Developing a brand can pinpoint where you stand in the market.

A brand enables clients to sense what they can expect from you. Powerful things brands! You may not have realised it, but you already have the bare bones of a brand. Your firm’s name, the way the phone is answered, how promptly you deal with matters, whether promises are kept (or not) and what your clients say about you, all convey an impression of your company and how you do business.

Saying the right things, in the right places

Getting noticed in these over-marketed, cynical and highly competitive times is more difficult than ever — especially for service businesses such as IFAs. Unlike the Wongas, First Directs and the Hiscox’ of this world, most IFAs compete and market their services on a very personal or local level.

Despite what you might think, building a strong brand is not just for slick, famous, fashionable, large and national/international companies: small companies can do it as well — albeit on a different scale. But no matter whether the market for your services runs to millions, thousands or hundreds, you’ll still gain by developing a local or regional brand, built using the same techniques as the very largest international businesses employ.

If some of your market knows (or thinks they know) of your name or existence, then you have the bare bones of a brand. And when you sell your firm, a strong brand, successful marketing strategy and a good reputation, will all be of value to the buyer.

Marketing and branding — two sides of the same coin

Marketing is tactical; it is the direct promotion of a product or service — e.g. “Buy my service because it’s better than theirs”. Whereas branding is strategic and indirect. The brand conveys to the client “These are my values, this is my purpose. If you recognise and like what I stand for, then you should use and recommend my services.” A strong brand defines your identity, facilitates the sales process, imbues confidence throughout the firm and encourages clients to become advocates of your service.

Living up to the promise

For a brand to work, it must must be a truthful reflection of what you and your firm stand for. You must be comfortable with all aspects of your brand. If you’re not a Richard Branson or a Martin Lewis then it’s probably not a good idea to try and emulate the ‘man of the people’ approach. After all, modesty also has its attractions and fans! If your gut feel is that a marketing strategy doesn’t ‘feel right’, if you find it difficult to express what your brand stands for in an honest, confident passionate manner, then it’s not going to work for you. And as unlikely as it may sound, values such as professionalism, thoroughness, expertise, integrity and value for money can all be conveyed and perceived through appropriate and consistent branding.

It’s branding clients remember, not marketing

Marketing without the benefit of a strong brand is akin to swimming upstream: it can be done, but it’s much harder work. So you can’t have one without the other. Relevant and meaningful branding will make your marketing easier and more effective. The attributes clients associate with your brand, are your identity as a business and represents your company in the marketplace. Building a brand and spelling out your competitive advantages, enables clients to grasp what differentiates you from your competitors. And in the process, understand why that difference will serve their needs better. The difference does not necessarily have to be a service feature, it can be symbolic or emotional. Providing the difference (no matter how small) is meaningful to the client, it will be sufficient to distance you from the competition.

Having identified who you are and your brand identity, you then need to formulate and communicate — in a committed and consistent manner — the message you wish to convey.

Usually that takes the form of a positioning statement: a few, well chosen words that describe how your service differs to your competitor’s. The acid test for any positioning statement is does it answer this question: Why should l, a free-thinking potential client, seek advice from you rather than your competitors?

Developing your brand and improving your marketing is not expensive

Contrary to what you might think, it is not financially or operationally impractical for a small IFA to develop a marketing and brand building plan. Inexpensive, simple and quick-to-implement ideas can be just as effective as the expensive, complex and time-consuming variety.

In marketing, energy and talent can be more important than budget.
Contact: Terence Martin +44 (0)1227 656027 +44 (0)7740 422755