What we learned

The branding bar is low
Outside of those that made the top 20 in our list there are few examples of brands with a single-minded view on what they are for, who they are for and what makes them usefully different. Yes, they make claims as to what their point of difference is but these turn out to be platitudes around investment philosophies, stronger client relationships or outcome orientated investing.

There is a lack of purpose
Few of the brands have a clearly articulated purpose. Why does this matter? In a world where trust in financial services brands and corporate brands in general is low, purpose presents an opportunity to explain why you exist in a simple and transparent way. A compelling purpose should explain your role in the wider world and how what you do has a positive impact on your employees, your clients as well as society at large. Too many of the purpose statements talk only to ‘promises of success’ for their clients.

Saying that you are client focused is not enough
Almost every firm or brand in our top 50 claims to be client centric or client focused. But where are the examples of this client centricity in action? Very few brands express a point of view explicitly about the issues or challenges facing their clients. Very few acknowledge how clients’ requirements are changing or are likely to change over time and in turn how they plan to respond.

The impact of technology is invisible
The extent to which technology in the form of AI and platforms – to name just two – will impact the investment space is debatable. What is not up for debate is that it will have an impact and hopefully a positive one. Across the 50 brands we surveyed, only one or two had any point of view on technology and its role moving forward. Why is this? There are only two possible answers: the first is that the brands surveyed do not feel the need to express a point of view as they don’t see technology as a big deal, the second is that brands have put their heads in sand in relation to technology as it’s easier to ignore than it is to deal with the possible complexity it brings. A missed opportunity on both counts.

The benefit of independence is unclear
Many of the brands we reviewed as part of this Abel Monitor cite their independence as something that sets them apart. But, in most cases the benefit to the client of this independence is not made clear. Some claim that independence enhances or strengthens the relationship with the client. In what way? Some claim it allows them to take a longer-term view and ultimately improves performance. To what extent?

Conservative does not have to mean boring
Clients are invariably risk averse and conservative when it comes to investment decisions. Brands need to respect and respect this more conservative outlook but that does not mean you have to be deliberately dull. You can have a strong personality, a clear point of view and a natty way of dressing your brand and still be considered a safe pair of hands.

You’re not wearing the same clothes as you did in the 1990’s. Why is your brand?
Currently the world’s most valuable brands include Apple, Google, Microsoft but also IBM, JP Morgan and Accenture. These brands all feel appropriate and relevant – in different ways – to the world in 2017. They have evolved and changed over time sometimes subtly and other times overtly to achieve this. In contrast to this, many of the investment management brands we reviewed feel like they are stuck in the past with the same look and feel as they had 10 or even 20 years ago.

Blue is not the only colour
Blue is seen as a professional, formal and understated colour– one that won’t ‘frighten the horses’ – which is why it’s a go-to colour for financial as well as professional services companies. Over half of the brands we assessed have a blue colour palette. This of course contributes to the brands ‘standing in’ rather than ‘standing out’ in the sector.

Logos need to be digital ready
Many of the brands we reviewed have highly crafted and detailed crests or symbols as part of their logos. Typically, these are employed to signal heritage or simply to add visual interest and air. But, as communication is increasingly digital, logos need to work at smaller and smaller sizes. The challenge is to ensure the more detailed aspects are ‘readable’ and not lost at these small sizes. A challenge which some of the logos we reviewed are failing to address.

What it means

1. Articulate your purpose– having a clearly defined purpose means that it is clear to your clients and employees why you exist and how you will be a force for good for the investment management market and for society at large.

2. Be usefully different – first identify what you believe credibly and sustainably sets you apart from your competitors and then explain how this benefit your clients with tangible evidence.

3. Have a point of view – clients and employees alike want to know where you are coming from with regards to market trends and challenges. Be prepared to share your views to give an insight into how you think.

4. Be empathetic – put yourself in your clients’ shoes and double check how easy and quick your website – and your communication in general – is to navigate, to read and to understand. Could it be better or more effective?

5. Express yourself – how you look (your visual identity) and how you speak (your tone of voice) should reflect your personality. You’re not bland so your communication shouldn’t be either.

6. Evolve to stay relevant – the best brands are not static, they evolve over time. Regularly review your brand to ensure that it is still relevant, right and appropriate for your clients and the changing investment management market context.

What next

However well or otherwise your brand is performing, making changes should be informed and not undertaken lightly. Any brief should be shaped by an understanding of what you need to do to compete and ‘stand out’ in your landscape, and above all, meet the demands of your business strategy. The first step towards this is carrying out a detailed audit of your existing brand and communications. If you’ve been included in this report, we can carry out a more detailed audit of your brand, if you haven’t then we’d be happy to do the same.

We do much more than compile our Abel Monitors. We’re a creative consultancy of communications specialists. We specialise in brand identity, brand and marketing communications, and internal engagement. We develop strategy, write copy, design creative and implement our recommendations. We focus on financial services, business-to-business and government and public sector brands. We’re Frank. Bright & Abel. Not who we are but what we do and how we do it. Whatever you want us to be get in touch.