(as previously published here by Financial Advisor Magazine)
The RIA industry has seen unprecedented growth and M&A activity. With this rapid level of change, it’s only natural that more firms are exploring changes to their corporate identities or even totally new brands. The road to a rebrand can be a massive, expensive undertaking, but if done right, it can not only raise your firm’s profile in a crowded marketplace, but also clarify exactly what value you offer to clients and prospects.
About a year ago, when Bronfman Rothschild was acquired by Sontag Advisory, we undertook the daunting task of identifying a new brand strategy for two newly combined but well-established RIAs as they came together. How would that look? Would we refresh an existing brand, or start with something new? In the process, we learned many valuable lessons about branding in the independent advisor space.
Just What is Your “Brand”?
We all absorb elements of branding as we move through daily life in our culture. But more than a logo, slogan, or color palette, a brand is truly the full measure of who you are and how you choose to convey this to the world. This can include visual aspects, written or spoken language, or even things as granular as body language or “tone of voice”. Some aspect of your brand should be present in everything a client or prospect experiences: onboarding documents, everyday email messages, client appreciation events, even your office space.
With this in mind, how do you know what brand will work for your firm? While it’s important to create a brand that resonates with others, a well-articulated brand will also be “authentic” and credible. If you take some time to think through brands that resonate with you or talk to a few of your closest clients and colleagues, they will also likely find that confusing and artificial brands are easily spotted.
The other key to a strong, well-executed brand is consistency. If you have a fabulous website and snappy new logo, the traits that make those pieces stand out should be present elsewhere. This is why you hear experts say you should “live the brand” – it means there should be an element of your unique personality in all key communications.
Does Your RIA’s Brand Need to Be Refreshed?
Before pursuing a potentially challenging and expensive rebrand, consider what your current “brand” really is. Chances are you haven’t thought about it in depth before, and it may have developed gradually over time. You can get a handle on your brand identity with a few questions:
- Does the language on your website match how you communicate your value to prospects and new clients?
- What consistencies exist across your client experience? Are those consistencies apparent within 60 seconds of reading any of your marketing materials?
- If we were to ask our clients why they like working with your firm, would you be surprised by the response?
- Does the look and feel of your client materials convey the personality of your firm’s culture?
These questions get at the heart of the “why” statement around rebranding: if the message you send to the marketplace doesn’t match who you really are, and it doesn’t set you apart, it might be time to consider changes.
Brand Strategy Review: Leave No Stone Unturned
Given the importance of a brand being built on your organization’s unique qualities, it shouldn’t be too surprising that the road to a new brand strategy starts with a thorough audit of who you are. It can be tempting to skip over the discovery of these attributes, either because you think you already have a good handle on who you really are, or you’re excited to get to the fun, visual part of the process. But this oversight can ultimately lead to a brand that looks and sounds great but isn’t truly credible, or one that your team does not totally buy into.
When Wealthspire Advisors began its brand discovery, we included the following data points:
- Interviews with firm leadership, advisors, and other staff in various geographies
- A review of similar firms and how they communicate their value
- Online surveys and in-person discussion “forums” for all employees that allowed all to weigh in on our identity and best traits for brand expression
- Client feedback, either through interviews or surveys
Focus Groups Prioritize the Findings of Your Brand Strategy Process
While you work on gathering feedback for your discovery process, I recommend you also form a brand working group to discuss and prioritize those results. The group that worked through the Wealthspire Advisors brand launch shared an interest in creating a great outcome but was ultimately varied in their background and role with the company. This diversity of thought made for excellent discussions.
Even with a dedicated group, sorting through the findings can be challenging – once you have data and feedback, what do you choose to incorporate into your brand? For us, this is where a professional brand consultant was most valuable. We worked with Grafik, who was instrumental in pointing us in the right direction.
Our brand working group found it helpful to boil down data and feedback into overarching observations about our core traits. Then we discussed what resonated most. We ultimately landed on traits that fulfilled the following:
Once we agreed to our core traits, we next explored naming possibilities; we discussed whether we needed a new name or wanted to work with the existing names, and we also created a list of “adjectives” that described our real personality.
Ultimately, the group decided to embrace a new name and chose a number of distinctive qualities. Chief among those was that our newly formed team felt strongly that our work and brand has a certain “calling” to it. We enjoy coming to work every day to help others improve their financial lives, and we identify with an “aspirational” quality of continual improvement to serve our clients.
It was from this consensus that Wealthspire Advisors emerged as our new identity.
Considerations for the Creative Process
The creative stage of the branding process could really be an entirely separate article. Despite our place in an analytical industry, many of us are far more creative than we give ourselves credit for, and it is enjoyable to see a working group of financial advisors and investment professionals discuss their creative ideas. From our process, here are just a few takeaways I picked up:
- Avoid change for the sake of change. If there is an element of your current brand that you like, there is no reason it has to go away. Incorporating legacy brand elements can even create a sense of consistency for employees and clients. When we rebranded to Wealthspire Advisors, we observed that the colors of the two legacy brands were remarkably similar and well-liked, so we stuck with them.
- Consider the ramifications of new creative elements. This can be true of everything from new font files to new colors. How easily can new fonts be installed for your employees to use? If you are happy with the print shop, what colors do they recommend? If you do not have a graphics expert in house, a brand consultant can usually help you with these aspects.
- Be mindful of how your new brand is added to your website. You may need a completely new website, or your website may be in fine shape and just need to be “reskinned” or have your new brand styling applied to it. Just keep in mind that brand is more likely to show up in styling and language than it is in website layout, so a reskinning may be a good way to save money on rebranding if you are happy with the structure of your current layout.
Implementation and Launch
This stage is where the rubber hits the road – now you must take this new brand concept and apply it to every aspect of your firm. While the strategy and creative design phases can take time, I view this stage as the most likely to be underestimated in terms of time and effort. In theory, this stage requires you to change, adjust, or update almost every document or digital platform your firm uses. Don’t just allow plenty of time, build in a cushion of time that allows for hiccups to come up and be sure that your marketing team or creative agency has sufficient support.
This is also the time to plan for your new brand’s eventual launch. Will you want to host a client event to introduce it to your clients? Would a small gift make sense for clients or employees? During implementation, we decided to provide a window of time for advisors to share the new brand personally to their clients, and we were happy we did – clients run the gamut in terms of how invested they feel about your new brand, and this allows them to be kept in the loop before brand launch while also providing you with some feedback before sharing it with the public.
Where Next After Launch?
Once you launch your new brand, take the time to celebrate and thank everyone involved. Keep in mind that your brand launch does not signify the completion, but rather the start of your new brand’s evolution. As time passes, you will see what resonates best about your new personality, and it will likely grow and change as your company grows and changes.
In the end, frustrations and challenges are sure to come up in any rebrand that make you wonder why you started this in the first place. But when all is said and done, going about a rebrand the right way could make a meaningful difference in how you are able to communicate what you do every day, and this could have a lasting impact on your clients, prospective clients, and members of your team.