Profiles in Excellence

RIAs: How to make your brand rock-and-roll with clients


Dee Mc Laughlin
Capital Group
Global Brand Manager



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If you're an RIA looking to build a legendary brand, think less about rolling periods and more about the Rolling Stones.

Rock-and-roll showed Dee Mc Laughlin, Capital Group’s global brand manager, what it takes to build a standout brand. As a music journalist early in her career, Mc Laughlin interviewed and studied musicians like Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones and Iggy Pop. Each of these performers created an aura — a brand — that elevated them from talented musicians to lasting legends.

RIAs can be lasting and legendary, too, thanks to the same power of branding. The trouble, though, is that few advisors think this way. But they can. It just takes reinventing how they portray the unique skills they bring to clients and the ways they can help them meet their life’s goals.

Here’s a challenge to RIAs to know if you’re on the right path. “When your current or potential clients compare your firm to your competitors’ firms, can they clearly understand what your differentiator is?” says Mc Laughlin, who joined Capital Group in 2017 after working in top marketing positions at leading apparel retailer Forever 21 and at Virgin Entertainment Group, working directly with brand-building maven Richard Branson. “You don’t want to become a commodity.”

How can RIAs elevate their branding from an afterthought to a key point of differentiation? Tapping her decades of experience, Mc Laughlin offers four points of guidance:

1. Know what makes you special, and make sure the firm wholeheartedly agrees.

When you ask anyone at your RIA firm how you serve clients better than anyone else, you should get the same answer from everyone. “If you asked each person in your firm how you’re different than your competitors and what you uniquely bring to your clients, would everyone in your firm say the same thing?” A well-articulated brand, Mc Laughlin says, “enables you to connect more powerfully and more deeply with your clients.“

RIA brands often try to do too many things. Many RIA brands “have just too many ideas. It distracts and totally confuses client prospects,” she says. Know what you’re good at and focus. One RIA, for examplecaters to engineers.

2. Hold true to your key messages.

Through her years of marketing experience, Mc Laughlin has reencountered a fundamental tenet: A firm’s key messages must be in rhythm each month and year. She often meets with RIAs and notices that sometimes key messages aren’t in sync with client concerns at certain points in time. “If it’s tax season, they should have a point of view. If there’s market volatility, they should have their own point-of-view,” she says. “Whatever is happening that month that their clients are interested in or talking about, they should have a point of view and articulate it collectively.”

RIAs often acknowledge that the way some of their staffers describe the firm’s value may stray from month to month. “If you want your business development in your firm to be more efficient, everyone in your firm should be speaking from the same hymn book,” she says.

Syncing key messages goes beyond just client conversations. It’s not just the “last touch,” or the final action a prospect takes before the sale, that is critical. You just don’t know what that will be. It could be a blog post, a LinkedIn connection or a conference. When clients have “multi-touch journeys,” that’s why its important for all these channels’ messages to be in sync. “We put a lot of emphasis on last touch when we should think about the entire client journey.”

3. Go deep on data for insights, not information.

Online marketing generates reams of data, but insights from the data can be elusive and rely on human judgment. Mc Laughlin recalls one piece of content that was successful with clients through a particular social platform at a previous job. The temptation was to naturally increase promotion of the content on the platform. But upon further research, the team found the engagement with the content was due neither to the content nor the platform, but rather to an influencer on a different platform who was sending referral traffic. Rather than boosting spending on the content, the company forged a deal with the influencer for much more success.

4. Get educated on branding.

Most RIAs spend most of their time building asset allocation principles and even handling client concerns, but marketing education can take a back seat. Mc Laughlin recommends any RIA interested in upping their branding game to pick up any book written by David Aaker, such as “Building Strong Brands.” Another worthwhile resource is “The Brand Gap,” a free, online, visual presentation by Marty Neumeier that explains how to give consumers a gut feel for your products and services. She also recommends a book by James B. Twitchell called “Branded Nation,” which explores how branding has elevated everything from colleges to megachurches. Some RIAs have found success using brand to underscore their value.

Working with mastermind Branson also informed her views on branding. What was the biggest lesson? “Richard taught me it’s always about the associate first, the customer second and money about sixth. That was always his lesson,” Mc Laughlin says. “Get your people right, have them tell the right story, and the money will come,” she says.

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Statements attributed to an individual represent the opinions of that individual as of the date published and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Capital Group or its affiliates. This information is intended to highlight issues and should not be considered advice, an endorsement or a recommendation.