In this content driven world, no one, not even financial services professionals, can escape the need to have a firm brand identity. Today we take a detailed look at what that means, so that you and your firm can review your brand from the bottom up and make sure it reflects your personality, your values and your service offering.
Everybody will be at a different stage with the development of their brand identity, so we thought we’d give a really holistic overview of all the things you might consider or revisit. And with the new financial year just kicking off, you couldn’t ask for a better time to start making a brand appraisal.
Who are you and who are your ideal clients?
The foundation of good branding starts with knowing who you are as well as the profile of your ideal clients. Start by asking: what are your clients’ needs and how can you provide for them? This will depend on a lot of things: the location of your practice, the net worth of your client base, other demographic features and a general understanding of their values and desires.
The answers you get from this simple question should then enable you to draw up a profile of who your ideal clients are (you may play to a few different demographics).
In response to this, your next step is to make a profile of who you are as a financial services brand. Often this will be informed by why you got into the industry in the first place. We speak to all sorts of advisers and everyone’s different in this regard. We know one adviser that got great advice that helped them enter the housing market at a young age and they wanted to provide that same service to others. As a result, their firm presents as casual and approachable to those just starting their wealth accumulation journey. I’ve spoken to another team that were frustrated by a lack of environmental investment options and saw a hole in the ethical investment market. Their branding is thus green and progressive.
My guess is you already know what drives you and this is reflected in your service offering. The more you can clarify and simplify the message the better. And if you’re stuck. another helpful exercise is to draw up a profile of what you are not, as this will further consolidate your ideas.
Once you’ve finished, take a look at whether your current marketing efforts reflect these profiles. We’re talking everything from your website to your social media presence, your shopfront to your letterhead. If this is sounding like a lot, don’t stress. Often some simple changes can make a big difference.
To help you with all this, we’re going to ask two questions. What does it look like? And have you picked the right words?
What does it look like?
Branding is a predominantly visual exercise so let’s take a look at all the different visual elements at play.
Everything starts with colour. It sets the mood and tone for the rest of your brand experience. You’ll probably want to have two or three featured colours as well as a broader palette to play with. Once these are decided it’s handy to have their use laid out in a style guide available to everyone in your organisation.
Remember there is a science to colour. Different colours traditionally evoke different emotions. There is a reason a lot of fast food outlets use red (MacDonald’s, KFC, Nandos), and why many financial advisers use blue. The former is stimulating and immediate, AKA ‘I’m hungry. Gotta eat now’. The other is calm and confident.
You want to understand when to be bold and when to be subdued. A bold colour choice may make you stand out from the pack. Something more conservative might provoke feelings of confidence and integrity. Use the profile you’ve created of yourself and your clients to inform the decisions you make.
Fonts come in and out of vogue frequently so you’ll want something that can last the distance. Again, you may have more than one. A statement headings font as well as a regular body copy one. Above all you want to be thinking about readability and versatility. Certain fonts come with more options in terms of weighting than others so this may influence your decision. And whatever you do, don’t choose comic sans.
- Serif – A serif is a small line or stroke regularly attached to the end of a larger stroke in a letter. Suitable for body copy and headings and often considered more readable for print (though the science is inconclusive), serif fonts evoke a sense of tradition and respectability.
- Sans Serif – Fonts without a serif look more contemporary and are often preferred for web.
- Display – A display typeface is a typeface that is intended for use at large sizes for headings, rather than for extended passages of body text. Display typefaces will often have more eccentric and variable designs than simpler body copy. A good example of a display font is the Disney logo.
- Modern – In line with the modernist movement in the early nineteenth century, modern typefaces emerged to prioritise function over form. They are most often without a serif, clean, progressive and objective in nature.
- Script – More closely resembles cursive handwriting and are better used as display fonts. They can give a sense of elegance to a brand.
There’s nothing hokier than when things appear too cramped. Your style guide should include specifications for spacing including paragraph and font size. This is not so much an issue of branding however as it is simple readability. A poor choice though will reflect badly on the business.
Your logo choice will involve the choice of both font and colour as well as potentially some other visual gesture like an icon or swoosh. Therefore, what we’ve talked about above should all come into play. You want it to be memorable, representative of who you are and evoke the right emotions in your clients.
The other thing is that you want it to be scalable. It should make a good impression on both a billboard and an envelope. And to look as good in black and white as it does in colour.
Most importantly, remember that logos can be modernised and changed over time. By keeping familiar gestures, but making a few tweaks, an updated logo can totally freshen up your entire brand identity.
Pepsi’s logo has slowly evolved over the past 120 years.
Perhaps the most important decision you make is your choice of imagery. Pictures paint a thousand words. String those words together and you’ve got a story. You want to make sure the pictures you choose tie in with the general narrative of your clients’ lives. Think about the happy endings that financial security allows. This should be the backbone of your image selection.
There are three main types of images you may wish to consider: photos, illustration and icons.
Most of you will tell your story through photography given the expensive cost of illustration. Further, considering the price of hiring a photographer and models, many of you will rely on a stock library to source your images.
It’s important to do your research here as you want to make sure it meets your needs. Things to consider, do the images look Australian (often stock libraries have a very ‘middle American’ feel that Aussies won’t resonate with)? Do they appear candid rather than posed? Do they have adequate representation of minorities? Are they updated regularly? And do their licencing terms meet your own in-house needs?
You’ll know the sort of clientele you already have and what you’re trying to attract. Your images should look like these people, only elevated. Like them living the best versions of their lives.
You may also wish to consider getting photos taken of your team. If you do take this option, we advise getting a professional photographer and keeping them in line with the rest of your brand. This will affect how you style the photograph. If you have a warm approachable team that sells itself on its personability, you might want to get photos taken in the community wearing casual attire. This entails a sort of social mirroring. You want to reflect who your clients are but also instil in them trust in your brand. Streamline your narrative.
Some advisers have had success with using illustration for their visual presence. This could help you stand out and be a point of difference, however it can be expensive.
In addition to photos, many of your websites and print marketing efforts will include some form of iconography, to represent different service offerings. Within the finance sector these will all be pretty similar – an umbrella for insurance, dollar signs for savings – the question then is how you make them unique. The answer is simple, incorporate your feature colours and fonts into them. This will facilitate brand continuity.
Some of you may also want to experiment with video. There are stock video libraries out there as well as programs like aftereffects which allow simple animations. Usually you will need to have the resources to do this. You may also wish to hire a videographer for a welcome message on your website.
Most social platforms now favour video content in their algorithms, so it’s certainly worth considering. If you are struggling with what video content to pursue, Advant’s white labelled monthly economic update clips are a good place to start.
Have you picked the right words?
The other side of branding is of course your copy. The style of writing you employ has a huge impact on your brand identity. It also needs to be consistent with the narrative you’re creating visually. To help us understand various building blocks of good copy, let’s turn to the world of linguistics.
- Lexicology – This is your word choice. Choose a vernacular for the firm. Know your key words and catch phrases. But don’t appear too rehearsed. Words people associate with your firm will become a part of your brand
- Syntax – This is your sentence style. Short and punchy? Conversational? Longer and academic? Plain English and professional? The choice is yours.
- Discourse – this is how all those smaller units are joined together to create meaning. For most advisers this will be about information flow. Do your sentences flow together nicely, do you employ dot points and headings to break things up? This will also change depending on the format of the document. Your website’s discursive elements will be different to a pamphlet’s for example.
- Semantics – this is the broader study of meaning. You can create meaning in numerous ways, through the use of anecdotes, metaphors, direct quotes or testimonials, heavy use of statistics and facts. Again, the choice you make should all tie in with your overall branding identity.
I thought we’d finish this blog with a brief chat about mission. You want your team to live your brand and that means living your firm’s values. In a lot of ways this will inform all different aspects of your branding. It will also affect your visibility in the community and your social outreach. Having a clear mission statement is really important. But even more crucial is making sure your staff understand what this means to them and how it applies to their interactions with your clients.
Branding is such an all-encompassing thing as it defines how your business is perceived by the world. But taking the time to get it right today could make a huge difference to the success of your business over the long haul.