How to Build Your Unique Brand — and Amplify its Voice

Several years ago, I reached the point in my career where I wasn’t sure what was next. I’d been working as a tied agent with a large insurance firm, and the next natural step was management. However, I didn’t agree with the management culture at my firm, and I couldn’t afford to risk a pay cut in order to slowly build my own team. I had also just attended an MDRT Annual Meeting, and my active networking with fellow members sparked a lot of ideas I wanted to implement as I continued to evolve in my own practice.  

I decided to take a leap of faith and launch out on my own. That was two years ago, and though it’s been a challenge to build a unique brand from scratch, it’s provided me the freedom and independence to carve out my practice’s own distinct voice. By identifying and defining my target market, I’ve been able to focus my services to cater to my clients’ specific pain points. And by strengthening my community presence and investing in strategic partnerships, I’ve established my practice as a well-known and trusted brand. Here’s how you can do the same.

Identify your target market

To create your brand, you must first identify the target market you want to serve. Without a clear understanding of who you want to work with and what you want to do for them, it will be difficult to market yourself and know what product solutions you must have in your arsenal. A sharp, defined focus allows you to prospect more efficiently and provide your clients with stronger, tailored solutions.

For me, the easiest way to identify my target market was to draw on my past experiences. I spent my younger years working at my parents’ business, and, once I was married, helped with my husband’s business. This gave me a deep knowledge of the intricacies of the business world, so I decided to maximize that and target corporations and institutions that required employee benefits planning. Another financial planner I know got her M.D. before pursuing financial advising, which led her to primarily work with physicians. Drawing on your past experiences will help you navigate your target market’s lingo and better connect with your clientele, driving focused results.  

Just as important is knowing what type of market you prefer not working with. Perhaps you realize you enjoy working with families more than corporations or you find advising senior citizens to be more fulfilling than advising millennials. Whatever the case, knowing this about yourself can help you better pinpoint your ideal client base.

Carve out your niche

Now you need to carve out your own personal niche as it relates to your identified market. This will provide further clarity as to where you should bolster your services and help narrow your prospect list. Knowing that you want to target businesses is great but you should establish a clearer understanding of specifics. For example, your niche may be providing startups that have less than 50 employees with life insurance coverage.

One of the best ways to further narrow what your ideal clientele looks like is to research and learn as much about them as possible. Read up on current industry trends, meet with local professionals you admire, investigate all of the companies in the industry nearby and explore every product related to your desired audience. Another way to further define your niche is to ask yourself where the majority of your sales already are, as well as which sales you enjoyed making most.

As with anything new, there are some lessons you’ll only learn through trial and error. For example, I knew that I wanted to target corporations, but it took some time to realize that I wanted to only work with businesses that had 200 or less employees. I realized that, with larger companies, there’s often quite a bit of red tape to break through. While the HR representatives I met with typically loved my proposed plans, they had to then relay them to their boards without me. This process could take months and typically ended with no sale. With smaller companies, I was able to present to the main decision-makers myself and win my case.

Sell concepts, not products

It’s essential to fully comprehend all of the product solutions tailored for your specific market. Most of the time, tied agents only learn one company’s products. When you launch out on your own, explore other product solutions and identify if they work for your brand and your client’s needs. Don’t be afraid to release a license or two and forego some product offerings. Instead, think quality over quantity and assemble the product solutions you believe work best for your niche.

With a streamlined product arsenal, you can then strategically organize your product offerings into industry-specific concepts that speak to your clients’ pain points. By selling concepts, instead of products alone, you’ll connect with your clients on a deeper level and help them solve multiple problems at once. You’ll also become a much stronger asset to the company and guarantee that they’ll become clients for life instead of just a product cycle.  

A great example of this may be a new client who asks for you to provide her employees with a new HMO plan. However, since clients typically have underlying business needs that run deeper than their original request, you’ll need to investigate further and understand where her need actually lies. One of the best ways to do this is to sit down with all new clients with a piece of paper and a pen. Start with simple questions such as, “What problems do you want to solve?” and “Where do you want your business to be in five years?” You should spend the majority of the hour simply talking about what their goals are, though you won’t find a solution during the first meeting. Instead, your aim is to gather as much information as possible and zero in on where their overarching business needs lie. The business owner who wants a new HMO plan may actually be trying to increase her employee retention rate, but you won’t know that right away. You’ll need to dig deeper throughout your initial conversation to see the bigger picture.

Identifying your client’s underlying pain points will give you the opportunity to strategically address them. For instance, work with the business owner to identify what her retention rate needs to look like in the next two years for her to stay competitive. Then, build a solution. One of my favorite strategies for increasing retention rates is to draw on a variety of investment products and create employee mutual funds that are only available to them after five years. After five years, employees have the option to withdraw the money in their mutual fund or to leave it and let it grow. This provides the employer with the reassurance that her employees will most likely stick around and provides employees a monetary incentive to do so.

Amplify your brand’s voice

Building a brand is just the beginning. You yourself must remain an active and engaged pillar of the community to amplify your brand, gain trust amongst your prospects and clients and sustain your business long term. Be involved in the every-day workings of your town — whether it’s by singing in the local church choir or taking up dragon boat racing — and find ways to give back to your community. One of my favorite ways to do this is to use my practice to organize local fundraising events. Hosting a middle school talent show or a 5k that raises funds for a local non-profit helps connect individuals and institutions with your favorite charitable organizations, plus gives your brand some much-needed exposure. You’ll make great connections and establish yourself as someone who cares about investing in the community.

Keep in mind, however, that one of the easiest ways to sabotage your new brand is to view everyone you encounter as a prospect, seeing dollar signs over their heads. A lot of younger advisors can come off as too pushy and intimidate new acquaintances, asking about their financial planning needs and life insurance coverage just after the first introduction. I used to do the same thing, and I’d leave weddings and birthday parties disappointed that I didn’t get any business cards or make any business connections. Reframe your perspective in these interactions, because one of the best things about identifying and defining your target market is that you don’t need to see everyone as a potential client. You won’t network to sell, but instead to share your brand’s story and remain top of mind.

Another way to promote your brand is through social media. With a solid presence on Facebook and LinkedIn, you’ll establish credibility and make it easier for clients to refer you. You don’t need to be a marketing whiz to make this happen: your posts can be simple, showcasing speaking opportunities or providing clients brief financial advice. Remaining active and engaged online amplifies your brand’s voice and establishes you as a thought leader in your industry.

Strengthen your partnerships

Sustain and grow your brand by continually refining it through networking and strategic partnerships. I’ve found one of the best ways to gain new ideas and meet new people who challenge you is by joining professional organizations. In fact, some of my best ideas have stemmed from attending the MDRT Annual Meeting and being bold enough to approach industry veterans. A great networking trick I’ve picked up is to glance at their name tag and greet them like they’re an old friend, even if you’ve never met before. Chances are they’ll act like they know you and now you have a new connection!

Another way to encourage healthy growth is to partner with other advisors and clients. Partnering with other advisors who have experience in certain products or fields can help expand your business’ offerings. Find a few co-advisors who complement your strengths and provide them a 50/50 share in any sales they help you close to give your practice a competitive edge. Utilize your best assets — your clients — by introducing a referral reward program to incentivize referrals. Some of your top clients can come from direct referrals, and with an incentive program in place, your clients will work to open the door and lay out the red carpet for you.

At the end of the day, you are tied to your brand. If your clients, fellow advisors and neighbors know you, like you and trust you, they will also help support your brand and amplify its voice. By making a positive ripple in the community, and providing strategic, tailored guidance to your clients, you’ll create and define a strong, solutions-oriented practice that is well-known and trusted.

Janet N. Ng Janet N. Ng FChFP, CWP, CEPP, LACP is Executive Director of Bridges-PH, and specializes in the creation of comprehensive financial programs for entrepreneurs, corporate executives and institutions in Metro Manila, Philippines. She is a Qualifying and Life Member of MDRT.