Atlanta: “It dawned on me that our clients don’t really know what we do for them,” Tony sighed after explaining how he ran his practice. “Do you think we need to re-brand ourselves to existing clients?”

Tony’s question is right on target and one that every advisor should answer. In Tony’s case, he lost a good friend/client because of financial planning. Although Tony had mentioned the need for providing financial planning, he never pushed the issue. Why? Because planning wasn’t part of his core competencies and he had yet to incorporate it as a regular part of his practice. Tony was branded in the mind of this client as someone who handled investments.

Branding has become a hot topic as of late, and we touched upon it in the FastTrack for Growth newsletter for new advisors last week. But branding is equally as important for veterans. New advisors are starting their brand from scratch, whereas the astute veterans in today’s environment are working to re-brand their practice.

The reality is that every advisor has a brand. Whether you like it or not, you are the brand that defines how your practice is positioned. Everything about your practice is cumulative, the perception held by clients, referral alliance partners, affluent centers-of-influence, and your prospects. How is your practice positioned? Do they see your professional brand as a solutions provider for the multi-dimensional aspects of their financial affairs?

The objective is for you to be associated in their mind with five key elements; professional, likable, successful, dependable, and caring. Ideally, your clients, COIs, and prospects should have an immediate reaction that links you to all of these elements. The reality for many advisors like Tony is that they need to re-build the professional aspect of their brand. From Tony’s perspective he’s confident that his clients, referral partners, and COIs like him, view him as successful (as a stockbroker), consider him to be dependable, and, in Tony’s words, “I hope they think I care.”

Unfortunately, like so many advisors in today’s tumultuous times, Tony is making a lot of assumptions. This is a classic branding mistake. It’s not a matter of having a good client base pre-crisis, or possessing the best brochure or website; your brand is a composite that starts with doing many small things, one client, prospect, referral alliance partner, COI, new client at a time, over time.

Building a brand, especially in today’s environment, is entirely within your control. The following are five traits you would like to incorporate in your brand.

1. Professional
Whether it’s your existing clients, COIs or referral alliance partners, your first impression is a key aspect to your professional brand. Because you are the product, it’s essential that you are addressing the needs of today’s skittish affluent investor, which includes your clients. This involves far more than looking the part. You need to be organized, every member of your practice must be able to articulate your value proposition, and you must consistently deliver on every promise. And it goes much further; it involves your presence: confidence, energy, dress, shoulder bag/brief case/portfolio pad, your car, office, business and personal cards, use of appointment cards, follow-up notes, emails after every encounter, and so on.

2. Successful
We recognize that many financial advisors have enjoyed successful pre-financial crisis careers. Alas, so did many car dealers. The secret is to carefully craft a successful image as you rebuild your practice. People like to do business with those they perceive as on “their level,” which means you need to project an image of “success.” You’re not competing with them, so you don’t have to drive the biggest car and have the biggest house, but it needs to be suitable for a high-level service provider.

3. Likable
Building rapport quickly is arguably one of the key factors in being liked. This involves allowing people to become comfortable with you by getting them to discuss their favorite subject: themselves. But not only should you get people talking about themselves, you must be a proactive listener. In other words, you must be totally engaged.

You know more about finances than 99 percent of the population. However, when in front of affluent clients, prospects or affluent centers-of-influence, there is a tendency for advisors to showcase their knowledge. As a result, they talk too much. This leads to assumptions: “My clients like me, they know I’m smart, I’m in close enough contact, I know what they want,” and so on. Unfortunately these types of assumptions are perceived negatively -- someone who’s out-of-touch with the needs of today’s affluent.

4. Dependable
This is the first cousin of being professional. However, there are advisors who fail to make the distinction. Developing a reputation of being that go-to professional (financial quarterback) that can be counted on is a multi-faceted process. It virtually involves everything you do; answering the phone, returning calls, responding to emails, being on time, saying what you are going to do and doing it, keeping all promises, and being accessible.

The secret in developing a reputation of being dependable is in understanding that the personal and professional aspects of your life are blended together. For instance, whether it’s a vague conversation about playing golf at some time in the future or a promise to email a specific piece of research, lack of follow-through in a timely manner, regardless of the circumstances, will negatively impact your branding. You want to look for ways to showcase your dependability.

5. Caring
Nobody likes insincerity, and today’s affluent are hypersensitive and highly skeptical of the financial services industry. Keeping an up-to-date profile of every top client, referral alliance partner, COI, and prospect is essential. This goes beyond when they’re selling the business, retiring, or getting laid off. This is all about knowing the whereabouts of the children, their passion points, and so on -- and then acting upon the information -- sending a note, buying a small gift, making a call, etc.

Caring embodies all four of the previous elements, and our research highlights it as one of the key criteria that today’s affluent insist upon. You never want a prospect or COI referring to you as, “I like him, he seems to know what he’s talking about, but…Tony is all about Tony.” That disconnect is brutal to your brand. Caring should be the common element woven through the fabric of your practice.

Think of these five elements as a mosaic around which you will build your new brand. Remember, as you are, and always will be as a financial advisor -- the product.

If you would like a FREE copy of our Know Your Client Worksheet, visit our Download Center. Enjoy!

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Once again, we want to thank all of you who have emailed comments and questions to us. We will continue to do our best to answer each one.

If you have any topic suggestions or special requests, please contact Rich Santos, publisher of Registered Rep. and Trust & Estates magazines, at rich.santos@penton.com.