Create a Magnetic Brand, Build Margin

Several years ago, I attended my second National Speakers Association Annual Conference. My objective for attending was to rub shoulders with successful speakers and take away a handful of ideas to jump-start my speaking practice. Hence the first evening, I stopped at the lobby bar for a beverage and a bit of mingling.

While enjoying my Grey Goose and soda – with three limes – I met Chris Mercer, CEO of Mercer Capital. Chris is one of the leading business valuation experts in the country and author of a plethora of books for business owners. Being a 401k nerd, I questioned him about Employee Stock Ownership Plans and the challenge he sees in valuing firms. (Seriously?! Who would discuss ESOPs over cocktails? Obviously, a geek like me.)

I very much wanted an expert opinion on a theory that I’ve long held: An organization that builds and executes an effective brand brings additional margin to the bottom line. Of course, I already knew the answer, “Yes.” But Chris said, “No.” So, I bought him another drink.

Let’s back up and lay some groundwork. You’ve likely seen marketers and brand experts trot out Starbucks, Apple, Coca Cola, or Target as examples of well executed brands. And, many large multi-national organizations do track their specific brand equity. In fact, the firm Interbrand tracks brand values and the associated changes in brand value from year to year. As an example Coca-Cola retained the No. 3 position on Interbrand’s esteemed annual ranking of most valuable global brands for the second consecutive year. Coke’s 2014 brand value is estimated at $81.6 billion, up 3 percent from 2013, more than four times that of the nearest beverage brand on the list.

Many advisors and small business owners don’t have the necessary capital and staffing to compete on a global level and therefore likely have zero brand equity to discuss during the sales process. Hence, Chris’ answer.

However, after some additional discussion, we came upon the answer I did want to hear: “Yes, in a way, a powerful brand can bring more margin to the bottom line.” Because a well branded organization increases the perceived value of their services. I’m going to say that again: an effective brand and well-executed brand can help increase the perceived value of services. (Thereby eventually bringing greater margin to the bottom line.)

Unfortunately, many local and regional advisors neglect their brand. They see their brand as simply a logo slapped on a business card, brochure and website. Your brand encompasses the full experience your prospects and clients have with you and your firm; from how you answer the phone to the quality of your business card and everything in between.

Your brand can be an intentional piece of your business development effort. As an example, we recently redesigned the ShoeFitts website. It was the third iteration in as many years as we have been in business. The ShoeFitts Creative Crew expanded the use of the pimento red color specifically to imply sophistication and power. Now we are evaluating our client onboarding and welcome process because first impressions last forever. In fact, we have an ongoing audit of our brand and client experience. As you move into the New Year, consider an audit of your visual and experiential brand; here’s a starting point: Brand Touchpoint Audit.

Just Push Send

When I launched my business, I knew that I would likely fumble the ball, trip over myself, and possibly get a few bruises along the way. Despite the scrapes, I remain undeterred. When I open my jewelry box, I see the beautiful and cherished red dragon pin that was gifted to me on that summer day. It is a reminder of a lesson gained from a kind gentleman and a woman I never really knew…

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The World Needs More Storytellers

As a public speaker, I have a dream of creating my own TED Talk. Spending eighteen minutes on stage expressing a passionate idea I believe can change the world. (Of course, my concept would center around rebooting the way we teach, talk, and share information about money and retirement.) Yep, it is on my bucket list. Last night, I added another dream on to the list: become a better storyteller. (And maybe, one day, be a speaker at The Moth.)

Last night, we had the opportunity to attend a showing of The Moth, an organization dedicated to the art of storytelling; it was an amazing night. The stories were compelling and interesting and the storytellers themselves were absolute pros. They had ten minutes to create a connection with the audience and they did. We laughed, cried, applauded like crazy and during the intermission we yapped up a storm about what we’d heard and, more importantly, what we’d felt.

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