Tyra Banks is an international supermodel, a reality tv star, and a successful business owner. Now she is trying her hand at a new profession: Professor of Branding. She is co-teaching a class called The Art of Branding at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. In a recent interview with USA Today, Tyra shared some of the main points she tries to convey to her students; ideas that have helped her shape a successful and unique brand voice.
While the worlds of international modeling and financial advisory are different in many ways, the concepts she outlined as her curriculum are as applicable to advisors as any other profession that relies on cultivating reputation and finding a unique brand voice.
BRAND VOICE IS ALL ABOUT DIFFERENTIATION
“I really had a natural way of walking that was a little different, sometimes a little wacky, and I would notice people smiling. I was like ‘Oh wow. They like this. This is my signature walk.’ So that’s when I understood . . .that differentiation was important.’’
As the world becomes increasingly connected, competition will continue to grow at exponential rates. The way that you set yourself aside from the crowd is perhaps the most important aspect of your financial advisor brand.
One great strategy for winning the game of differentiating yourself is to change the game completely. In their book, Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne outline the process for creating your own blue water. The metaphor comes from the feeding frenzy that happens in the ocean when a bunch of fish and sharks all show up to the same place. A smart fish won’t head towards the red water with all the competition. They will go out to the blue water where they can be away from the crowd.
How does a financial advisor find their own blue water? By taking Tyra’s advice and discovering what it is about your practice that people remember. Talk with your clients and coworkers. It is even okay to talk with prospects who considered you and went with someone else. In all cases, find out what the deciding factor that swayed a decision was for the individual. A pattern should emerge of what special talents and benefits you offer your clientele. Once you’ve identified your special “walk”, recreate your business offering around that. If it is unique, you will find yourself in clear blue water.
COMMUNICATE BRAND VOICE THROUGH CONTENT
“There’s a personal brand that you’re building even if you don’t know that you are. So I think it’s best to be equipped with the tools to make sure that you are shaping something that can serve you in the future.”
One thing we hear over and over from advisors is “I am not a writer. I am not a creative type.” While we understand that the whole reason you got into financial planning was to be an advisor, it is undeniable that good marketing relies on good content. If you want to create a brand voice you will need ammunition with which to do that. Or as Tyra says you need to be “equipped with the tools.”
In her newest book, Everybody Writes, Ann Handley observes that:
If you have a website, you are a publisher. If you are on social media, you are in marketing. And that means that we are all relying on our words to carry our marketing messages. We are all writers.”
She goes on to describe ways that people who are not writers for a living can nevertheless become competent content creators.
The simplest way to aid in your writing is to get clear on what you are saying in the first place. Handley recommends understanding three objectives before you even put finger to keyboard:
- What are you trying to achieve?
- What information, exactly, are you trying to communicate?
- Why should your audience care?”
Take time to answer these questions, perhaps with another person. Jot down your ideas and get a solid answer to each question. Make it as clear and easy to understand as possible. Before you know it you have created a piece of ‘quality content’, which Handley defines:
“Quality content means content that is packed with clear utility and is brimming with inspiration, and it has relentless empathy for the audience.”
PROTECT YOUR BRAND VOICE FROM COPYCATS
“The most important thing is to watch your competition and to see if your brand that is now very successful is being copied, because when people see something that’s good, everybody jumps on that bandwagon. Boo, don’t you know you should just make up your own thing, because we’re about to change this, and you’re going to look obsolete because you’re going to be copying something that I don’t even do anymore?’”
Once you succeed in finding a unique brand voice, it won’t be long before you notice the copycats. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but in online branding, it is impossible to tell who did it first, only who did it best.
If you find yourself with pretenders coming after you, what’s the best strategy to retain your unique brand voice? According to Kathy Sierra, author of the Creating Passionate Users Blog, the worst thing you can do is try to outspend them in advertising.
“Instead of out-spending your competitors, out-teach them… Those who teach stand the best chance of getting people to become passionate. And those with the most passionate [clients] don’t need an ad campaign when they’ve got [client] evangelists doing what evangelists do… talking about their passion.”
This strategy inspired the SaaS success story 37signals, creator of the popular Basecamp, to focus all of its marketing around “upgrading their customers.” By providing their readers, prospects, and clients with the best, most insightful information, the company was able to build up a loyal following. Co-founder David Hansson put it this way in his book Rework:
“We’re trying to build an audience; we’re not just trying to have [clients]. Buying people’s attention with a magazine or online banner ad is one thing. Earning their loyalty by teaching them forms a whole different connection. They’ll trust you more. They’ll respect you more.”
GET STARTED TODAY
Once you have established your brand voice, practice making content and focus your efforts on teaching your clients and prospects valuable information, you will have successfully created an online presence that is not only unique but effective in growing your business.
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