Yes! We’re all individuals!

One of the busiest stands at the IFP Annual Conference earlier this month wasn’t in the exhibition hall. It was just outside one of the conference rooms, attracting a regular stream of Financial Planners between sessions.

Was this a product provider giving away free pens or using a pretty lady in a pretty dress to encourage delegates to spin a wheel to win prizes? Of course not. It was a photographer, offering professional ‘headshots’.

As a keen (but amateur) photographer, I did a bit of lurking by the stand, checked out the kit being used and admired the results popping up live on the tethered laptop. John Cassidy, The Headshot Guy, really does take fantastic photos.

In the few weeks since the Conference, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see brand spanking new headshot photos popping up on social media profiles and websites. You can spot a headshot photo by John a mile off, thanks to his distinctive style. This is a compliment.

It also made me think, as LinkedIn helpfully informed me that a few more of my connections have new photos, of that classic line from the Life of Brian.

One of the most important tools in our marketing toolkit is individuality. In a crowded marketplace where it is difficult to demonstrate to prospective clients that we are better than the competition, we need to demonstrate that we are different. I’m not convinced that looking like every other Financial Planner in the country does us any favours if working towards that goal.

This stuff is near the top of my to-do list at the moment, as we recently engaged an excellent marketing consultant, Michelle Daniels from Extended Thinking in Godalming, to put us through our paces at Informed Choice. After 20 successful years in business, the time has come for us to get some external help in all things marketing.

Now we live and breathe marketing at Informed Choice; we are known for our prolific content creation, innovative marketing and PR activity that was kindly described the other day as ‘media whoring’. But something interesting has been happening over the past couple of years.

Whereas before we were comfortably different from the crowd, that crowd has been rapidly becoming more similar. It’s rather disconcerting. It’s no longer the case that being Chartered or a CFP professional, charging explicit fees for advice, winning industry awards or writing a regularly updated blog are points of competitive difference. These are all hygiene factors now.

To succeed over the next twenty years, we have determined that we need to become different, again. This probably isn’t going to happen with use of the same ideas from within the Financial Planning profession. It’s going to take external thinking, with insight from other professions, to steer us away from the crowd and give prospective clients a good reason to choose us, rather than others who look the same as us.

New profile photos are one item on the updated brand shopping list. As much as I love the photos taken by The Headshot Guy, they might make us look similar to every Financial Planner who attended the IFP Annual Conference. Instead, we will find a local photographer with a distinct style and add one more point of difference to the list. Because we really are all individuals, and we need to be.

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9 thoughts on “Yes! We’re all individuals!

  • I have a question (I like being different as well so I ask it of myself also) – is you’re desire to be different about your own personal preference or it is a genuine business problem. For example, given your preference for local clients, how many other similar firms are in your ‘area’ and how often do you compete with them? My guess is that ‘difference’ needs to be very immediate, possibly as superficial as a photo or website as decisions are made at that point, not on yourself ice, charges, investment approach etc.

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  • Thanks for your question, Phil. I guess it’s a combination of personal preference and genuine business challenge, although hopefully driven to a greater extent by the latter.

    Whether a prospective client needs to see differences at a superficial level (colours on the website, profile photo, name, etc) or at the detail level (investment philosophy, advice journey, etc) will depend on the individual. Increasingly we are trying to capture attention from people who want to know the details before engaging.

    In terms of local competition, I was completing some competitor analysis last night, compiling a single page with all of their logos. I stopped at 18 viable competitors, all within a 10 mile radius of here, and I probably could have found at least another ten.

    We don’t often come across competition when we engage with new clients, and we don’t tend to lose existing clients to the competition, but we are ambitious enough to want to speak to more of those prospective clients who are not approaching us in the first instance.

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    • Good stuff. Increasingly I suspect it’ll be the non face-to-face image stuff that will drive 80% of the decision to use you so I think it’s money well spent in the right area.

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  • A question for you Martin and others; does individualism just come from how you look?

    I’m amused by pop stars re-inventing their image every couple of years. Most folk out there stick to upgrading a Ford Mondeo every few years, but pop stars, they upgrade their face, bum, clothes and ‘beliefs’ at will. There is just no limit to the price to remain current. The music industry frustrates me, as Lily Allen herself wrote, in The Fear:

    ‘And I’ll take my clothes off and it will be shameless ‘Cause everyone knows that’s how you get famous.

    Yet does her new image represent the entire point of the song?

    What on earth is real anymore about this pop rubbish? Catchy yes, but it stands for nothing. They don’t seem to write songs like ‘Cats in the Cradle’. Maybe it’s probably hard to work in twerking into the video.

    I wonder if our industry is becoming that way too: focussing on the sizzle, as one ‘Royal Sun’ friend once said to me. I’d like to hear more about individuals, as I really liked your ‘comfort zone’ blog. I note there were 0 comments for it, which said a lot in itself. It did tell me more about the real Martin Bamford than I’ve seen in the past though. I can indentify with that more, as I would expect, future customers.

    That’s individualism for you.

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    • Thanks, Dan. That’s a really interesting point. I think we need to find the right balance between exterior/first glance individualism, and what is discovered when meaningful client relationships are formed. Of course we really are all individuals, so what I’ve written about here is more about the superficial stuff, especially the photos we use. Drill down a bit and individuality is easy to find. Except you only get the opportunity for people to drill down once you have their attention and engage with them – which is where the superficial stuff becomes important. So the photo, the logo, the colours; these are all essential ways of expressing our individuality if we are to stand of a chance of people getting to know the real us.

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  • Great article Martin!

    Although I’m a million miles away from being an expert on this a couple of things work for us…

    We try to create unique personal content which both reflects our personalities (although I write the lions share there are others in the business who are better writers than me!), hopefully provides a degree of insight but also includes topics not usually written or talked about in financial blogs (my own personal favourite – Chas and Dave!).

    The other thing that seems to work for us is “being as strange as we are”. I think there’s a concern in all professional services (including our own profession) that sharing our idiosyncratic habits and behaviour we are taking a risk.

    When I first started writing I was the same. A lot of it was bland and boring as I wasn’t prepared to take the risk of spicing it up. However I found creating content which showed more and more of my personality not only getting more engagement but also more fun to write!

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    • Thanks, Chris. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with this comment. There’s a Dr Seuss quote that Becky and I both love; “We’re all a little weird and life’s a little weird. And when we find someone who’s weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness call it love.” As professional advisers, we devote a lot of energy to giving the impression we are not a little weird, when really we are. The suits, the profile photos with the identical style. I say embrace the weirdness.

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  • Turn up on time,
    Smile,
    Say please and thanks,
    Do what you say !

    So simple and yet so rare that it will make you different from the first time you try it !

    Reply
    • Yes, I agree with that, Phil.

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