What if a brand isn’t enough...

Which goes deeper: your value or your story?

Experience Shared Purpose.®

April 2024

What happens when your transformational impact on clients’ lives and livelihoods substantially exceeds the power of your public story? Consider this litmus test: on a scale of 1 to 10, how good is your organization compared to the large institutions and mass market firms that claim to do what you do? Next, on that same scale of 1 to 10, how effectively do your communications resources – verbal, print, digital – articulate the power and substance of your distinctive approach?

For high-impact advisory firms working in affluent and well-insulated markets, the old school premise of branding bares false efficacy. A traditional brand has a simple litmus test. It lobs out a straightforward value statement in search of an identified need. Curious consumers find what they’re looking for, and the job of the brand is complete.

General market branding is a splash in the shallow end of your impact. Your clients are having a wide-ocean swim experience with your firm. There’s a vast difference between a retail-based consumption experience and a mutual exchange of humanity. BMW offers a compelling driving experience. The Four Seasons offers an elegant respite experience. Your best clients are buying you: a nuanced relationship cocktail of your firm’s intelligence, affect, street smarts and perspective. The reliable constant of how you show up in relationship is both magnet and fuel for their own clarity. It calls forth their inner wisdom and makes it transferable: from career, family and business into the complex realm of their self-made wealth.

Your best prospects can’t anticipate this profound mutual exchange. They don’t know the possibility exists. There’s nothing inherently wrong with traditional branding. However, to invite the affluent marketplace into the deep water of possibility, your story must bear equal depth.

Two unique challenges to the affluent marketplace

There are two unusual communication dynamics facing affluent market firms – obstacles that general market firms don’t have to contend with. This first is lack of perceived need, and the second is Brand Leak.

Affluent market challenge #1: lack of perceived need

Henry Ford said, “If you ask customers what they want, they’ll say a faster horse.” In the affluent marketplace, you are your prospects’ iPhone when all they have known is a land line. They lack a perceived need for your unusual approach because they lack awareness that alternatives exist. People buy the elimination of pain over the pursuit of progress. Before we offer a solution, we have to frame their unnamed pain. The shallow water of a surface-level story doesn’t have the reach to meet them where they are.

Affluent market challenge #2: Brand LeakTM

Brand Leak is that all too familiar and frustrating reality of being stuffed into the same perception bucket as other firms who are vying for market share in your niche. In affluent and well-insulated markets, Brand Leak occurs at two layers. First, we have large institutions and smaller mass-market firms all using the same vernacular to communicate different processes and behaviors. Wealth management is the biggest bully in the sandbox. Some firms use it to promise comprehensive planning. Others use it to describe an investment-only approach. Everyone is certain the consumer understands the offering yet it’s only the firms who can discern the nuance. 

Second, we have multiple organizations using these same words disingenuously. Promises of planning – estate, financial, retirement – are a carrot to a product pitch outcome.

Even the savviest self-made entrepreneurs can’t hear through the white noise at either of these two layers. The journey to stand apart requires a different vernacular set.

The Brand Leak of traditional branding: one word, many outcomes

The terms branding or brand identity carry as much confusion as wealth management or financial planning. Great creative firms and their discerning advisory consumers inadvertently use a common set of vernacular to describe vastly different scopes and outcomes. Branding is used to indicate any one of the items below.

  • Logo and color palette
  • Graphics such as photography or icons
  • Taglines and copy
  • Video of you and your team
  • A story, often paired with a famous event (a boat that won a race), a trip down memory lane (what inspired the founder to found the firm), or a niche market specialty (we do xyz better)
  • Culture and core values
  • All of the above

Ironically, advisory firms’ confusion about branding is similar to your affluent prospects’ fuzzy take on advisory roles and services. Picture yourself at an industry conference. You’re having a conversation about branding with high level peers, and someone says, “Oh yah, we already did that.” It’s the same objection affluent market firms have faced for decades, “No thanks, I’ve got it all done.” Back to the branding conversation: which of the bullets did your colleague already implement?

Meet depth with depth: the difference between traditional branding and Intellectual Capital

Your firm’s essential differentiator surrounds how you think and frame ideas: a ripple effect to helping others do the same. This is not as simple as the ability to explain complex concepts in plain-English. Every top advisor succeeding in the affluent marketplace has that talent.

Your Intellectual Capital is the thought leadership you steward into peoples’ lives. It’s a windshield wiper for their soul, washing away stuck perspectives and clearing longstanding blind spots.

Packaging your Intellectual Capital: a new way forward

Intellect: capacity for thinking differently than everyone else about common and cumbersome topics

Capital: relational resources that facilitate transformation

Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” So many of the advisors we meet just want to do more of the work they love the most – for people who get them – and be compensated for their uncommon value. To get there, we can’t use the same branding methods of general market firms and expect a different result. We must find a new way forward.

So much of your value lives in the subconscious of your secret sauce. Your clients’ transformational experiences are mutually joyful, yet the path that leads to their aha’s is mutually intangible. To intentionally attract right-fit clients, we must first unpack the underlying patterns that create those magical moments.

Discern whether you’ve already done this work: an exercise to unpack previous branding experiences

  • Did you feel heard at the depth that your best clients hear you?
  • Did you discover fresh nuance regarding why people choose your firm?
  • Did the discovery process push hard, causing frustration followed by breakthroughs?
  • Did the communication value of the materials match the transformational value of your work?
  • Did the process capture your firm’s secret sauce?

The process to uncover your Intellectual Capital must steward your story with the same commitment and engagement that you steward your clients’ lives and livelihoods. It doesn’t have to be a marathon of man hours, yet it must take you on a deeply introspective journey. Getting there is a participant sport, not a vendor-assigned project. It requires a methodology that guides you past the status quo of your existing vernacular, through the frustration of the unknown, and into the far side of specificity. It must codify the clean, cold splash of your underlying gifts.

There are plenty of thought leadership partners out there in the creative space. Find one who pushes you outside of your comfort zone. One who takes you to the clarity of your best thinking the way you guide your best clients to theirs.

After completing the exercise above, feel free to reach out for a gratis debrief with Jennifer. Contact shannon@secondsummer.net or 650.738.3860