Branding is not easy — just ask Ford Motor Company, the American automaker that famously introduced its Pinto in Brazil, oblivious to the fact that the name would translate locally as “tiny male genitals.”
When applied to a product as esoteric as financial advice, the issue of branding becomes even more difficult. Throw a little curve into the mix — perhaps the need to communicate a shift in focus at a financial practice — and you've got a doozy of a task on your hands, one confronting an increasing number of advisors.
At issue is this: In order to attract the most lucrative clients, advisors understand they need to transform themselves from investment managers to wealth managers. The problem is communicating this shift to clients.
Jerry, a successful veteran advisor, told me at a practice management seminar that trying to describe his new direction to clients left him feeling “transparent.”
And confused. “My mind is buzzing,” he said. “I'm thinking of newspaper ads, radio spots and even bringing all my clients together for a big seminar to explain my new approach.”
Part of the problem facing Jerry and advisors like him is that they cannot simply take Ford's approach, which was to simply shift to a new brand name. (Ford renamed the Pinto, Corcel, which translated to “horse.”)
An advisor's rebranding would be more akin to renaming the company itself, a process that has befuddled many a firm.
Take the Long Way Home
The first thing to keep in mind is that there are no shortcuts. Smooth elevator speeches to clients or unique value propositions may prove helpful in the long run, but these will ring hollow if not supported with substance.
Rebranding is a relatively simple process — but one advisors must execute one high-net-worth client at a time, one high-net-worth upgrade at a time, one center-of-influence at a time.
There are five steps in the process:
One: Establish your new, improved role
My company's research tells us clearly that the wealthy do not want a salesperson handling their complex financial affairs. Rather, they seek a trusted professional to coordinate their multidimensional financial affairs. It's important to establish what that expanded role will look like and how it will it benefit clients. Also, advisors must convince each client and center-of-influence of those benefits.
Two: Develop a financial advisory process
To deliver on a promise of being a go-to manager of financial affairs, an advisor needs a clearly defined process for pulling all of the client's financial parts together into an integrated whole. This is more than an investment process, or the process in which an advisor might present managed money, or even the process he might use to prepare a financial plan. In a nutshell, the advisor wants his value to become market-irrelevant. The financial advisory process is the platform that enables all of this to occur.
In this stage, advisors must ask themselves the following questions: What financial areas am I coordinating? How will I pull everything together? Who are the experts and specialists I will call upon for expert advice? How will my advising and review process ensure the relevance and timeliness of everything I do with and for each client?
Three: One client at a time
Once an advisor has established his new and improved professional self, he would be wise to showcase it one high-net-worth client at a time. The goal is to retain key clients. It is amazing how often financial advisors have initiated this process only to discover that some of their key clients were in the process of looking for another advisor. Your effort to retain those clients will become a major source for introductions and referrals to prospects. For many financial professionals, this is a very uncomfortable experience, at least initially. But the rewards can be immediate. Mark, a 12-year veteran, gives us a perfect example:
My clients like me, and as far as I know, trust me. But deep inside, I knew they thought of me as their stockbroker. Initially I was in denial, assuming I was already using a financial advisory process. Losing a key client got my attention. I lined up my specialists, created an organizer, formalized my financial advisory process and met with two good clients. Not only did they buy the new-and-improved me, one changed his will and put me as the executor of his estate. The other introduced me to a $1.7 million prospect who became a client after our second meeting.
Marks' case illustrates the power of doing versus assuming. After his wake-up call, he formalized his services, added specialists and presented his new financial advisory process professionally. It shows how simple rebranding can be. He now has a value proposition/elevator speech that reflects the new-and-improved Mark, which makes it both real and simple. His one-client-at-a-time approach has already affected his rebranding efforts in steps four and five.
Four: One center-of-influence at a time
Every center-of-influence needs a face-to-face meeting similar to the one used with your existing clients. Basically, these are occasions to explain how a business has changed and why.
Five: One prospect at a time
By this time, an advisor should already have received introductions and referrals, both from key clients and from centers-of-influence. It's at this stage you can forget mass mailings, cold calls and even seminars. They will not rebrand you, and they have the potential of confirming the worst — that you are a salesperson.
It's important to follow up immediately on the offers of invitations and referrals to prospects that you have received in steps three and four. The key is to do it methodically and patiently. Above all, good brands take time to establish.
Writer's BIO: Matt Oechsli is author of Building a Successful 21st Century Financial Practice: Attracting, Servicing & Retaining Affluent' Clients.