“Most competitive interest rates!” “Best customer service!” “Fastest underwriting time!” A quick Google search results in a bombardment of advertisements from banks, alternative finance, peer-to-peer, and online loan companies. How are your potential customers going to find you? And, really, truly understand your value?
At CapX partners, our goal is to be a highly respected capital partner hitting the market with the right capital at the right time for potential clients. What’s your goal? When you’re competing against a wide range of differing audiences, it all starts with who you are and how you operate. We believe that we offer the best value to our constituents when they know who we are and what we are all about, driven by world-class operations and fueled by the best people.
The importance of authenticity and your brand
Most people when they talk about branding use examples such as Apple, Starbucks, or even McDonald’s. These organizations have built pretty clear-cut brand personas, reflecting their personality, their philosophies, and how they’ve developed their value proposition. But what about those of us in the business of providing a service? Those operating in the financial sector provide services that are less tangible and often more complex, making it harder to distinguish between the wide range of individuals and companies competing for the same audience.
According to Dana Arnett, CEO of VSA Partners, a highly regarded branding and marketing firm, “Brands are more important than ever today. In a modern world of increasing commoditization, a primary source of sustainable business advantage is brand.” Development of an authentic brand is a critical starting point. Communicating and sustaining that brand is where the work continues.
What’s commonly referred to as “brand essence’ is at the core of all brands. This is very simply what you stand for, what sets you apart, what makes you unique. This is the overall message and feeling about your company you want your prospects and customers to understand.
Many schools of brand study state that it’s better to be different than it is to be better. But different isn’t going to cut it if it’s not believable. As Arnett states, “You can’t simply invent authenticity or make people believe in your brand if it doesn’t behave and act honestly. And in today’s hyper-connected marketplace, truth must always lead the way.”
Add to your competitive edge with design
Your brand lives and breathes at every moment of communication. Most people understand that the letterhead and business card, website, brochures and other sales materials are your brand. But your brand extends to all aspects of your appearance, from what you write in a blog post to your companies presence at an industry conference. Consistent application of design standards combined with consistent messaging, or storytelling, is what comprises the visual and verbal expression of your brand.
A few years ago, CapX Partners undertook a comprehensive evaluation of our brand strategy, including a close look at our design representation. Along with a refreshed identity, came a new website and a comprehensive set of communications tools and templates. But all the shiny new tools in the world aren’t going to do a thing without a communications plan.
Developing and implementing your communications plan
The first step in any communications program is to truly understand your constituencies and relationships. At larger companies, broad-based brand awareness is important to lay the groundwork for sales and marketing. But smaller companies don’t have to influence every single possible prospect to be successful. What you do have to do is select the right target. Define your market by company size, industry, title, and geography. Add to the mix any criterion that best fits what you offer. Some companies make the mistake of not defining their target audience discretely enough, only to find out their message falls flat because it’s too broad and has lost meaning. The end goal is always to communicate your authentic brand to your core constituencies in a consistent manner.
At CapX, we define our primary target as lead sources or lead prospects. We are always looking for opportunities to drive inbound leads. Let’s face it: Who doesn’t want prospects coming to them? We are continually developing our brand messaging and outreach that hits on our core messaging points and creates an incentive for response. Link your target audience profile with the message that will resonate with them, and rely on its value to establish your brand and generate response. We do the same with our referral sources…this includes the private equity community, lawyers, accountants, bankers…even previous clients.
Create opportunities for exposure of your brand message
Where do your customers go to find out what’s new and who is new? Constantly test and evaluate what element or combination of elements best support what you’ve defined as your core brand identity. At CapX Partners, we focus on a consistent series of core message repetition across a wide range of tools, including public relations, blogging, eblasts and search engine optimization. The intent of each one of our communication tools is slightly different, with the result being bigger than any one component.
The only reason this matters is that we are trying to reach people who are looking for our type of capital at the right place, at the right time. We are looking to drive the right type of business to us, being forefront and top of mind at the moment they need us.
None of this means anything if it can’t be measured and it doesn’t lead to more clients, of course. More satisfied clients and more money for our investors and us. That’s why our capital formation and back-office operations need to match the effort we put into our market perception.
Behind the scenes
For a small investment firm, we place a big emphasis on systems and process with the goal of making money and saving time. We invest in third party tools for underwriting excellence, portfolio management, and investor reporting. If our brand defines us a world-class, growing investment firm, our investors expect that in any and all forms of communication, from request handling to our annual meeting.
By integrating these expertly designed systems into our day-to-day activities, we not only look inward to improve operations, but we can also report outward. Our brand essence permeates through the organization, from every call we make, every email we write, to each and every interaction.
People, process, and technology
Finally, we, like you, are competing every day for time, attention, people…and for us, the next investor dollar. We carefully select our relationships and targets and look to communicate our authentic message across these audiences. We believe that by acting like a big company, through our people, our processes, our technologies, we operate more efficiently than a big company. Believing and acting as if you are a mature organization can drive sales and opportunities. But there’s work…and a level of investment involved. You’re investing in brand, operations, and most of all, your people.
At CapX, we try to hire the best and the brightest. The reality is, sales cycles in service businesses are often very long. Creating opportunities for direct, meaningful contact with the individuals that authentically represent your organization can help develop recognition and reputation. In the end, it’s your people who are the most authentic representations who you are and are the fuel that makes your company great.
(as appeared in the March/April issue of NEFA Newsline)