Branding Investment Services means Trouble On Wall Street
By Tom Dougherty
Investment companies and brokerage houses are ripe for the picking and TD Ameritrade is looking more and more like the grim reaper. It is easy to look at a market caught up in its own outdated business models where Merrell Lynch, Bear Sterns, A.G. Edwards, and the other old school financial services companies desperately hold onto their top-heavy fee structure while leaner competitors like Fidelity, T. Rowe Price and Schwab re-write the rule books.
As the market migrates towards these discount brokerages, the majority of the players are missing the REAL sea change threatening to wash over them like a tsunami.
Investment Services Category Failure
The entire category believes that the customer will choose based on price comparisons and as a result, they are marketing their companies as the “low cost” provider or they spend ad dollars demonstrating the “added value” that they deliver…a superior service that justifies higher prices, higher commissions and hard to justify commission schedules. In the knowledge age that has swept over their customers in the past 15 years, information is hard to hide.
The airline industry is experiencing just such a conundrum as passengers are able to see… right on their very own computer monitor, a plethora of choices and the arbitrage that seems to benefit everyone but the passenger themselves.
In the world of investment services and brokerages…”a trade is a trade” and customers are finding it harder and harder to justify anything more than a small flat fee. What is wrong with this picture and why is TD Ameritrade poised to begin eating everyone’s lunch? The answer is quite simple. It can be found in the brand promise not in the details of their pricing.
The Fatal Error when Branding Investment Services
Everyone, with just the one out exception talks about themselves in their brand messages. It promises the customer that they have the expertise to guide them, that they have all the services they need and that they are fairly priced. Just a few short years ago, TD Waterhouse (before its merger with Ameritrade) was promising much the same. This campaign with Sam Waterston built the brand position.
The NEW TD Ameritrade has awakened and has seized the high ground in the battle for the investment category market share. They still mention the amenities that are very much “table stakes” within the category but they surround these messages in the visage of the customer themselves.
They answer the brand question of “Who am I when I use TD Ameritrade?” Instead of harping on all of their non-differentiating amenities and services, they lay claim to the very heart and soul of the investor themselves…The INDEPENDENT investor and his fast track to
TD Ameritrade Has The High Ground
By identifying the customer as the primary differentiator, all of the services and amenities take on new importance. They resonate with greater clarity because they have a raison d’etre. Good news for TD Ameritrade, bad news for the rest of the category.
Branding to grow market share demands that you out smart your competitors and position yourself around the hopes and dreams of those you wish to influence. TD Ameritrade is off to a blazing head start… and they might just have the best playing field as well. (Read a detailed market study on the financial category here)