Branding Your RIA Firm: Why It Matters Now More Than Ever

If you are starting a new Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) firm, you probably already know that meeting the numerous compliance and legal requirements can take a substantial amount of time and energy. On average, a new firm spends between 6 to 12 weeks navigating the approval process.

What most new RIAs don’t focus on during this formation period, though, is brand development. While you’re working with the appropriate SEC and state regulators to gain approval, it’s important to take time to develop a highly effective branding strategy. Doing this now can make growth and success much easier once you’ve launched your business. 

What Is Branding Development and Why Is It Important?

Most investment advisers (and most business professionals in general) look at “branding” and “brand development” interchangeably. In reality, though, these words have significantly different meanings.

“Branding” is the unique impression created throughout your marketing and client communication assets. This includes visual elements – your RIA’s logo, color palette, graphics, and theme. It also includes the tone of the branding copy on your website, social media, sales pages, emails, print materials, and other media.

Branding assets create visual and associative recognition (e.g., a big yellow “M” in the sky makes your stomach growl), communicate your brand’s values, and creates a sense of connection with your audience.

Having a brand, though, doesn’t mean you’re connecting.

“Brand development” encompasses the strategy behind a successful brand. Through the process of researching, planning, and cultivating a trusted RIA brand, development should iteratively guide your brand to effectively grow relationships between your firm and your ideal clients.

Why Is This So Important for a New RIA?

When you launch your website, set up your social media accounts, and print brochures and other documents, the “look and feel” of these assets makes up your brand, whether you’ve strategically created one or not.

Many RIAs skip the brand development phase, preferring to simply mimic the brands of their competitors. This is often because of compliance concerns – in an industry as highly regulated as the financial service sector, firms commonly choose not to push the envelope when it comes to branding and messaging.

Unfortunately, “me too” branding just won’t pull its weight in today’s hyper-competitive world. Today’s professionals – particularly Millennials and younger Gen Zers who stand to inherit from Baby Boomers in the foreseeable future – have far different expectations than their parents and grandparents.

A recent Vanguard survey revealed that Millennials are twice as likely as older investors to obtain financial advice from a “robo-advisor.” To some, this underscores the impression that financial advisors – whether human or automated- are interchangeable. That’s hardly a welcome notion for new RIAs that want to stand out and grow in the post-pandemic world.

Fortunately, the news isn’t all bad – even with the development of technology that takes the human element out of financial advice, many investors want to pair digital resources with the guidance of a human financial advisor.

Simply put, they want an advisor that understands their unique circumstances and goals, and that can provide the guidance, support, and technology to meet those goals.

Building a brand that communicates that kind of value… doesn’t come from a template.

Here’s How Your Ria Firm Can Attract Aligned, Loyal Clients by Strategically Building Your Firm’s Brand:

RIA Registration Renewal step 1

Know Your Business.

Before you start looking at color palettes and dreaming up the perfect logo for your RIA, it’s important to understand the competitive landscape you’ll be entering. Who are your competitors? What does their branding say to potential clients? What do they claim to offer that others do not?

Just as importantly, how will your firm compete in this landscape, especially considering that many newer investors are considering automated options alongside human advisors?

Conducting a full SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis can help you identify gaps in the marketplace that your firm can fill, and challenges that you must consider to thrive in this environment and create effective RIA marketing.

Once you know the competitive landscape, you’ll be able to identify and capitalize on untapped opportunities in the marketplace, and create a marketing plan that lets you seamlessly own those opportunities.

RIA Registration Renewal step 2

Know Your Ideal Clients.

Effective research and analysis can help set the stage for success as an RIA firm, but it’s critical to focus on more than what your competitors are doing.

Cultivating a thriving brand involves getting clear on whom you want to serve.

Ask practically any financial advisor who their ideal client is, and they’ll tell you, “a high net worth individual.” 

Ok, great – it makes sense that financial advisors want clients who have lots of money. It wouldn’t make sense to target an individual whose retirement strategy is limited to buying lottery tickets every week.

Defining your clientele as “high net worth individuals” is not nearly specific enough, though.

Who are your ideal clients? Your firm might work well with young professional couples who are just starting their families, entrepreneurs who have built 7-figure businesses, mid-life career changers who want to protect and grow their retirement assets… the list is practically endless.

Knowing who your ideal clients are lets you communicate with them in an engaging, meaningful way through your branding assets. When you can understand their unique stressors, motivators, and visions, your branding can communicate a sense of connection that makes them feel valued and protected. 

This answers the question in every potential client’s mind – “Why should I choose you?”

RIA Registration Renewal step 3

Define Your Mission, Values and Core Marketing Message.

Now that you’ve defined your competitive landscape and your ideal client, it’s time to turn your attention to your RIA firm.

The brand development process involves taking the time to truly understand your firm’s vision, and how it sets you apart from your competitors. This is a major part of your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) –  what you can provide your clients that they can’t find elsewhere.

What is your brand story? Why is it important to you to provide financial advisory services to your specific clientele? What specific events made you choose this path, and not another?

The story that fuels your mission and vision is as important as the mission and vision themselves. Today’s investors want to emotionally connect with the companies they work with – they’re much more likely to be influenced by a story that resonates, than by a “proprietary method” for optimizing investment allocations.

RIA Registration Renewal step 4

Create Your Brand

Now it’s time to weave everything you’ve learned into a coherent, compelling brand that speaks to your ideal clients. Your logo, colors, imagery, and content should all accurately reflect the “feeling” you want to create for your prospective clients.

When creating assets for your new RIA firm branding, consistency is critical. If a prospective client receives a different impression of your website than your social media content, they’ll likely become confused. As the marketing maxim goes, “Confused minds always say ‘no.’”

Make sure that you are using precisely the same colors and visual styles across all of your digital and print assets. Also, always use high-quality images – professional headshots can go a long way toward building trust and authority.

Your brand’s “tone” should also be consistent wherever your prospective clients find you – your content should always be inviting, reinforce your core vision and mission, and effectively communicate your unique benefits to the exact people you want to work with.

RIA Registration Renewal step 5

Shape Your Brand’s Growth.

Once you’ve created your RIA firm’s stand-out, unique brand, take a moment to congratulate yourself. You’ve completed a task that most financial advisors never really attempt. As a result, you can leverage your brand to create rapid success for your firm, regardless of how many other firms are competing for your business.

Ongoing success, though, involves effectively shaping and managing your brand as your firm grows, you’ll likely bring in new marketing professionals to work on future outreach campaigns, ensuring a healthy flow of new leads and clients in the coming years and decades.

That’s why it’s important to create “guardrails” for your brand. Putting together a detailed “style guide” can ensure that future website updates, print materials, emails, social media posts, and other marketing assets will provide prospective clients with a consistent sense of connection and trust.

Of course, revisiting and updating your style guide periodically can ensure that your brand remains aligned, relevant, and important to your ideal clients and prospects.

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