The Financial Services Industry
Financial Services, Mutual funds, brokerage houses and financial advisers believe that their fortunes mirror the success or failure of the stock market. That is, if the stock market is down, clients leave, and if the stock market is up, clients stay. It doesn’t have to be this way. Firms can guard themselves against losing customers during a prolonged economic downturn by developing a brand that holds strong enough emotional meaning for clients that they stay despite rocky times.
If firms create brand equity, customers will stay because the brand has tapped into their basic beliefs about themselves and the world at large. Those beliefs are called precepts and they are the keys to stealing market share from the competition. Aligning your brand with a core precept is the action that changes behavior and causes human beings to change their minds, attitudes and actions. At the heart of every brand that grows market share is an unswerving salute to a core precept. It’s been difficult for the financial industry to build brands on precepts or to create meaningful brands. Firms have been spoiled by the good times of the 1990s. Who cared about brand development when investments were yielding annual returns of 35 percent, and your mutual fund had Morningstar’s highest rating?
Mutual Fund Marketing is Caught in the Past. Financial Branding is still Immature
It was easy for Mutual Funds and Financial institutions to ignore developing and correctly marketing their brands because there was no apparent urgency. However, now more than ever, financial firms must create brand equity to retain their client base and attract new clients. If a brand has meaning beyond just numbers, it may have the ability to increase market share. If it has emotional pull and resonates with customers on a personal level, the firm can steal share despite hard economic times. (Read a market study on the mutual fund category here)
The Ground Rules Before we look at how to establish brand and steal share by using precepts, let’s examine a few ground rules, especially in terms of brand positioning. A brand position is only meaningful or believable when it represents a plausible choice between two options.
For example, “biggest” and “best” are not market positions because no one would claim to be “smallest” or “worst.” With nothing believable or meaningful for customers to choose, there is no market position. However, a company could claim to be “laid back,” for example, because a competitor could claim to be “aggressive,” and the customer would have a legitimate choice between brand values that are meaningful and believable. Also, financial Services brand positioning is not built upon claims of return or services. Your position must be free of marketing jargon and capabilities that fail to differentiate your brand from your competition in the eyes of the customer. Consider the perception of the customers who may not know what is literally true about you and your competition. One thing they do know is what they perceive to be true. You may see that your capabilities are more abundant than your competitors, but from the point of view of the customer, your competition probably looks like it has the full range of capabilities because that’s what they’ve always marketed to potential clients.
Why Precepts Are Important to Financial Services and Mutual Fund Marketing
Turns out they are important to all financial companies. Precepts, the basic beliefs of customers that prompt them to make a decision, are what enable a brand to steal share. Precepts should not be confused with purposes. Purpose is the arena where the average brand plays. Those purposes may be “I invest for my son’s education” or “I invest for a more secure retirement.” Good marketing and advertising address purposes, but branding to steal share goes miles beyond marketing and advertising. Branding understands the precepts behind purposes. What does the customer believe to be true about their life or the world that makes them want to satisfy these purposes? In the above examples, the precepts may be that “I believe it is our responsibility to take care of future generations” or “I believe that the world is a dangerous place and I must take care of myself because no one else will.” Peel away the layers and get to as many germinal precepts as you can find and you will have the answer to your branding dilemma. Precepts are not the lowest common denominator that says ABC brand is for everyone.
On the contrary, precepts are the perfect antidotes to the 800-pound gorilla that says it is all things to all people and simply sells category to increase its share. A brand that steals share says it is not for everyone, but for people who believe (enter precept here). Those who hold the precept as a cornerstone of their own lives are compelled to covet your brand because they see themselves in your brand. They are willing to inconvenience themselves to own the brand and will often pay more to have it, thus increasing preference and increasing your margins. This attraction pulls them away from their current behavior and places them firmly in your camp. Suddenly, your brand does not belong to you, it belongs to your customers. They own it, they define themselves by it, and they will hold onto it regardless of economic trend.