Want to see how your prospects see you? Go ugly.

A while back, I was invited to an advisor’s office to discuss marketing and how we can assist in his growth goals.  The meeting started great with handshakes, small talk and the usual chatter about my favorite baseball team – the Cubs, not having won a World Series for over 100 years.

When it came time to get down to business, I asked the advisor to tell me about his business and what sets him apart in his community.  Tony (fake name) told me about his passion for planning and his ability to communicate complex planning processes to high-net-worth clients.  He was proud of the fact that he was really the only “true planner” in the county.  You could see the gleam in his eye as he proceeded to tell all of us in the room how he helped family after family. 

Unfortunately, today, he is in a rut.  None of his marketing is working.  His firm is not growing, and he hasn’t been seeing many new prospects, if any at all.

When it came to my turn to talk, I had to challenge Tony on his brand.  In my mind, your brand is not what you say, it’s:

  • What your clients see
  • What your clients say, and
  • How your clients communicate about you.

Picture this example for a second…  I travel quite a bit and when I travel, it usually means late dinners with clients or colleagues and then an early morning run (see “Torture Worth Enduring“).   I’m not sure why, but it seems that many hotels don’t believe in cutting back on wattage in their bathrooms.  (Why use a 60 watt bulb when six 100 watt bulbs will do fine, Mr. Marriott?)  Inevitably, first thing in the morning, I look in the mirror, with little sleep and under the brightest lights possible, I will be facing the ugliest me there is. That is the ugly look, my friends – and we have all been there.

I asked Tony to take the “ugly” look at his firm. Under the bright lights, when we looked around at Tony’s office, we saw three sales awards from a variable annuity company that were more than eight years old, pens and trinkets from almost every well-known mutual fund and VA company, an Ibbotson chart (of course) showing the growth of the market, and CNBC on the TV – although muted, it seemed to be screaming at me through the small monitor.  Taking it even further, his firm name was “(Tony’s Last Name) Investments” and his waiting room was filled with financial services trade newspapers and magazines. 

When Tony took the bright-lights “ugly” look at his office, he saw an investment firm, not a planning firm.  In the bright, cold, morning light, he saw what his prospects saw:  someone who sold financial products, not someone who could help them create multigenerational wealth.    That was not the message he was trying to communicate and it didn’t differentiate him from the wirehouse broker down the street.

For the rest of the meeting, we discussed branding strategies and opportunities in his current book to begin the process of transforming the perception of the prospects and the community. 

Ask your clients to show you the ugly

At SEI, we recently formed a strategic relationship with Advisor Impact, a firm that many of you know can do a great job of creating client surveys.  What better way to find out about your brand than to ask your clients.  Whether it’s Advisor Impact, creating an advisory board, or picking up the phone and asking all your clients, knowing your brand matters.

And when you ask them, tell them you want the “ugly” version.


John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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