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BUSINESS PRACTICES 

BUSINESS PRACTICES


Building Your Practice

Presence in Your Absence

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What Clients Say About You When You're Not There

Failure to build an effective brand potentially can limit the ability to grow a successful advisory practice.

As a financial advisor, how do you create presence in your absence? How do you get clients to tell your story when you’re not around? How do you differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace?

Answering these questions is key to future growth, enhancing your client experience, and creating a brand that enables you to stand out from the competition. Unfortunately, many advisors do not do this effectively. To the typical client, the image they create is not easily distinguished from others in the profession.

How can you create a brand that truly sets you apart? It may not be as difficult as you think. This paper will focus on how to build an effective brand, one that can attract prospects to your firm, solidifies relationships with existing clients, and helps to build successful alliances with professional centers of-influence (COIs).

Here are the three pillars of our approach:

  1. Building the Brand
  2. Messaging and Communicating the Brand
  3. Brand Implementation

All three are necessary for what we call creating “presence in your absence”—or taking control of how you’re perceived when you’re not in the room.

Building The Brand

When we think about brand, most financial advisors may think about their company brand—the firm’s strengths and vast array of services offered in the marketplace. Our view of branding is deeper: It’s also about you. In a crowded financial marketplace, an advisor must set expectations about both personal and business characteristics which differentiate you. You are the brand. 

Elements of Your Brand

Key elements of building your brand:

  • What do you want to be known for—your unique value?
  • What do you and your team do for the clients you serve?
  • How do you do it?
  • How does a client benefit from working with you?

Uncovering your unique value can help build trust, which is fundamental to building a long-term professional relationship. That’s especially true when the experience matches the message.

Benefit Orientation

Often, advisors spend too much of their valuable time with clients talking about products—what they do, how they work, and what services they provide. Our clients are less interested in products and services and more interested in what our products and services can provide for them—clarity, comfort, confidence, and freedom. The difference is how clients feel when they do business with you.

Being good at communicating the benefits you provide to clients through the products and services you offer can become a differentiator. Creating a message that is clear, concise, memorable, and consistent across all forms of media—personal interactions, email, newsletters, blogs, brochures, websites, and tweets—can help create a “presence in your absence.” Would you prefer that your clients share the key points that you believe differentiate you? Most advisors would.

The Branding Continuum

Your branding continuum (see below) encompasses all the ways you market to your clients, prospects, and centers-of-influence. There are active and passive forms of delivery as well as different types of marketing/media—all of which are important when building, messaging, and implementing an effective brand. Taken as a whole, these forms can be very powerful. 

Messaging-and-Branding

For illustrative purposes only.

Active Branding

Active branding is the art of engaging directly with clients and attempting to create a favorable perception of your practice. Each form of active branding has potential benefits and drawbacks to consider.

A positioning statement, or elevator speech, is a useful means of answering the most common question from potential clients: “What exactly do you do?” It helps you share key information about your practice in a memorable way. The downside of a positioning statement is that it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd; the short format often allows you to forget to include how clients can benefit from working with you.

Use simple, plain English. Avoid acronyms and industry jargon such as alpha, beta, or efficient frontier.

Your capabilities overview is the starting point for your branding efforts. It affords an opportunity to answer the question, “Why should I work with you?” A capabilities overview can include a visually attractive leave-behind. Among the benefits, your ability to deliver a memorable capabilities overview can set you apart from the competition by making clear how you can help the client achieve key goals. The drawback is that many overviews consist of inconsistent verbal delivery which may be difficult for clients to remember or repeat.

A new client presentation helps you deliver the “Why” before the “How” in person, ideally in a dynamic and engaging way. Your discussion can be structured and interactive, depending on client preference (and your own preference). The drawback is the risk of a “feature rich and benefit poor” presentation which informs potential clients about details but buries the reason why they should listen or care. Another risk is the potential for burdening potential clients with unnecessary industry jargon, complex charts and graphs, or investment strategy detail with too little explanation of benefits. 

Be client-focused. Share benefit-rich information that clearly explains what’s in it for the client.

Active social media offers an opportunity to communicate actively to spread the word about who you are and what you do. An active Twitter feed, for instance, can help spur your “followers” into thinking more realistically about retirement planning, improve their financial literacy, or inform them on markets. Drawbacks of active social media include the substantial daily time and energy which successful engagement requires, plus the need to ensure that all communications are additive to your brand and do not inadvertently damage your reputation (not to mention conform to your firm’s compliance guidelines).

Passive Branding
Passive branding does not, generally speaking, require your engagement to be effective. A website is one example of passive branding. The site enables viewer access to key information about your practice, such as your investment philosophy, team member biographies, and your firm’s focus. The most basic forms of social media are also passive. A LinkedIn page often reads much like a resume and is usually not a dynamic medium. As with active branding, each form of passive branding has benefits and drawbacks.

A marketing brochure is a form of passive branding which helps tell your story and ideally communicates in a visually appealing format. The drawback is that communicating the benefits of your practice in a compelling manner is often overlooked or neglected.

A biography is an essential tool in building trust and awareness of your background and experience. It shares your history with clients and prospects, and builds your credibility. But a biography, much like other pieces of prepared text, is less a tool of client engagement and more of a leave-behind.

Passive social media can help you build credibility—for instance, through a detailed and up-to-date LinkedIn profile, advisors can offer potential clients an idea of what to expect in the event that they choose to work with you. It can also potentially open your audience in a significant way, including to people with whom you’d otherwise have little or no interaction. Potential drawbacks: (1)Social media can devolve into a “push” of information onto other social media users. (2)Social media may not be very benefit-oriented: How many LinkedIn pages communicate a value proposition effectively? (3)Client confidentiality may become a problem, for instance, if you “friend” a client on Facebook.

A website helps you build awareness of your practice or your team, and ideally serves as an anchor to the potentially large body of content about your practice which may exist on the Internet. For most advisors, having a basic website (or, ideally, a sophisticated one) is a business necessity. The drawback is that your ability to reach out to viewers for further interaction is limited.

Getting Started

How do you begin to build this effective brand? Answer the following five questions and organize your responses into an effective format for the client.

Who are you?
What do you do?
How do you do it?
What makes you different? (most difficult to answer)
Why should someone do business with you?

It’s not necessary to go beyond creating bullet point answers to these questions. When talking to clients/prospects, you should engage in a two-way conversation. Through the course of this dialogue, these fives questions come up regularly in one form or another.
Once you have answered these questions, you should put them in a format that is easy to understand, easy to remember, and to the point.

  • Be professional and don’t “wing it.” When it comes to answering these questions, use benefit-rich language. For every answer, consider, “What’s in it for the client/prospect?” If your response addresses this question, you have identified points that help build your brand.
  • Stay simple. Use plain English. Avoid acronyms and industry jargon such as alpha, beta, or efficient frontier.
  • Be client focused. Share benefit-rich information that clearly explains what’s in it for the client.
  • Adhere to the rule of three. Remember, “Larry, Moe, & Curly,” “Stop, Drop, & Roll,” “Win, Lose, or Draw.” People remember phrases in groups of three, and they are easily repeatable.

Once the building phase is completed, it’s important to share it with your clients/prospects effectively. Help bring your brand to life and make it more than words on a page or images on an iPad.

Communicating Your Brand

If you want clients and prospects to remember your brand and tell your story, keep it simple.

Here are three ideas for improved client communications.

Talk about client benefits. Once you’ve identified three themes that clearly differentiate your brand, it’s time to connect the dots for your clients by explicitly sharing what’s-in-it-for-them. As an example, one of your themes may consist of following a “disciplined process.” You explain all the aspects of your disciplined process. What’s missing? Clients need to hear what’s in it for them. For example, “confidence that we will uncover your goals and priorities, and create a plan tailored specifically to you.”

Share real-life stories. In recent years several books have focused on the importance of storytelling in sales. Their message is clear—stories resonate with clients who better understand and connect them to their own situation. So, share stories and examples of what has benefited your clients, while still maintaining client confidentiality.

Keep it simple. As the saying goes, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” That’s exactly our approach to helping you explain the benefits you provide to clients, and more importantly, the value you bring to their financial future.
Typical business language is packed with investment concepts and strategies, acronyms, and jargon that only we understand. Most advisors are eager to share information on every service they provide. Most clients have no idea what Modern Portfolio Theory is, so don’t use the term. You need to explain planning and investing in straightforward language to help them truly understand what they need to know. This sounds basic, but we’ve found that it’s where most advisors stumble.
If you want clients and prospects to remember your brand and tell your story, keep it simple. 

Brand Implementation

What’s next? Start vetting it. Revise it. Don’t forget compliance review. Then, launch it.

Once you’ve determined that your brand is resonating with the team and potential clients, it’s time to consider how to weave this new brand, in some way, into all the methods you use to communicate with existing and potential clients, as well as centers-of-influence. The key is to create a consistent message and reinforce your brand. This should be illustrated in your:

  • Brochures
  • Biographies
  • Presentations and Pitchbooks
  • Website
  • LinkedIn Profile, and other social media

Remember that you are trying to help clients tell your story in your words, so effective messaging and branding helps you “manage the echo.”

If you fail to shape client perceptions of your unique value and your abilities, somebody else may do it for you—and you may not like what fills the vacuum. For this reason, creating presence in your absence is more than a useful exercise. It’s a business necessity.

Conclusion

Realize that the brand is more than your firm—the brand is you. Effective messaging and branding requires you to answer the basic differentiating questions: Who are you? What do you do? How do you do it? Why should someone do business with you? What makes you different? As you answer these questions, be sure to employ benefit-rich language and avoid jargon. Use every form of branding at your disposal, from “passive” mediums such as your website to “active” engagements such as a carefully crafted elevator pitch and client presentations. Additionally, avoid the trap of “feature rich and benefit poor” language.

Accomplish these tasks and you’ll influence the way clients and prospects talk about you when you’re not in the room—the hallmark of effective branding.