Skip to main content

You are here


It's a Big Brand World

Americans are exposed to as many as 5,000 advertisements per day.[1. Johnson, Sheree. “New Research Sheds Light on Daily Ad Exposures,” SJ Insights. September 2014.] In today’s fast-paced world, we are constantly forced to choose: Coke vs. Pepsi, Nike vs. Reebok, Starbucks vs. Dunkin Donuts… and of course, advisor vs. advisor.

Big brands like Coke and Starbucks know that it’s imperative to build a strong, recognizable brand and consistently stay in front of their consumers and prospects. These goliath brands did not reach their status by staying hidden, nor did they stop advertising once they became household names.

Here’s an action plan for building your brand.

1. Organize

When you meet with a plan sponsor for the first time, what documents do you request? Chances are you ask for a copy of their service provider agreements, TPA invoices, investment lineup, 408(b)2 notice, meeting minutes and possibly a plan census. You need this information to complete a plan analysis. You need to see where the plan is today so you can apply your experience to understand where you can enhance the offering.

Let’s take this approach to your own business. This is your opportunity to do a brand evaluation. Gather all of your marketing materials to date and spread them across your boardroom table. Don’t forget that this evaluation includes your website and other digital material as well!

When you compare your pieces side-by-side, do you see a strong, coherent depiction of your firm with a clear, consistent, professional message? Or a jumbled mess of pieces that may stand out on their own but together look mismatched?

If you answered the latter, it’s time to organize your thoughts and unify your brand. When you think of Starbucks, you can immediately picture their deep green circular mermaid logo, clean, crisp fonts, retro-style graphics and whimsical swirly designs. This did not happen by chance. All professional organizations, even in the financial industry, have a brand standards guide — a formal written document that defines the firm’s image.

A brand standards guide is like an owner’s manual on how to use your brand. Essentially this document will catalogue the specific colors, type, logos, imagery, patterns and taglines of your company and how they can and cannot be used to create brand equity. Having consistent branding and messaging builds trust with your clients, prospects and other industry leaders.

Your guidelines may vary depending on size and application of your business. Here are examples of an extremely well done corporate brand standards guideline and one for a startup. Yours might fall somewhere in the middle, but the concept is the same: a clear and thoughtful storyboard of your firm.

2. Formalize

Once you have your brand down pat, it’s time to formalize. This is where you will put your brand standards to good use. To really take your office to the next level, a suite of marketing materials such as brochures, service calendars, factfinders, agendas and pitchbooks are a sure-fire way to stand out. Don’t forget about your digital office as well: your website! A well-designed website consistent with your brand standards builds immediate trust.

Click here to read more commentary from Rebecca Hourihan.

Having a team dedicated to producing materials consistent with your brand standards solidifies your company image. By sharing high-quality content that is professionally branded and designed, you establish your firm as a leader, while making a memorable impression.

3. Implement

Great — you have brand consistency throughout your physical and digital materials. Now you need to implement. What good is your material if no one sees it? You need a marketing strategy built to engage your plan sponsor prospects and centers of influence.

In marketing, each interaction with a prospect, whether it is a phone call, an email or social media, is called a touchpoint. The average advisor office touches their prospects 20 times per year — a drop in the bucket compared to the 5,000 advertising touches Americans experience on a daily basis. It was once believed that it took seven touches to convert a cold lead into a sale. That belief was formed before LinkedIn, before Twitter, and before the evolution of automated emails. We can assure you, it takes more than seven.

A great marketing strategy would be one that takes minimal time on your behalf to implement, reaches your prospects across multiple channels, offers quality and applicable plan sponsor facing content, and does so on an ongoing and consistent basis.

4. Monitor

Marketing is not a one-and-done process; it takes time and consistency. As your marketing journey continues, you must monitor, evaluate, and adjust. It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Well, marketing is more like a slow-growing tree. You need to plant the sapling and water it, and it will mature over time. A prudent process is necessary for all aspects of our financial world, including investment advice, retirement planning, fiduciary responsibility, and marketing your retirement expertise. Therefore, monitor and objectively evaluate your brand, content and influence.

As a business owner and retirement plan advisor, you understand the fiduciary process of organizing, formalizing, implementing and monitoring. Now it’s time to apply that same approach to constructively evaluating your brand. Professional branding could be the differentiator you need to demonstrate your experience and increase your retirement plan business.

Rebecca Hourihan, AIF, PPC, is the founder and CMO of 401(k) Marketing.