After the 2008 financial crisis, more advisors began to embrace independence, especially as some of the big names in the brokerage business were in the headlines for mergers, bailouts and Congressional hearings. Many clients recognized that their wealth is not managed by the big name on the letterhead, but by the individual advisor they trust.
So a big brand name has become far less important than it once was. Yet the fact remains that a smaller advisory firm, like any business, still needs to focus on establishing a clear identity. This process is critical to defining the firm’s future growth and sustainability by helping to drive client acquisition and retention.
Going Beyond the Name
Many think of a firm’s name, or brand, as the logo or slogan that represents it. But a real brand comes out of the passion that built the firm to start with, and it’s defined by a clear understanding of who the advisor is and what he or she stands for. It is from there that the firm can establish the core of a successful brand: the differentiator. What it is your firm can offer that no other firm can?
Consider that your differentiator is essentially a service covenant—by which any successful firm operates—and delivering on that covenant is at the root of where your brand lives and breathes. It takes knowing your client stakeholder group, understanding their needs, and identifying the right business model to meet those needs.
Upon identifying your differentiator, the brand itself should be developed in a way that is clear and repetitious in nature, both to clients and within the organization. All related business functions and marketing efforts—such as client acquisition and retention, internal corporate culture, platform capabilities and support, organic growth, and M&A—support the brand and the value proposition it represents.
How One Advisor Did It
Lori Van Dusen, founder and CEO of Rochester, N.Y.-based LVW Advisors, spent the early part of her career at Citigroup and Smith Barney building the practice that she defines today as “holistic and objective.” But her model was unsustainable in the wirehouse world, as her high-net-worth and institutional base grew and their requirements became more complex. Known for her “client-centered approach” well before she took the leap toward independence in 2011, Van Dusen formed LVW Advisors with the goal of having “the best possible solution” for her clients. She put her name behind the firm—LVW stands for Lori Van Dusen Wealth—and established a value proposition to base her brand upon: “Results-driven service. Expansive research. No cookie-cutter advice.”
The firm developed strategic relationships with six specialty-research providers. And through the firm’s partnership with Focus Financial, they offer some of the leading tools and resources available, customized for their high-net-worth and institutional client base.
In the case of LVW, establishing and delivering on a brand rooted in their core differentiator garnered them not only impressive business growth, but also recognition on top advisor rankings.
Given the successes we’ve seen in the breakaway advisor movement, a name proves to be far more about delivering on the value proposition that an advisor or firm has defined, rather than the big brand name itself. Although the budgets and marketing plans for a newly launched independent firm may not be the same as a big wirehouse, establishing a process to define, build and nurture a brand is a vital component of any firm looking to compete and grow in the future.