hold of?
  • Is it easy for clients to reset their passwords in your client portal?
  • Do you respond to emails quickly and clearly?
  • Do you offer printed and digital quarterly reports for clients who might want one or the other?
  • Fact

    Every brand has undeniable facts attached to it in the form of brand elements. Your brand elements are real pieces of collateral that speak to your brand’s persona . The typeface of your logo, the colors, and the words you use on your website are tangible pieces that shape your brand’s perception. These aspects of your brand are much easier to control than the emotional factors.

    To examine these parts of your brand, look at all of the physical pieces of your letterhead, business cards, brochures, above the fold website homepage, and any other important documents that serve as introductory pieces to your firm.

    Perception begins the moment someone gets your business card or visits your website. Are you giving the right first impression? Try to look at these pieces with fresh eyes to see if they’re communicating what you want.

  • Is it time to update your logo?
  • Does your site’s homepage indicate that you understand your clients ?
  • Are your brochures too technical for prospects to understand?
  • People and Companies

    We haven’t even gotten to one of the biggest parts of your brand: You . Lots of people don’t really like hearing that, but it’s true.

    Every time your grandmother gave you an odd sweater at Christmas and you swore you would never wear anything like that, you were talking about your brand. You say things a certain way. You buy certain things. You have preferences and those preferences, along with the way you interact with others are your brand.

    Are you a hugger?

    Are you a story teller?

    Do you like to ask other people questions about themselves?

    Are you happiest when left alone to see a project to completion without interruption?

    Those are all a part of your personal brand.

    And believe it or not, a big reason your clients chose you is because of your personal brand. They probably perceive you as some combination of trustworthy, professional, funny, and kind.

    If you rush through client meetings because you want to get back to the “real work,” that’s affecting your personal brand.

    For instance, I once interacted with a company where no one would answer their phones. When it would ring, the employees would look at the caller id and if it wasn’t a personal call, they let it go to voicemail.

    When I asked someone about it, they explained that it was easier to just listen to a customer’s message and do what they asked. They didn’t want to waste any time talking through details.

    It was so strange to me, because as an individual, I value customer service so highly. I could not fathom pushing someone to leave their concerns on voicemail if I could talk through it with them. The employees’ brand was not focused on customer service. They valued efficiency above relationships.

    Simone Weil said that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” When you’re on the phone with a client, are you fully engaged in that conversation, or are you typing an email to another client? Does each of your clients get your full attention? Whether your answer is yes or no, it’s affecting your brand.

    The Sum of User Experiences

    Advisor brands are incredibly important because client testimonials are not allowed to be formally shared. Making sure that your clients’ user experiences are positive and worth talking about to their family and friends is paramount. Locating pain points for your clients and providing solutions that reflect your values as an advisor will go a long way in creating a positive, but unique brand.

    Every call, every web visit, every in-person meeting builds your brand in a positive or negative manner. Hiring and training your staff, providing online places for interaction and reaching out to your clients with this in mind will help you build a brand that lives up to the ideals you express in your marketing collateral.

    Want some help evaluating your brand? Drop us a line .