You are Your Brand: The PHD Personal Branding Process

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You are Your Brand:


Executive Summary

It is estimated that there more than 300,000 financial advisors in the U.S., according to Tiburon Strategic Advisors, and the Department of Labor projects a 30-percent growth in

the occupation by 20181. With so many financial advisors out there, how will you stand out

from the crowd?

Building a strong personal brand is a critically important way to distinguish yourself and your practice from the crowd. Not only does it allow you to control how your image is received and interpreted by your intended audiences, but it also allows you to control the message and define who you are and what you stand for, rather than passively allowing others to do it for you — which they will.

This paper defines “Personal Brand” and discusses why an advisor needs to develop one. It also analyzes what a strong personal brand can do for your financial advisor practice and introduces the PHD (Personal, Honest, Demonstrable) Personal Branding Process to help you map out your personal brand and create the materials that will be part of your brand elements. Finally, this paper outlines options for reinforcing your personal brand and specifies some ways in which you can measure the success of your brand.

What Is a Personal Brand? Do I Need One?

Today’s advisors are asking themselves these two questions, trying to determine if they should devote resources to building a successful personal brand. Does it make sense in this environment to shift time and energy away from your core business of researching and consulting on financial products and services? The answer is, “Absolutely!”

Your personal brand is not what you say it is, it is what your audience

says it is.

As stated so simply by consulting firm McKinsey & Co., a brand is “a promise made and kept in the marketplace.” Your personal brand represents who you are and how your audiences — clients, prospects, colleagues, community organizations, and competitors — perceive you. It comprises both rational and emotional components that dictate how your audiences think and feel about you and the services you offer — and how they think and


2 Executive Summary 2 What Is a Personal Brand? Do I need one?

3 What Does Your Personal Brand Do For You? 4 Creating Your Brand 6 Elements of Your PHD Personal Brand 7 Reinforcing Your PHD Personal Brand 9 Measuring Your PHD Personal Brand Value 10 Conclusion


Your Brand. Your Business. Your Clients.

Building a strong personal brand is paramount for creating a successful financial advisor practice, because it allows you to control how your image is received and interpreted by your intended audiences. It also allows you to control the message and define who you are and what you stand for rather than passively allowing others to do it for you — which they will.

Consider your reactions upon hearing three names: Winston Churchill, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs. What traits, values and characteristics immediately come to mind for each name? While it is true not everyone will react identically to these three names, the traits that resonate with people about each represent the elements of their personal brands.

Now, consider three more names: Charlie Sheen, Eliot Spitzer, and O.J. Simpson. How did your reactions differ from the first set of three? Did this give you any insight on the power of building a personal brand and the value of maintaining that brand?

People who believe in a brand tend to be highly loyal, more likely to return for repeat business with that brand, and more likely to refer that brand to friends, family and colleagues.

What Does Your Personal Brand Do For You?

People know what to expect when they encounter a strong, established brand. A successful brand establishes trust in the mind of consumers by delivering what it promises.

Let’s play the name game again with three well-known car companies: Volvo, Lexus and BMW. If those companies have been successful in brand building, your reactions are consistent with how most people perceive them: safety (Volvo), luxury (Lexus), and precision (BMW).

As with these three brands, your brand should convey what you stand for and be a well-thought out combination of personal identity, reputation, trust and execution. It reflects who you are and how your target audience perceives you. Therefore, your personal brand should be centered on the part of your character upon which you want to build your personal identity.

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There have been thousands of statesmen, but there was only one Churchill; and there’s only one you. While there are thousands of advisors competing for clients’ attention and loyalty, there is only one person who has the experience, expertise, personality, and talent that you do. Creating a powerful and consistent personal brand and identifying the audience you are attempting to reach is the best way to communicate your unique brand to your target audience and to turn your style, skill set and accomplishments into a brand they can immediately relate to and trust.

Creating Your Brand

We believe a successful brand needs the following three things to be successful. Use the PHD Personal Branding Process outlined below to get started:


Personal: Your brand must be unique, distinct and represent you alone.


Honest: Your brand must be memorable, direct and authentic to who you are.


Demonstrable: Your brand attributes must be deliverable, measurable and sustainable.


Your brand must represent YOU and only YOU. It is crucial that the brand you build accurately reflect who you are and how you go about your business. It must reflect the specific traits, values and experience that make you distinct from every other advisor out there. It should also reflect your firm’s brand, if you are part of a larger organization. Your personal brand should complement, and never conflict with, your broader firm’s branding. Too many advisors build their brand around an “positioning statement” along the lines of, “I am an experienced advisor who strives to find the best investment solutions for my clients.” Well, no kidding. What advisor doesn’t do that? Be more personal.


To be successful, your brand must also be authentic, direct and memorable. Your brand should position you as who you, are as well as who you are not. You don’t want to appear to be all things to all people (like the bland positioning statement from before), but rather you want to be you, with all the unique qualities you represent.

It is important to honestly assess who you are and be prepared to communicate that to clients in a succinct and compelling manner. Whatever your brand, it has to be accurate and supportable.


You are Your Brand: The PHD Personal Branding Process


In addition to being differentiated and direct, your claims must be measurable, supportable and sustainable. All brand attributes you employ must be able to stand up to your audiences’ “Oh, yeah? Prove it!” test.

Some points are obvious. Don’t position yourself as a social media expert if you don’t have a Facebook account and have never been on Twitter. But others are more subtle.

If you position yourself as a retirement expert, be prepared to offer examples of how you solve pre-retirement, post-retirement and second-career planning issues for your clients. There’s more to retirement planning these days than amassing a large nest egg. Your branding must demonstrate precisely how you are qualified to deal with all of these complex situations.

Don’t overlook the sustainable aspect of this point. The brand attributes you choose should be ones that are relevant to your audience now and in the future. Helping clients invest for their first home may be relevant to your newest or youngest clients, but helping clients plan for key milestones throughout their investment lifecycle is a broader attribute that should appeal to everyone.

Homework: The Adjectives List


Take out a sheet of paper. List five (or 10) adjectives that you think apply to you and that you want your audiences to be aware of. Are you responsive, thorough and detail-oriented? Write that down. Do you want to be viewed as insightful, informed and innovative? Add those, too. Once you have the master list of adjectives that accurately describe you, whittle it down to the core attributes you want your brand to embody. Keeping in mind as you do so that you are building a list of traits that makes you unique, a list that could only describe you and no one else. That said, you can eliminate “table stakes” descriptors such as “professional,” “experienced” and “knowledgeable.”


Next, turn the sheet over and give it to a few of your friends, family members and colleagues. Ask them to make their own lists. Tell them to be honest and direct.


Compare your list of core adjectives to those from your friends and colleagues. Note any glaring discrepancies (e.g., if you listed “informative” and they listed “vague,” you have more work

to do to). Don’t be offended or defensive. Remember, the ultimate goal of building your brand is to control the message and define how you are perceived.


Elements of Your PHD Personal Brand

PHD Brand Positioning Statement

Your brand positioning statement is a brief, pointed and accurate representation of who you are, what you do, why you do it and how you do it. Think of it as your value proposition which personifies the list of adjectives you completed earlier. It should quickly answer the question that all clients will ask, “What’s in it for me?” and it should act as the gateway to your story. Every investor has pain points, some they are acutely aware of and some they haven’t realized yet. Answering this question in a broad enough way allows you to diagnose that pain, demonstrate that you understand a specific issue facing your target audience and provide a workable solution. That is why it’s critical to target who your ideal audience is, the significant issues they face and the solutions you can deliver.

Your Story

Telling your story is a powerful way to expand on and reinforce your positioning statement with specific details about you and your background. A simple and emotional story can help deliver a more meaningful brand experience when you meet people, helping them better connect with your message.

A prospect, a retired Navy medic, meets two advisors at a conference in San Diego. Advisor 1 gives her the positioning statement we heard before: “I am an experienced advisor who strives to find the best investment solutions for my clients.” Then he asks her for a check for $100,000 to invest. Advisor 2 tells the same prospect, “Specializing in post-retirement and second-career planning, I work with my clients to understand their current situations and short- and long-term goals, then jointly design an investment plan to help them confidently achieve those goals.” After specifically positioning himself, he continues with his story. “I spent 20 years in the Air Force before becoming an advisor, and many of my clients are members or former members of the military. I think this helps me relate to their unique needs and objectives.” He then asks her to set up a meeting to begin the exploratory process.

Who do you think is going to make the stronger impression?

PHD Personal Biography

Your biography is a brief overview of who you are, where you are, and how you got there. It is not a resume. It is not a business card and it is not a balance sheet. It must convey character, confidence, credentials and common ground. In one page, it should answer clients’ questions about why you are uniquely qualified to help them with their financial and investment issues. Use everything you have prepared thus far (adjective list, positioning statement, value proposition and story) to flesh out your bio.


PHD Tagline

Now that you have answered who you are, what you do, why you do it, and how you do it, let’s cull that down and develop a short word or phrase that creates a distinct impression and strategically reserves a specific place in the minds of your target audience. Consider some successful corporate phrases and taglines:

Starbucks wants consumers to view their experience with them as an “everyday affordable luxury.” That says a lot about how the company moves beyond being a coffee shop to an integral part of its clients’ lifestyles.

Nike positions itself as “authentic athletic apparel,” which says what it is to its clients now, as well as providing room for product and market expansion in the future along very precise branding guidelines.

Apple’s “Think Different” campaign nailed exactly what they wanted their business approach to represent to consumers.

What do you want clients to think of when they think of you — slow and steady wins the race, the

second-career specialist or innovative answers for tough questions? Whatever your specialty,

whatever your style, whatever your brand, it needs to be succinctly distilled into your tagline. This is true whether you ever use that tagline with the public (e.g., on your website or business card) or not.

Reinforcing Your PHD Personal Brand

Now that you have built your brand, how do you maximize its effectiveness? The key is consistency. To put it in marketing terms, clients should have the same experience whenever and wherever they interact with you, whether it’s on the phone, in your office, at a conference, in a brochure or on your website.


The offline components of your brand (physical appearance, public speaking and conferences, community work, marketing collateral and the branding materials discussed above) must be consistent. It is a wasted effort if you have a stack of brochures that say you are a dynamic public speaker if you slouch and mumble your way through a presentation once or twice a year. Clients can and will sniff out brand inconsistencies.

You are Your Brand: The PHD Personal Branding Process



It is no secret how important the online component of business has become to advisors and investors alike. The good news about branding is that it allows you to create the message and project it anywhere, at any time, to anyone — 24/7/365. The bad news is so can your competitors. Having your message out there is not enough. It has to be better, more succinct and more

compelling than your competitors.

› Your Website

Your personal website gives you an enormous opportunity to continuously communicate your brand values to clients and prospects. But remember, it is an interactive medium, not an electronic brochure. You can provide clients with applications, tools, worksheets and surveys to help better prepare for face-to-face meetings or further interaction.

› Social Media

The second key to online branding is mastering social media. Increasingly, investors — like consumers in any other market — first turn to social media outlets for information first. Of course, there are also compliance guidelines for what marketing you may or may not be able to do on social media sites. Check with your firm’s compliance department and review the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s (FINRA) latest guidelines on social media marketing for advisors.

• Facebook/Google+/LinkedIn: Allows you to create a searchable profile that can be accessed by clients and prospects who want to learn more about you and your practice. They also allow you to network with others through various groups, associations and organizations.

• Twitter: Allows you to communicate almost instantly, in 140-character bursts, with clients and prospects who “follow” you (or those you follow yourself). It can be an effective way to alert others about important news and invite them to get more information on your website or by contacting you directly.

• YouTube: Post clips of your public speaking and conference appearances to reach larger audiences and provide a way for attendees to go back and review your presentation. These clips can be embedded on your website and shared on Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Twitter.


• Blogs: Write your own blog or web-based journal to establish your credentials in the online world. It also allows you to reach a wider base of readers who may be interested in the topics you write about, and to generate interest in your practice. Your blog can be part of your website, or it can be standalone part of another consolidated blog site (such as

Measuring Your PHD Personal Brand Value

How can you tell if your branding efforts are paying off? The tools below can help you put hard analytics against your branding work.

› Google Alerts: Allows users to establish search criteria for specific information to be run on a pre-set schedule, such as any information, mentions or content about your firm or practice.

› Google Analytics: Provides site traffic information, allowing you to track the numbers of visitors to your site as well as other relevant data in an easy-to-use interface.

› Twitter: Measure your presence in the social media world with built-in tools to allow you to search, tag, highlight (“favorite”) and track any tweets, mentions, or trends that involve you, your followers or the issues you write about.

› Hootsuite: Track the effectiveness of your social media campaigns across numerous social media sites, including LinkedIn, Twitter and/or Facebook in one application.

› Surveying: Consider either surveying your existing clients to gather feedback or retaining a firm that specializes in this type of measurement. You can create a simple one-page questionnaire to hand out after client meetings with a postage-paid envelope for return to you or to a third-party measurement firm.

You are Your Brand: The PHD Personal Branding Process



The goal of building your personal brand with the PHD Personal Branding Process is to help you stand out from the crowd. By doing so, you can help propel your practice by emphasizing your strengths and your unique abilities to address clients’ needs. Whether you want to add new clients, attract better clients, forge stronger relationships with existing clients or increase referrals, maintaining a strong, distinct and consistent brand will help achieve your business goals. The key is to identify what makes you unique and make sure that everything you (your brand) do embodies those characteristics

Now, Go Get Your PHD!


You are Your Brand: The PHD Personal Branding Process