How to protect your brand for future growth

Developing your company brand is key to driving customers to your business. The more a consumer resonates with your brand, the more likely they are to buy from you again. Creating this loyal following of customers can ensure continued success and help drive sales of your company’s products and services forward.

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of your company’s future revenue will come from 20% of your current customer base, making it imperative that you focus on creating loyal, repeat customers that will continue to frequent your business.

Below, 15 members of the Forbes Agency Council provide the one thing a company can do to increase its brand loyalty. Here is what they had to say:

Members of the Forbes Agency Council share their best tips.

Images courtesy of FAC members.

1. Don’t Let Your Customers Down

If you consistently deliver high-quality products and services and stay on top of trends, your customers will stick with you because they know they can count on you. – Kelly Ann Collins , Collins & Company

2. Be Authentic And Consistent

The importance of being authentic and consistent cannot be underestimated. Customers must be able to count on the company to deliver the same outstanding products and services over time. And if an issue ever arises, they need to know that it will be addressed immediately and with individual consideration. – Troy Smith , Search Optics

3. Have A Noble Edge

Scientific studies show that people are intensely loyal to brands leveraging the Noble Edge Effect . This is when an independent source shares the socially responsible or charitable work your company does. Be authentic about giving back and let others tell your story. This is especially effective with customers who have strong moral aspirations or who have little product knowledge and experience. – Elizabeth Edwards , Volume Public Relations

4. Live And Breathe Customer Service

Nothing is perfect in life. We all get that. But when that something goes wrong with your product, a great way to increase brand loyalty is to simply be there for your customer. Live and breathe customer service, because without them, you won’t have any following. Answer the phone, respond to the messages left on your social media channels, and do what you say you’re going to do. – Daniel Lazarz , Life of Dad Agency / Life of Dad, LLC

5. Provide Value

Don’t just write content for the sake of content or throw out minimal discounts or offers. Provide something your users actually care about. What do they want to know, see, do, have? Give them more of that. Understand their personas, what drives them and why they like your product in the first place. Following this pattern will increase results. – Sara Davis , Osmond Marketing

6. Keep Your Eye On Quality

Customers expect a certain level of quality. Exceed it. Maintaining a consistent level of quality that offers a no-brainer level of value to the customer will keep them coming back. Exceeding your customers’ expectations while giving a level of quality they can count on, will earn you their loyalty and advocacy. – Ahmad Kareh , Twistlab Marketing

7. Be Responsive

Responsiveness is critical to brand loyalty. While your brand may resonate with your persona, if your behind-the scenes-brand is not responsive to your audience, you can quickly lose that loyalty. For example, if someone sends you a message on social media or a question by social or email, having a process to follow up with those individuals is critical to maintaining loyalty and trust. – Elyse Flynn Meyer , Prism Global Marketing Solutions

8. Follow Up With Your Customers Regularly

Checking in with customers after the sale is critical to establishing long-term relationships, especially in business-to-business. Check in with your customers during onboarding, right after onboarding, and at regular intervals. This is key to staying on top of their satisfaction. Sometimes, all it takes is a quick phone call to prevent a major issue. – Lisa Allocca , Red Javelin Communications

9. Stop Spamming

It can be tempting for brands to create as many touchpoints as possible, especially by sending direct emails daily or multiple times per day. But the more I hear from a company, the more likely I am to delete everything it sends me. I’m most loyal to brands that, in addition to offering great products and value, respect my time by only reaching out with educational content or about good sales. – Jade Faugno , Intermarket

10. Personalize Your Marketing

Personalizing your marketing efforts will increase brand loyalty. Use the data your users give to you to create more personalized experiences to deliver what they want. Create customized offers and content based on your data. – Loren Baker , Foundation Digital

11. Align Yourself With Like-Minded Businesses

When possible, align yourself with complementary brands and like-minded businesses. A huge trend in 2017 was brand collaborations. The right partners can provide tremendous value to your brand because, through cross promotions, you are not only increasing your customer reach, but you are providing your current customers with added value. – Megan Shroy , Approach Marketing

12. Listen To Your Customers

Companies should always listen to their customers. Regardless of positive or negative feedback, every piece can be useful information. Customers will feel more connected to the brand if they open up a two-way dialogue, and these passionate customers who take the time to give feedback will be your biggest advocates. – Katie Jansen , AppLovin

13. Focus On Killer Operations And Systems

Consumers have tons of choices for where they get their products and services, and they are just waiting for you to mess up to jump ship. Make sure you have great systems in place — from ordering to production to delivery — and that your business runs smoothly. You’ll set yourself apart from other businesses that drop the ball. – Marc Hardgrove , The HOTH

14. Anticipate

Go beyond the expected. When a company is able to anticipate my needs and goes above and beyond expectations, they earn my loyalty. For instance: A client of ours provides a lifetime warranty on their quartz products. So if something goes wrong with the product during or after installation, customers are covered. When you invest thousands into your new kitchen, peace of mind is essential. – Alannah Tsimis Sandehl , IDM Brand

15. Treat Every Day Like Groundhog Day

What I mean is to consistently repeat a brand’s message the same way each day. One of my mentors, “Rocket Ray” Jutkins, used to quip, “Repetition builds your reputation.” Loyalty emerges when trust is established. Trust results from consistency. – Dave Wendland , Hamacher Resource Group

How to protect your brand for future growth

In a brilliant study by McGladrey of National Association of Manufacturer member companies identified seven specific strategies (listed here in order) you can deploy to grow sales now.

1. Increase Penetration In Existing Markets
Over sixty percent of the respondents focused on what they are already good at–selling to their current market. All the systems are set up. The team knows how to make it right. Stick to your knitting and grow market share in what you do best already. Your firm has a good reputation here–exploit this foundational portion of your business to get the easiest quickest sales.

2. New Products Line Extensions
The second most popular strategy to grow sales was to extend the product line to a new complementary product that existing clients would be pleased you now offer. For example, for years my company, Marlin Steel, only offered wire baskets but we were frequently asked to make sheet metal fabrications but we did not have the technology nor the skill set. In 2010, we broadened the line and bought the best sheet metal fabrication machine in the industry and this enabled us to please our best clients. We became more indispensible to their operations and more orders flowed. It made the great recession a non-event at Marlin. What product lines should you add today?

3. New Client Segments
Over forty percent of respondents believed focusing on new client segments will power strong growth. Observe and identify other activities your client is buying from others that you could make for them. For example, at Marlin Steel we focused for years on baskets for material handling that complement nicely in a factory environment but we overlooked the ultrasonic cleaning market in the R&D labs or in the cleaning stations at the end of the line. By broadening our client segments we grabbed more clients that worked under the same roof. These prospects already had the confidence of our clients (their colleagues)–it makes for easier growth.

4. New Export Clients
95% of the world’s population is overseas. Most American companies do not export. This oversight misses huge opportunities overseas that can rapidly grow your company. The “American” brand is prized overseas. You are fortunate that your American quality resonates before you even start the dialogue with the prospect. Over thirty percent of the NAM survey respondents are deploying this technique to power growth smartly.

5. New Channels of Distribution
Aggressively opening up new channels of distribution will increase sales. For years, Marlin Steel sold to large factories and pharmaceutical companies. Over the last decade we added selling to catalog houses. We sell this channel in big volume (like we do to large factories) but the catalog houses are geared to sell single lot sizes that make no sense for our company to deal with. This new channel has increased our business nicely and smoothes out erratic purchases from our existing client base. Finding new channels will strengthen your brand and make your firm more impervious to the ups and downs of your existing channels.

6. New Services
Offer new services to your clients so they become more enamored with your firm so you are more “sticky” and harder to leave. Make sure the services are profitable. They will strengthen the bonds of the relationship. At Marlin Steel, we offered an aggressive new service–“consignment” programs to our creditworthy large accounts. This enabled our clients to order more from us because they were not sitting on big mounds of inventory but they could react fast and ship large surprise orders because they had our products on their factory floor. In addition, the new consignment clients ordered in such large volumes they could take advantage of better freight since they bought in truck quantities (not little packages). After you take into account the drawn out cash flow effect, you will see sales raise and your relationship solidified. What new unique services can you offer that will make the moat around your company (stealing an astute phrase from Warren Buffet here) a mile wide?

7. Aggressive Pricing & Loss Leaders
When one goes to the supermarket, Milk or Orange Juice are frequently priced at cost or below to act as a hook to pull you in to the store. Once in the store, you look around and say “actually, I need this” or “I need that.” Both of these other products are marked up with juicy margins compensating for the “loss” on the milk. What products can you offer a deal on to intrigue your clients so they get hooked in? Of the entire list, this is my least favorite because I think you should only sell on Quality and Delivery–not price. There is always some sap out there that will make a mistake and charge too little which will lead him to the poor house. I would stay away from this last idea (less than 10% of NAM respondents choose this anyway.

When I broke the screen on my iPhone a couple of months back, I asked the Apple care team for help. And the experience that followed exceeded my expectations. The team member involved went out of his way, contacting the nearest store to arrange an appointment to replace my screen — in less than an hour.

It was that memorable experience which increased the value of Apple in my eyes, through my positive brand experience with the computer giant.

The design, look and feel of the Apple store itself has always provided me — and obviously many others — a unique, carefully crafted consumer experience. Apple fought and won the right to protect that experience with a trademark registration that covers the unique design and layout of its stores worldwide. And here again is the core of a good brand experience: Steve Jobs chose a brand name that could grow in the minds of the public, be legally protected and add to the value of the company.

Apple thus is a great illustration of how and why every new brand owner should make a conscious choice to invest in a trademark or trademarks to represent his or her company’s consumer experience. For many companies, after all, the most valuable business asset is their brand.

Studies have shown that somewhere between 30 percent and 50 percent of the purchase price paid for a company is for its intangible assets, which are often labeled “intellectual property.” The most common IP assets are patents, trade secrets and trademarks, including words, symbols, logos, slogans, trade dress and even sounds used to market a business’ products and services.

When the day comes to sell your company, and prospective buyers take an interest, their first question will likely be, “What’s your IP?”

Brand building starts with a unique product or service, and a clear plan to establish a channel, a bridge to the consumer. Today, brand building is likely to be a series of channels that connect with the consumer in different ways — television, radio, print, social media, Internet sales or point of purchase in a store.

So, that’s the objective: to create a memorable consumer experience at each touch point. The next question is, how do you get members of the public to associate their experience of the brand names and logos you promote to the public with your products and services? How do you build and protect a sustainable brand?

How do you emulate Steve Jobs’ bitten apple — and the immediacy with which iconsumers think “great computers!”? Here are six strategies to begin with.

1. Investigate — Turn on the lights in a dark room to see who is there!

A professional search is like turning on the lights in a dark room; a search shines a light on the competition. Entrepreneurs sometimes bypass this step, opting to rely solely upon what they can discern from an online search. But this is not the wisest choice, particularly when you’re investing thousands in marketing materials and packaging. Don’t risk being derailed before you even launch.

2. “Noodle” on it.

Think about the results. With a professional search, you will not only learn whether the brand name merits a major investment, but will have a way to formulate a smart plan to register. It is better to know the issues prior to getting married, and that also applies to selecting a brand name.

I recently conducted a search for a new fashion brand, which allowed me to develop a strategy to overcome an anticipated rejection of my client’s application based upon an existing registration. We used the search to gather facts; those facts greatly helped us successfully register the brand.

3. Select wisely — Search for the intersection where selection meets protection.

The most common mistake new brand owners make is choosing a descriptive term. Descriptive terms are not good trademarks and should be avoided. Descriptive trademarks require costly advertising to garner public recognition, and they are extremely difficult and costly to enforce. Take a moment and learn what types of terms make strong trademarks. Check out: 5 Choices for a New Trademark.

As Margaret Walker, VP of intellectual property for Xerox Corporation shared with me: “Let’s understand what makes for a strong trademark, and what does not, and what your risk tolerance is. Are you okay to go out and invest this much money in something you are not going to be able to protect down the line?”

4. Proper use — Use them correctly or “lose ’em.”

Correct trademark use involves the manner in which the brand owner, distributors, licensees and the public (including the media) use the mark. A guide for proper use should be created early in your brand’s existence. Marketing materials should provide a consistent brand presentation and include the generic term for the product or service.

Equally important, public use should be periodically monitored to avoid the risk that rights in the brand name will be lost.

5. Register with a plan — Strategic registrations are invaluable.

Registration is like recording the deed to your house, allowing you to kick out squatters. A federal registration also protects the brand from increasing risks of domain-name infringement. With dozens of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) now available, registrations to assist in enforcement have never been more important. Don’t make the mistake of believing that a domain-name registration is a substitute for a trademark registration. Check out: Domain Names

Effective registration allows for orderly expansion both in the United States and internationally. For example, foreign trademark rights often go to the first party that registers. Pinterest learned this the hard way last year when it discovered that an earlier registration filed by a company in the United Kingdom could not be stopped. Pinterest’s error: It had failed to promptly seek registration of its name.

6. Enforce and maintain — Snooze and you will lose.

Managing and maintaining the brand’s public persona and reputation is vital. Sometimes called “policing your mark,” monitoring the marketplace is legally required in order to maintain rights.

The goal of monitoring is to ensure that differentiating thoughts and feelings about the brand are protected. This includes watching for new users using your marks for related goods and services, as well as third-party uses of similar but not identical words and marks.

Remember: Words like cellophane, aspirin and escalator were once trademarks. But then they weren’t: Even the “walking fingers” of the Yellow Pages was found to be a generic term as a result of widespread and common use; AT&T failed to sustain its rights. Each of these former trademarks is now free for anyone to use.

So, don’t make the mistakes described. Follow these steps, and you will be well on your way to growing greater value for your business, knowing that your brand is protected for the future.

Brand building is an integral aspect of personal and business development. It not only increases the voice and consumer awareness of a brand, but it also gives it an identity and worth. The advent of participatory and interactive platforms has given many businesses the chance to enhance brand awareness and equity. If you have been thinking of building a personal or business brand, then it is important for you to know that brand building takes a great deal of time and resources. In the section that follows, we shall define brand building and also look at different types of brands and the steps to create a successful brand.

There is no one definition that actually captures the essence of brand building in its entirety. Many people think that brand building is all about communicating and exposing your brand. That is just one side of it. The best way we can define it is that it is a process of creating value to consumers. It encompasses all things that consumers know, feel, and experience about your business in its entirety.

Having defined brand building, we shall now look at 3 popular types of brands and what they stand for.

  • Service brand- this brand is built on knowledge, culture, and experience that one has with the service delivering agency/company/people. Think of Geek Squad or Molly Maid.
  • Retail brand- this brand is built on a mixture of products and service experience. Think of Chick-fil-a, Kroger, or KFC
  • Product brand- is built on the experience that one has with a specific product. Think of Nike, Ford, or Sony.

Having looked at the 3 popular types of brands, we shall now proceed to look at steps involved in brand building.

1.) Define Your Brand

The first stage in brand building is defining your brand. This is a very critical step as it ultimately determines what your brand truly stands for. When defining your business brand, you should create a checklist of its core strengths. Similarly, if you’re defining a personal brand, you should look at the skills and expertise that you possess especially those which stand out. On the same token, you also need to know what your brand stands for and what is important for your brand (brand values). Your values should in one way or another show that you are contributing to environmental, social, and economic well-being of consumers. You may not realize some of these important aspects of brand building immediately, until you look at them objectively.

2.) Differentiate and Position Your Brand

Before embarking on brand building, you have to take time to differentiate it so that you can attract attention and stand out from competitors. To differentiate your brand, you have to create a unique advantage in the mind of consumers not merely getting attention by brand building colors or logos or other superficial elements. Once you come up with a unique value proposition, you should use a good branding strategy to position your brand in a way that will help consumers see and appreciate the greater value of your brand over competing ones in the market.

3) Build and Expose your Brand

As I indicated earlier, brand building is not a one off thing. Building a unique and powerful personal or business brand takes time and consistency. To build your personal brand, you have to keep reinforcing your values and skills by taking up new roles and assignments that will give you more exposure. Alternatively, you can use promotional channels, blogs, forums, and social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook) to create a voice for your personal or business brand.

When building your brand, you should also endeavor to develop brand personality (what people know, think, and say about you). This is what drives or motivates people to identify with and engage with your brand. The truth is; if you execute your brand building strategies consistently, then you will easily establish a pattern that will forever be associated with your brand name.

4.) Personalize your Brand

If you want your brand building campaign or brand to be successful, then you have to personalize it. It is important to give your brand an identity. Let consumers see and experience the personality of your brand in its entirety. Look at your brand as something that a consumer wants to identify with pretty much as they would with their favorite cars, cellphones, or computers.

As you engage in brand building, you should also invite customers to be co-creators of brand values so that they can feel that they also own it and relate with it. Top brands encourage consumer-brand interaction by personalizing products to meet the needs and preferences of consumers. When you personalize your brand, you give consumers reason to participate and engage with your brand for a lifetime.

5.) Review Your Brand

Your brand is not static; it will go through a range of motions in its lifetime. Depending on your brand strategies, your brand will either grow in strength, or remain dormant, or recede with time. In the brand cycle, new events, changes, and circumstances bring challenges and opportunities to enhance the value of your brand or re-establish it. All these possibilities should give you the impetus to take charge of your brand building activities.

As your brand name grows, so do the responsibilities and expectations to continue with brand building. The best way of ensuring brand growth is reviewing your activities and evaluating your successes through metrics such as levels of brand awareness and levels of engagements. Regular reviews will help you seize and exploit new opportunities while upholding your commitment to remain true to your vision and brand strategy. It will also help you steer your brand in the right direction and keep it relevant as you move into the future.

As you can see, brand building is not a one off thing. You have to define your brand, differentiate, present it, and review what your brand stands for from time to time. It is very important to be clear about your branding strategies and how you’re going to implement them. You should also adopt brand strategies that will add value to your consumers and help them develop the right impression of your company and what it truly stands for.

Do you believe the market will go up forever without another major correction? Is a market crash a nagging concern in the back of your mind when thinking about your investment portfolio? The United States has been in one of the longest bull-run trends in the history of our markets, and there are still underlying issues with our national debt and financial obligations. 1 No one can be sure what will happen, but we cannot ignore the problems and hope nothing bad ever happens.

The first step is to determine whether you are in the growth or retirement phase of investing.

If you are concerned about losing money, perhaps you should evaluate how your investment portfolio is being protected from a significant market downturn. Here are some important questions to consider and key points to know in evaluating the protection of your portfolio:

Did you know that bonds can lose money in a market crash?

I’m not saying bonds are bad or that you shouldn’t invest in them. There are good and bad versions of almost everything. However, it’s important to be aware of the reality that bonds are not a one-size-fits-all solution for protecting wealth and generating income. It is imperative to educate yourself on other investments, or bond alternatives, that could offer you protection, income, appreciation, and even guarantees, depending on the product.

Did you know that investing in the market is primarily for growth, not protection?

The first thing you need to determine is whether you are in the growth or retirement phase of investing. The growth phase is typically from ages 0-55, when your investment objective is to accumulate wealth, assets, savings, cash, etc. in preparation for the years of unemployment we like to call retirement. The retirement phase is when your investment objective should change to preservation, income, and protection of your purchasing power. The growth phase is where volatility or increased stock market risk can be more acceptable for monies invested for long-term growth and appreciation. The retirement phase is usually not friendly toward volatility, and the primary goal is not growth and appreciation. The primary goal should be preservation, because losses are more impactful on a portfolio than gains. Did you know that if you lose 30% on your investments, you will need to make almost 43% to get back to your original value before the loss? That means your investments would need to have a net return of at least 11% per year for four consecutive years to recover the loss. Another way to consider it is to ask yourself how much money you made in the time you were trying to recover the loss. The answer is nothing; you were just getting back to even!

Are you aware of strategies that could help reduce your market risk while still giving you opportunities for growth?

Some investors are unaware that there are strong-growth capital appreciation and income investments and products. These might include private equity, real estate offerings, fixed indexed annuities, and limited partnerships. A smart investor knows to look at investments and products with an objective lens. In other words, the investor should have the ability to see them as tools to be used in accomplishing different goals without any bias associated with the type or social popularity. Remember: There are good and bad aspects of each type of investment and product.

Is your advisor independent and knowledgeable enough to offer you multiple types of investments and products?

It is important to understand that there are many different types of financial advisors. Some are limited to working only with specific types of investments, like stocks or insurance products, or representing only one company and their proprietary products. If you are going to approach investments and products as though they are tools, as we mentioned before, then you need to have access to a large variety of them.

Are you open to change and new ideas, or are you stuck doing what you have always done because it is easy?

Remember the old definition of insanity? It’s doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. 2 As an investor, you have to be open to change, new ideas, and alternative methods to accomplishing your goals. For example, if you are unwilling to change advisors, even though your goals are not being met, because you have a long-standing friendship with your current advisor, you should remember that business is business and friends are friends. Another example would be if you were averse to a particular investment just because of the negative consensus or unpopularity with your peers, without any real knowledge of the actual investment itself.

These are great points to get you started in evaluating whether your portfolio is truly protected or not. Remember, it is always good to dig a little deeper and ask the tough questions. After all, this is your future we are talking about!

This content was brought to you by Impact PartnersVoice. Investment advisory services offered through Wall Wealth Management, LLC, a Registered Investment Advisor. Insurance and annuities offered through Wall Private Wealth Inc., FL Insurance License #L082440. DT006928-0220

How to protect your brand for future growth

City officials around the world are spending time and money on strategies to attract tourists and world-class talent. But new arrivals find little apart from chain stores and global brands in which to spend their money, leaving little for the local economy.

Finding locally made goods, it turns out, may not be so easy. In June this year, the Financial Times wrote that British companies were being driven from London’s high streets, and global brands were outnumbering British retailers on Regent Street for the first time since the early 19 th century. In New York City, the number of chain stores continues to rise, increasing by 2.5% last year. As international brands move into our urban areas and local businesses struggle to compete, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish Beijing from New York. Are cities losing their unique cultural identities in the wake of globalization?

Thankfully, it may not be that simple. While basic manufacturing and value chains have spread across the globe for certain industries, Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter argues that globalization has actually made location more important, not less. In what he calls the location paradox, Porter explains that industry clusters have sped up and become more focused. Urban guru Richard Florida agrees, pointing to the tendency for high-level economic activities such as innovation, design, finance and media to gather in specific locations: “Economic activity and innovation have spread to more places around the world. But not all places, just certain places.” Now, more than ever, cities should continue to specialize in the industries where they remain world-class leaders.

With small and medium-size enterprises representing 99% of businesses and creating 85% of new jobs in the EU in the past five years, it’s clear our attention should be devoted to how we can protect local businesses and help foster urban economic development. While places such as San Francisco have developed extensive anti-chain legislation, such laws remain controversial in the United States and are perceived as infringing upon free-market principles. As economic forces displace neighbourhood family shops, how can we use the elements of a globalized world to support local growth?

Indeed, sometimes it’s not easy to know where a brand is from, when the place of design and place of production are different. Just flip your iPhone over and read: “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” But according to a report by Futurebrand, “where and how a good is made now matters more because it can qualify key considerations – such as safety, quality and ecological standards – in consumers’ minds at the point of purchase”.

According to a survey by the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community, over 75% said they supported buying locally made goods. Just as a product’s country of origin can evoke certain strengths and qualities, so too can the city of origin. This is all the more true when a city has a strong industry-cluster association. Recognizing just how important the place of origin is for consumers, cities are now seeking to harness the soft power of their ‘made in’ brand to help distinguish and market locally made products.

In 2010, San Francisco did exactly this by establishing SFMade, a non-profit corporation that supports its local manufacturing sector. In 2013, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched We Are Made in NY, an initiative to promote the city’s key sectors, such as digital and theatre. The idea caught on, and the following year the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce launched the Brooklyn-Made brand. Across the globe, through public-private partnerships or business associations, communities are seeing the value in promoting urban manufacturing to create jobs and support growth. Just in December this year, a “Made in DC” programme was announced for Washington DC. Similar schemes exist outside the US, too, such as Fait à Montréal or Copenhagen’s CPHMade.

For city newcomers and tourists, these initiatives can promote sustainable development by making it clear for consumers what it is they are purchasing and keeping money in the local economy. Local manufacturers benefit from associating with the city brand (such as with free marketing), while the city’s reputation as a world-class leader in a certain industry gets a boost. So, when buying gifts for your friends and family this holiday season, check to see if your city has its own “made in” partnership and support your local community.

Author: Salvatore Freni is Community Specialist, Regional Strategies – Eurasia at the World Economic Forum

Image: The setting sun reflects off of One World Trade Center and surrounding buildings at sunset in the Manhattan borough of New York City REUTERS/Rickey Rogers

For decades now, the banking model for expansion has been largely driven by one thing: location, location, location. Credit unions, community banks, and big banks have pursued a branch-centric expansion strategy. These locations have served as hubs for commerce, income, and growth for the financial institution. In essence, the mindset has been that one bank can essentially “invade” another’s turf with physical locations.

As financial institutions grew by adding branches, they were able to add more products and services. The more products and services consumers would have with them, the more likely they were to stick around. This could be called the “sticky” model. If someone were “sticky,” they would be likely to continue to conduct more business future with their financial institution. The model generally looked something like this:

Location > Growth > Products & Services

In other words: You build the branch… People come… They buy products and services.

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The Modern Age of Banking

Prior to modern online banking (circa 1994), banking was fairly staid and predictable. We all carried around checkbooks and check registers. Debit cards were just going mainstream. Your employer might not have offered direct deposit yet. You may have visited your local financial institution’s branch as often as once a week. Your local grocery store probably had had a wall of shame for people who had written bad checks.

For the institution, convenient physical locations attracted more relationships. Transactions performed by tellers helped drive cross sales. Loans were signed in person and funded on the spot. Peak hours drew long lines in the lobby and drive-through.

Times have changed.

Today, banking has become much more complex. There are more products, more services, more options, and far more regulations. But while national banks are reducing their number of locations, community banks and credit unions are increasing them.

Product Driven Expansion

While big banks may be cutting their net number of locations, they are investing intensively in online and mobile technologies. BBVA’s purchase of Simple is just one example. Why are banks like BBVA doing this? Because this technology has the power to remove “location” from the growth equation. And this can shake the game up entirely.

With location neutralized or eliminated as a primary driver behind consumers’ decisions, growth will come from a new source: the products and services financial institutions provide. So the new model looks like this:

Product & Services > Growth > Location

You build the products and services…. People buy them…. You build branches to support and reinforce achieved growth.

Make People Sticky First

Here’s another way to think about it: engineer an attractive product offering that immediately makes people “sticky.” Once you attain a certain level of penetration in a particular market, that might warrant building a branch… if it’s in the right location. In this light, the new model looks something like this:

Sticky > Growth > Location

Online and Mobile Banking Isn’t Enough

Chances are you already have online banking and mobile banking at your financial institution. Even if you have online account opening, having those products does not automatically guarantee success. You must make those products absolutely fantastic! Go beyond the bare minimum and set a standard of excellence that wows everyone — even your competition.

For some reason, financial institutions tend to think of online and mobile offerings as a secondary product. They aren’t secondary products. They are the primary product for the Modern Financial Age. We don’t need to sell loans. We need to sell an online and mobile application that manages money and sells loans. People are beginning to choose lenders based on how they feel about the process and how easy it is, not the location.

Final Thoughts

We can’t always anticipate changes in business or life. We can, however, choose to turn those changes into an opportunity for growth. Online and mobile channels are changing the way people do business. Let’s grow with it sooner rather than later.

This article was originally published on April 24, 2014 . All content © 2021 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

Financial advisors may be busy helping clients achieve their long-term financial goals day-to-day, but planning for the future of the firm is also an important way to ensure long-term success. Without properly planning ahead, financial advisors can get stuck in the everyday rut that makes it difficult to grow revenue and expand the business over time. Without growth, old clients that peel away are not replaced, and business is lost to competitors.

These are five key growth strategies you can use to help ensure a successful future for your financial advisory firm.

Key Takeaways

  • Like any business, a financial advisor needs to keep growing their client base to stay ahead.
  • Without growth, advisors may also fall into a rut and lose their passion for the job.
  • Here we outline five smart strategies that focus on growth to ensure long-term success.

1. Carve Out a Niche

Many financial advisory firms provide a broad array of services to their clients in order to address the largest possible market. While this strategy is effective in making just about anyone a potential client, you’re competing with every other financial advisory firm in the market with very little differentiation.

Becoming an expert in a niche market—such as serving retired athletes or the tech community—is often a better approach. By developing domain expertise in a small niche, you’re able to more easily differentiate yourself from others, face less competition, command greater loyalty, and potentially justify higher fees.

2. Build Great Customer Relationships

Referrals from existing clients are one of the best ways for financial advisors to drum up business, but most firms are content delivering standard services and reactively waiting for any referrals. Over time, these behaviors can lead to all types of competition cannibalizing your client base.

By going above and beyond expectations, your clients are more likely to become brand ambassadors for your firm and offer up unsolicited introductions. According to several studies, the majority of people trust referrals from people they know, which means that referrals can be a great way to build a client base.

3. Don’t Compromise on Price

Price is a contentious issue when running just about any type of business, particularly businesses where clients have many choices. In the financial industry, many advisors are concerned about raising prices for long-term clients, despite adding new services over time that justify those higher prices.

By clearly identifying how you’re helping clients achieve their long-term goals, price shopping becomes more difficult to quantify and there’s less client backlash from raising prices. The key is highlighting the ways in which your firm goes above and beyond typical services and achieves greater long-term value for clients.

4. Grow the Firm's Branding

Many financial advisors working with smaller firms tend to have pretty relaxed rules surrounding branding.

For example, a financial advisor with an outdated LinkedIn profile could be sending the wrong message to clients by failing to indicate that they’re working with a given financial advisory firm.

By keeping websites, social media profiles, and other parts of your digital presence up-to-date and consistent, clients can be more confident in the financial advisory firm, its employees and partners. Maintaining an informative blog or posting educational content to media channels like YouTube can also help grow an audience and brand awareness over time.

5. Develop a Unique and Loyal Network

Many financial advisory firms provide standardized services with very little differentiation from others in the industry. While client outings to grab dinner or go wine tasting provide great networking opportunities, there are many ways that financial advisory firms can go above and beyond.

By limiting clients and avoiding large and impersonal events, financial advisors can avoid occasions where people feel forced to network. Financial advisors should also be sure that at least a quarter of participants are strong advocates that are likely to talk up the business to prospective clients that have been invited.

The Bottom Line

Financial advisory firms face a lot of competition, which makes it important to focus on growing your client base. By keeping these tips in mind, financial advisors can ensure the long-term success of their firms.