When I was younger, I remember being told by my parents to “be your own person” and “never be a follower.” They encouraged me to stand out from the crowd. Not only are these valuable life lessons for personal reasons, they are also valuable branding lessons for marketers, too, especially financial services marketers. In an industry where sameness is prevalent, let’s be reminded about the power of differentiation and the impact it has on your firm’s overall growth.
First, let’s go back to the basics. That is, as basic as the very definition of the word “branding.”
According to BusinessDictionary.com, branding is defined as “the process involved in creating unique name and image for a product in the consumer’s mind. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.”
Don’t be a follower
By definition, there is an emphasis on bringing something new to the table. But, that’s not the reality. Unfortunately, “me-too” branding is a common trend in asset management. See it for yourself by taking a look at bland taglines and overly generalized mission statements. In an age of digital disruption and undoing the status quo, it’s more important than ever for firms to stand out from the crowd. It’s definitely tougher to develop a distinctive brand in a regulated and often-perceived rigid industry (a “numbers” business), but it’s very possible.
Here are three ways to tell a different brand story:
Dare to go digital
Differentiate your asset management brand by taking on digital, not avoiding it. Some of the biggest and best brands in the industry, such as Barclays Wealth, BlackRock and Goldman Sachs, have digital marketing departments that have transformed client-advisor communication and the process of gathering financial information with their website. There are many different ways to do this, but I will cover the two biggies — the creation of a dynamic website and the adoption of social media.
1. Create a dynamic, interactive website. Many asset manager websites are static — brochureware that never make a connection with the website’s visitors. The best sites in the biz have digital tools with interactive data displays like fund comparison and fund performance tools so that the user can obtain useful information to help them in their decision-making process.
Your website is an educational tool. Besides providing interactive data tools, provide targeted marketing collateral on your site, Q&A’s, insights, and blog with varied, segmented content to appeal to distinct types of investors.
And of course, we don’t want to forget the most obvious aspect — quality site design. For a little inspiration, check out this list for some of the best-designed asset management websites, including use of color, logo, search ability and navigation, typography and animation. Or see this SlideShare deck on Design for Differentiation.
2. Adopt social media. Building your brand on social media is a low cost way of tapping into a new audience. You can develop these relationships in two ways — by creating new ones and strengthening old ones. The end result is greater transparency, trust and brand awareness. Since this is a “numbers” business, there are stats to support the importance of social media for financial professionals.
– 32% of advisors who used LinkedIn report seeing and incremental impact on their bottom line of over $1 million in new AUM
– 45% of twitter’s adult account holders are interacting with financial services firms
Develop a crystal clear purpose
One-liners are common in mission statements:
“We want to create a sustainable added value for our clients.”
“We communicate openly and transparently.”
“We place our client relationships first.”
How are these really resonating with people? They aren’t.
As a brand ambassador, it’s important to ask yourself “Why are we in business and what is our focus?”
Create a vibrant culture
The most recognizable and respected companies have a strong place in the industry because they take time to cultivate their individuality and check that it resonates with their audience. The top firms in asset management do this well, such as BNY Mellon, BlackRock, Vanguard and PIMCO. They have very developed brands with experienced thought leaders, an understanding of their wide range of services and products, well-managed social media channels, big sponsored events, and high quality marketing collateral.
All of these facets are carefully considered and planned so the values, purpose and message of the firm are consistent across all channels.
Small, but mighty
As a firm grows, it becomes more institutionalized which changes the vision and the culture. This is why boutique asset managers have an advantage in creating and evolving a brand. Since they are smaller, they are more nimble and quick, maintaining a more narrow focus and a more unique investment style than their larger counterparts. If you’re with a smaller firm, your flexibility and agility can be mighty assets.
Will a new year mean a new improved you?
2014 is coming to a close. With marketing budget planning and a fresh start, it’s a better time than ever to think about where you want to take your firm in the new year. How are you using digital tools, your purpose and your culture to differentiate yourself in an oversaturated market?