5 Branding Mistakes Advisors Make and What to Do Instead

First, there's no shame in making mistakes

The road to confidence is paved with mistakes. 

Back when I was in elementary school, I didn’t know how to ski. That’s totally fine, and many kids don’t ski when they’re little. When I grew up, this wasn’t something special about me. But here’s the thing: in New Hampshire, where I lived, almost everyone, around 90% of my classmates and all my friends, got to ditch school on Fridays in winter to go skiing at Pat’s Peak. Not me. 

A child buried in snow but for fun.

I didn’t have the right gear, and I wasn’t very good at sports. Apparently, I preferred burying myself alive in the snow. However, when I reached 6th grade, I decided to give it a try and went to the hills a few times on weekends. The problem was, my skiing skills were way behind my friends, and I felt scared to catch up. So, instead of joining them, I sat in Mrs. Kyle’s classroom with the other three kids who didn’t ski. I did art projects by myself. I probably drew pictures of avalanches!

Admittedly, this is weird analogy. I’m a major advocate of going against the grain and resisting peer pressure. Differentiating your advisor business from your peers is super important. Lean into and celebrate your unique self. But in this case, I didn’t fit in with my peers because of my fear, the killer of growth

I stayed in that almost empty room because I was scared of making mistakes and looking foolish. I didn’t want to stand out in a silly way, but in the end, I stood out as someone lonely and stubborn. It’s okay to be scared of mistakes when you’re 12, but as grown-ups, we need to learn and grow.

Don’t worry about messing up; it’s part of the process.

Just like your clients might not know much about finances, my clients aren’t experts in marketing. You don’t have to be a marketing whiz. Your clients come to you for financial advice, and mine seek me out for marketing and branding advice applied through video strategy.

So, let’s be clear about making marketing mistakes: it’s totally fine to make them as you learn. It’s a journey.

I want to help thoughtful financial advisors feel confident in showing their true selves in the best way possible. Ultimately, I want you to gain confidence in your brand through video because video is a powerful tool, especially to support branding for advisors. So share your unique self—mistakes and all.

Some of the most common mistakes include:

1. Showcasing generic images

Check out three websites from others in your field. If you don’t see at least three of them using images of boats (yachts, sailboats, kayaks – they all count!), beaches, bridges, or mountains, please let me know so I can give them an award. Branding for advisors is often very generic–the opposite of differentiated.

Now, these images aren’t bad at all. I really like boats, beaches, bridges, and mountains. They convey something meaningful, and you might feel attached to the metaphor they evoke. The issue is that these images are so often used by advisors that their meaning gets lost in a sea of sameness. To someone checking out three advisors, they all seem pretty similar – pleasant. But pleasant vs. pleasant vs. pleasant doesn’t help with decision-making.

Optimizing branding for advisors: What to do instead?

Include pictures of yourself and stock photos that reflect your target market to showcase your personality and match it with your target audience. For a great example of this, check out Wesh Financial. If you’re unsure where to find stock photos reflecting your target clients, places like Pond5 or Envato offer many options.

Now, can you still use boats and beaches? Absolutely! But for the most impact, make it personal and ensure it’s an authentic aspect of your brand. Take Ariadne Wealth Management, for instance. They use pretty harbor imagery from Santa Barbara, where they’re located. It’s not generic; it’s authentic. They also emphasize authenticity with a brief message from their Co-Founder and CIO, as well as team photos on their home page.

Do I have ideas for how Ariadne Wealth Management could differentiate even more? Definitely!

Consider adding a video on the home page that addresses the problems your clients face and how you can help them. This is an authentic way to stand out, demonstrating your expertise, empathy, and personality. Building your brand through video is a powerful extension of relevant static imagery and a strong way to showcase your human side to outcompete big name brands. 


Here’s an example of a video on the home page of my website for inspiration:

2. Featuring "a" planning process

Just having a planning process isn’t special. Every advisor follows some sort of process. Simply advertising that you have one won’t make you stand out. However, showcasing that you have a planning process is quite different from highlighting your process.

Optimizing branding for advisors: What to do instead?

Give it a name. Make it stand out and be clear that it’s your process and specific to your clients. Take some time to think about it and make it your own. Because the real truth is, your process is unique to you.

When you label your process and market it as proprietary, it boosts your confidence and establishes a brand for you. Part of a “brand promise” is having a specific and repeatable process that clients can expect to be the same or similar. (This is crucial for referrals, by the way.)

Let’s look at an example: a planning process video we made for Global Wealth Advisors. It’s a great example of how branding for advisors doesn’t have to be very complicated. They call their planning process the 3P Approach©.

Want a deeper dive into branding for advisors? 

I strongly suggest getting Kristen Luke’s book, Uncomparable. In this book, she delves deeply into the subject of niche branding for advisors and goes even further by explaining how to connect your planning process to your unique niche market. Praised by Michael Kitces, what’s even better is that Kristen offers free copies of her book to RIAs and those who support the RIA community.

3. Advertising obvious essentials

Many RIA websites feature a section titled something like “What makes us different,” with similar bullet points such as:

  • fiduciary, 
  • accredited, 
  • committed, 
  • 401(k) management, 
  • one-stop-shop, 
  • retirement planning, 
  • customized portfolio, and 
  • knowledge center. 

You are probably very proud of these things–they represent significant accomplishments and bold choices. I don’t mean to dismiss them. But I really want to help you go from listing to connecting in a meaningful way that helps you stand out.  

With over 15,000 RIAs in the US, none of the above are true points of differentiation when simply listed. My colleague, Rick Peck, also known as The Philanthropy Guy, introduced me to a metaphor that perfectly captures this issue and relates really well to branding for advisors.

Rick highlighted that many advisors advertise as if they are restaurants boasting about having forks, knives, tables, and chairs. Imagine looking up restaurants in your area, and every one of them proudly declares, “We are special: we have food!” Some might mix it up with, “Come on down for our meals!”

By advertising the “obvious essentials,” you miss a crucial opportunity to amplify what’s unique about your firm and help prospects understand if you’re a good match for them. Is there a reason why you do things the way you do? Why it matters to you? Talk about it. When you use the powerful medium of video to share what truly sets your offerings apart, you begin to develop a confident and distinct brand.

Optimizing branding for advisors: What to do instead?

Remember, what makes you unique is you. This doesn’t mean turning your website into a collection of selfies, but the key to branding and marketing is connection. Relate your experience and expertise to the problems you can help your prospects solve. The intersection of your specific and vulnerable stories, passion, and purpose with your clients’ needs is where connection happens.

If you’re not sure where to begin, consider a few prompts to get you thinking about personal stories that might resonate with your clients:

  • When I was a kid, money was…
  • When I think about the legacy I want to leave for future generations…
  • As a busy mom/professional/business owner, I know I need…
  • I do this work because…
  • Understanding how to walk through the financial challenge of (divorce/starting a business/getting married and combining assets, being a single mom) helped me…

As long as you’re relating your specific and personal experience to your clients’ specific challenges with finances, you’re on the right track.

Your story doesn’t need to be dramatic. Effective branding for advisors needs to be authentic and connected to what your target market needs and wants. In the example of an advisor brand video we created, we start with Kris’ story. It’s not dramatic, but it is personal, relatable, and indicates his firm’s commitment to solving a common complaint among prospects: impersonal service from big corporate brands. As a boutique advisor firm, he effectively addresses this problem through his story without needing to directly mention it.

4. Trying to market to a broad audience

Marketing to a broad audience might seem appealing initially, but there’s a lot of value in having a niche. Or at least identifying your ideal client and making sure you messaging speaks to their specific needs. Niching can be intimidating or feel scary to be so narrow, but the benefits are enormous. Most businesses, including ours, initially targeted a broad audience. However, once we started working with advisors, we realized the unique fit and alignment of our services with SEC rules, making it a natural niche for us to consider. And as we started to get to know advisors, we realized we had a lot to offer to help support not just video–but overall branding for advisors. 

Optimizing branding for advisors: What to do instead?

Whether your niche is small or you just have a good enough profile of who your ideal client is, not everyone in that target audience is going to be a great match for you as a client. In my case, the niche of advisors–or even RIAs–is still pretty wide so I narrowed it even further. But even then, not everyone will be a good fit. This is where personality really comes into play. Video gives you a chance to showcase what it’s like to work with your team in a way that no other medium comes close to doing. A brand video that showcases your personality can be a helpful pre-qualification tool for prospects to self-select. Do they like your vibe? A good brand video can screen for that. 
Sharing a personal, relatable story is what makes a good brand video. It should answer the questions: Can I trust you? Would I enjoy spending time with you? Are you approachable for me? Will you understand where I’m coming from and be able to meet my needs?

If you’re on board with niching, ensure your marketing materials reflect that specificity. Find ways to relate your personal story or business approach to why you work with that niche.

Here are three examples from my experience, each addressing specific challenges that advisors in my niche may face:

  1. As a kid, I wasn’t an athlete, which made me stand out in an uncomfortable way. However, I developed creative arts problem-solving skills. Now, I use these skills to help professionals with technical creative challenges. I encourage professionals to embrace what makes them unique and comfortable in finding and communicating what’s different about them. For advisors, standing out from competitors is so essential, yet can feel counterintuitive and uncomfortable at times to break away from the pack. I understand what that’s like and how rewarding it is to embrace and share your authentic self. 

  2. Our company is well-equipped to help advisors navigate video marketing with the new SEC rules. Our natural inclination to create videos with storytelling aligns well with SEC guidelines. I enjoyed writing an article on this topic for the Journal of Financial Planning, and I love supporting leaders who want to try new things.

  3. I love working with advisor firms because there’s often someone at the firm who is camera shy, a feeling I can relate to. I was the kid in school whose heart raced when called on in class, even though I usually knew the right answer. When advisors sit for interviews, I have empathy for that experience and design it to accommodate people who are camera-shy. 

When you embrace what makes you different and relatable to your prospects, you gain confidence in your brand. Video is a powerful way to connect with your ideal client. Remember to make it personal and connect to their unique needs. 

Take it a step further with testimonials

Branding for advisors is changing. Now that the SEC allows advisors to include client testimonials in their marketing, the stand-out advisors are using this tactic to differentiate themselves. If you’re new to client reviews, I recommend starting with Wealthtender’s Certified Advisor Reviews™—there are plenty of free and helpful resources on that page. 

The goal of this remotely recorded client testimonial video we created was to relate to a highly specific set of Values Added niche clients. They focus on connecting with politically progressive (overall niche) and very busy mid-career professionals (a segment of their niche).

5. Thinking you have to get it right

I haven’t read the book “Good to Great,” and while I don’t disagree with the author’s notion that “Good is the enemy of great,” I do believe that there’s immense pressure to get things right without giving ourselves enough permission to try, make mistakes, and experiment.

Personally, the pursuit of perfection, the fear of making mistakes, and the desire to get it right the first time often leave me stuck, paralyzed, and overwhelmed.

Branding for advisors can be overwhelming, requiring a lot of effort. You might never get it exactly right, but you can do it well. Let it be a process. Start with one small change, see how that feels. You don’t have to have everything figured out before you start, and in fact, you can’t. Begin from where you are, building and constantly improving as you go.

Optimizing branding for advisors: What to do instead?

The purpose of using video for advisors is simple: to connect. That’s it. Instead of getting overwhelmed, do something. A small and effective way to start using video, building confidence in your brand, is to use an online recording service (I happen to like and use Loom). Practice by recording personal messages for your clients and prospects.

Even though I have access to high-quality cinematic gear and technical professionals, sometimes my video strategy involves turning on my laptop and hitting record.

For a glimpse into my own video marketing strategy, here’s an example:

Building confidence in your brand with video

To gain confidence in your brand through video, focus on two key principles:

  1. Make it personal, vulnerable, and authentic (unscripted).
  2. Make it relatable to your prospect and their challenges.

I’d love to wrap up with a fantastic video of me confidently skiing as an adult. However, my last bunny slope attempt was about 15 years ago, and my venture into snowboarding ended with an unintentional crash with a child on the hill. So, I retired from that pursuit, and I’m okay with it.

On a positive note, I did take swimming lessons as an adult and am proud of overcoming some fears, now more confidently easing my way through liquid snow.

In the spirit of building confidence in your brand, do you specifically need to use video? No, these principles can be applied to your messaging in various formats. However, video is a strategic and powerful tool with numerous benefits, particularly in helping you stand out from other advisors. When considering how to address branding for advisors, there are a lot of possibilities.

If video strategy sounds like something worth exploring, experimenting with, and maybe even making some mistakes along the way, have a chat with our team.

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