Branding is an essential part of any firm’s marketing strategy. More than that, a firm’s brand is central to its entire strategy: your brand encompasses the way you are viewed by others; the way your employees behave; and the value placed on your firm by your stakeholders and the world at large.
As a result, brand identity – for FCA-regulated firms as much as any others – is essential. You could even say that brand is more important for financial services firms than for those in other sectors.
There are a number of reasons. First, the financial services sector – particularly the banking industry – has suffered a lot over recent years in terms of its reputation and questions over the ethics of its operating model.
Second, for many people, the financial services sector is viewed as one entity. Banks and other firms may seem homogenous to the general public and your potential customers. This is particularly dangerous, of course, in times where the industry’s morals are being questioned. If your firm conducts itself impeccably, you don’t want to be considered indistinguishable from others who may not.
The role of brand in financial services is therefore vital. And one quality is perhaps more vital to your branding efforts than any other.
Why is brand consistency so important?
Consistency in branding helps your prospects and customers recognise you. It stands you apart from your lesser competitors. It means people can identify your products and services, and actively seek them out. Consistent brand identity should run through your firm like a stick of rock – ensuring that your service levels and product quality deliver on your marketing promises.
But anyone who works in financial services marketing will appreciate the challenge of enforcing this consistency. This can be especially true in the professional services sector, where your partners, consultants or advisers are often the external face of your brand. You may have less control over the way your brand guidelines are enforced than those in product-led marketing roles.
So, how do you ensure all relevant parties recognise, execute and support your brand policy? How can you make sure your financial services brand is consistent?
1. Communicate that consistency is brand-enhancing, not brand-limiting
One of your board members dislikes the corporate brand. They are very vocal in their dislike, and disrupt your attempts to enforce it. This can be hard to overcome. What's needed are repeated reminders - from a suitably senior level in the business - that consistency amplifies your brand's strengths. Deviating from it minimises them.
2. Make sure your own team are the biggest brand champions
Ensure everyone in the Marketing team understands and unfailingly sticks to your brand guidelines. There are no excuses for marketing inconsistencies when it comes to brand compliance!
3. Have got clear, well-communicated brand guidelines?All firms need a brand handbook that is clear, communicated and easily accessible. This negates many of the reasons people give for failing to adhere to brand standards: ‘I didn’t know the logo couldn’t be pink’; ‘I didn’t know how to find approved imagery’; ‘I wasn’t sure which font we should use’. If you work in Marketing, you should be able to point people to your brand handbook and explain how your guidelines translate into practice.
4. Your brand assets must be easily available
Another excuse for not sticking to brand guidelines is that the assets people need - logos, imagery, colours - are not easily available. Remove this justification from their repertoire by making sure everything they need to be brand-compliant is at hand.
5. Everyone needs to be responsible for your brand
You also need to make it clear that a consistent brand is the responsibility of everyone in your firm. It’s not clever to be a brand saboteur. This means brand training for anyone who produces client-facing materials. Support needs to come from the top of your organisation to make sure your message is taken on board.
6. Ensure all content is checked for brand consistency and tone of voiceThis can be a labour-intensive task, but it’s necessary if you want to be sure that all content is on-brand. Approval workflow tools can make your processes more efficient and ensure the Marketing team review the brand consistency of all marketing material before it’s published.
7. Keep control of marketing material produced outside the Marketing teamManaging brand consistency for documents and presentations that don’t originate in Marketing can be particularly tricky. Ensuring brand consistency across all your design agencies is one thing – but making sure client-facing documents and presentations that originate from other teams, like sales and customer services, is even more challenging.
In professional services, this is an even-more pressing issue, as all your fee-earners are potentially creating sales and marketing materials. Creating templates for Word documents and PowerPoint presentations, with a ‘library’ of approved options, is one way to lock down the brand consistency, fonts, colours and images used, as well as ensuring that corporate information is up to date.
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