Martin Stewart (pictured) is chief executive of The Money Group
“A brand is emotional shorthand for accumulated or assumed information. A brand is present when the value of what a product, service, or personality means to its audience is greater than what it does for the audience.” – Austin McGee
Yep, do not worry, I had to read it a few times myself but once I got my head around it, it really does tick all the boxes.
I have noticed a trend over the past 12 months or so and it is one that has filled me with excitement and hope for our industry. Not that we need hope, everyone seems to be busier than a bee in Kew Gardens. I mean more a hope that we can, collectively, at long last begin to add some colour and panache to our stoic and somewhat bland corner of financial services.
The trend I am seeing is the growth in and desire to build a brand for ourselves. That can be as simplistic as raising your own personal profile all the way through to launching a new, multi-adviser business. I have even seen certain people who once criticised me for talking “brand” all the time now appear to be doing exactly the thing they were criticising me for.
But this recent influx of new and exciting businesses has made me re-evaluate my own interpretation of what a brand is. You cannot rest in this game and no one has a monopoly on good ideas.
To me in its most simplistic form, “brand” is a continuation of a message. The large corporate coffee chains are a good example of this. You could walk into one in any part of the country, and you would know instinctively which one you were in even if there was no signage to guide you. That saturation of branding into our psyche has brainwashed us in to knowing the brand without thinking about it.
That is powerful if somewhat expensive marketing. But this is important because it is estimated that each of us is bombarded with 5000 brand messages per day. Fair to say then, it is a crowded field out there, so for any budding entrepreneur I would suggest you plan and budget for a noisy campaign launch.
But with brand, you must also prepare to play the long game because not only can it be expensive, but it can be time-consuming, somewhere between 5-10 years depending on how big you want your business to be.
Example? Heard of Royce Rolls or Spencer & Marks? Both could easily have been either and if they had, we would not have known any different. Or how about Steve Jobs kicking around some ideas in his garage back in 1976 and deciding what the world really needed was a computer named after a piece of fruit and, 45 years later, his vision sees Satsuma now being a company worth over $2trn.
But for a long time, these businesses and a host of other major global brands were worth absolutely nothing and the Sliding Doors of the marketing world could be littered with equally good brands that just did not make it.
So here are some quick wins if you are sat there in a soulless company with ambitions to go out on your own and build yourself a business you believe in and are proud of:
Don’t name it after yourself – ‘Dave’s Mortgages’ might do what it says on the tin, but the risk is you and the brand become too synonymous. The brand needs to be separate from you because one day it will out-grow you and that is exactly what you want it to do.
Be expansive – ‘The Mortgage Deli ‘is a step up but where do go with it? You have created a false ceiling which you will eventually end up banging your head against. Here at The Money Group, we took a conscious decision to keep everything as broad as possible so we could branch out into different areas. Now, we are only limited by nouns and towns and until we run out of both we can keep on growing.
Stand out – there are six million SMEs in the UK and it is fair to say most of them think their business is the best. We are, arguably, drowning in brands. So, whatever you decide, make it visually appealing and strong enough to stand on its own two feet from Lands’ End all the way to Abrdn.
Start, today – You do not have to wait to get picked for the game of football anymore, you are the game. You have all the tools in your phone to create, design, build and market a business. You are only limited by your own ambition. Next time you pick up your phone, hesitate over opening Tinder and maybe head to Go Daddy instead and see which domain names are available.
Tell stories, not porkies – Be authentic, do not tell the world how great you are, tell the world how great your clients are. The brands of the future will be defined by its people, their honesty, and their personality. We will all need more than a shelf full of awards to engage with the generations that are coming up fast on the rails.
So, off you go. Life is not only a blank piece of paper but, get the above right, it can also be a blank cheque but one where YOU get to fill in all the numbers.