Advisors: Create A ‘Weird’ Brand That’s Yours And Yours Alone

New advisors know that if they’re going to launch a practice from the ground up, they need to build a brand. So they ask themselves, “What message do I want to convey to my target market?


Answering that question is surprisingly hard for many advisors. And even if you identify a core message that resonates with your audience, that’s only a starting point to establish a brand identity.

Sara Grillo is a New York City-based marketing consultant who works with financial advisors. A chartered financial analyst, Grillo urges advisors to treat their brand as a reflection of their authentic self.

In this interview with IBD, Grillo discusses how advisors can personalize their social media presence to build their brand. She also suggests ways to raise your online profile so that prospects are more apt to find you. By choosing a distinctive niche, you differentiate yourself and attract the kind of clients you seek.

Build A Brand The Smart Way

IBD: Do advisors pay enough attention to building their brand?

Grillo: A lot of advisors don’t understand what branding is. In the past, a brand was defined by products, AUM (assets under management) or investment performance. Now, I’m seeing a shift from the tangible to the intangible. The value proposition was expressed by something tangible. That’s no longer the case.

IBD: What intangible qualities are you referring to?

Grillo: A brand is a theme or an idea. It’s like a current that runs through everything you do as a firm. It’s not a logo on your water bottle or something you put on your website. Brands are about you. They are becoming less corporate and more genuine.

IBD: Can you give an example?

Grillo: A few years ago, it was rare to see an advisor snap photos and post them for people to see. Now, photos are popular with advisors who take them with their pets or their hobbies or where they volunteer. I have a client, an advisor who was looking to hire employees at his firm. I told him, “Send me your wildest picture.” He sent a picture of him holding a baby alligator on a beach. So we posted the photo (on social media) and wrote, “Wouldn’t you love to work for someone who loves animals?”

IBD: Did he get a good response?

Grillo: The comments were great. It got a lot of attention. The reason it worked is it’s true to him. He’s this older guy dressed in a nice button-down shirt. But he has a human side. It’s a personal picture, but we related it to his work.

Is Your Brand Personal Enough?

IBD: Is there a risk that by posting photos that showcase their personal life, advisors can sacrifice their privacy?

Grillo: Just give people a glimpse (of your personal life). Let them imagine more from that glimpse. Some people are showing too much. It’s better when you’re just getting a peek at it. If I had said to him, “Go pose for some pictures,” it wouldn’t work.

IBD: How can advisors strike the right balance to build their personal brand without going overboard with too much self-disclosure?

Grillo: It has to be about a 20% ratio of personal stuff to business stuff. So it should be one out of every five postings are personal.

IBD: How can advisors ensure that something they share with the public will reinforce their brand — and not backfire?

Grillo: There’s a lot of fear. They think, “What if I look stupid?” or “What if I reveal too much of my personal life?” That’s why it has to be genuine and (limited to) 20%.

IBD: You’ve talked about photos as a brand-building tool. Stepping back, what are broader ways to establish your brand?

Grillo: Most advisors know they should get a niche. I like to say, “Get a weird niche.” For example, I met an advisor who focuses on owners of tattoo shops. There’s no other advisor with that niche.

Build A Brand On A Niche

IBD: But what if your niche is too narrow?

Grillo: Part of branding is getting people to find you. There are a bunch of keywords that are up for grabs. So I’d find a weird niche and own the keywords for that niche. If somebody searches for an advisor for tattoo shop owners, you can be the only one they find.

IBD: Any tips on other keywords advisors should use — or avoid — in describing themselves?

Grillo: There are lots of advisors who describe themselves as fee-only. If somebody searches for fee-only advisors, you’re one of many so they may not find you. But if somebody searches “flat-fee financial advisor,” that doesn’t get as much traffic.

IBD: So it helps to define your brand with distinctive keywords while avoiding overused terms?

Grillo: Yes, and be more specific in your branding. If you’re a “flat-fee advisor in Boise, Idaho,” that’s even better. Who’s searching for that unless they’re really in the market for that? It’s a smaller volume of traffic. But those people who are looking for someone like you are more likely to find you and do business with you. You’ll rank higher (in search engine optimization) for your weird niche. So own (those keywords) now before someone else gets them.

IBD: Once you establish an untapped niche, any networking tips?

Grillo: If you have a weird niche, get some weird centers of influence. Don’t just go after the typical suspects: attorneys, accountants and people like that. Instead, think about the kind of businesses that interact with rich people — pool cleaning companies, hairdressers and private jet companies. Build your own online community of people who aren’t usually considered centers of influence for advisors.


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