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“The customer is always the main character” – What makes a good brand story?

6th September 2022

This is the first of a four-part series on marketing in the wealth management sector. In later instalments we’ll be looking at approaches to target women with wealth, millennials and summarising some key marketing trends to remain relevant. In this first episode we look at brand building in a changing, increasingly competitive market.

Wealth management marketing is a challenging specialism. There’s a reason so many firms have traditionally kept a low profile, growing organically through word-of-mouth, targeted sponsorships or by acquiring their competitors. By definition, wealth management services are aimed at people who have so much money that they need help managing it. That’s not necessarily something you want to shout about. It’s something you talk about discreetly.

But, as the market becomes more competitive, and the mass-affluent segment grows, some wealth management firms are turning to advertising to grow their brand and stand out from the crowd – with varying degrees of success.

To have any lasting commercial impact, brands need a good story, told consistently over time. In this article we look at the creative storytelling of four recent wealth management brand campaigns and how they’ve impacted on each firm’s share of brand search.

But before we start, it’s worth briefly exploring what makes a good brand story, and how long it takes to take effect on a commercial level.

What makes a good brand story?

A well-crafted brand narrative creates a strong emotional link between what the brand stands for (why it exists) and the motivations and values of its customers.

“…the customer is always the main character…”

While the brand is one of the characters in the story, the customer is always the main character, and the story structure is easy to follow and remember.

How long does it take for a brand story to have lasting commercial impact?

Les Binet and Peter Field’s The Long and Short of It is widely regarded as the industry benchmark for brand effectiveness. Their findings conclude that emotional brand building typically takes a minimum of six months to show any commercial results, and lasting results accumulate over the course of two to three years, delivering nearly twice the effect of rational direct marketing by year three.

View image in blog here.

“…emotional brand building typically takes a minimum of six months to show any commercial results…’

Now that we’ve established the importance of brand storytelling, the emotional impression we’re looking to make and the anticipated time frame, let’s look at some examples of wealth management campaigns.

1.     UBS

View image in blog here.

In the first of our four examples, UBS has told the most consistent story, investing in it over time since its launch in 2015 to the present day.

The narrative is deceptively simple and classic in structure, and the central character is the client. As with all good stories, there’s a conflict expressed through the key headline question, which is escalated with further questions. The story peaks with the campaign line “For some of life’s questions, you’re not alone” and resolves with a strong call to action.

View image in blog here.

The use of rhetorical questions elevates the brand narrative from the standard argument that wealth managers know how to doit better than you, to a much more subtle, sophisticated idea that you’re an intelligent investor with questions which UBS can help you find the answers to.

Using questions to highlight pain points also creates an extremely flexible campaign, enabling the narrative to consistently connect with a diverse set of life circumstances from selling a business, to retirement, sustainable investing and intergenerational wealth transfer.

The campaign has been globally executed, targeting sophisticated investors at the higher end of the market, across digital and print channels including LinkedInBloombergFTThe EconomistMonocle and Forbes.

2.     ABRDN

Watch the video in the blog here.

The brand launch campaign for ABRDN targets the mass-affluent market and cleverly side-steps any negative perceptions of greed and personal wealth by elevating the story’s theme to ‘investment as a force for good’. Everything about it, from the story and tone of voice to the choice of people depicted, shifts the focus from services aimed at the affluent elite to wealth that benefits everyone.

The story memorably highlights the positive effects your investments can have on society, peaking with the line ‘when your investments do good things, so can you’. This completes the story arc, showing how your investments can both benefit society and your own life. The final line “we are millions of people with billions of pounds, and together we are changing our future” connects the brand with the audience with an inclusive, positive payoff.

Still running today, the integrated campaign launched in November 2021 across TV, out of home, radio, press, digital advertising, social and PR. Thanks to its really clear, well-conceived story, the campaign has made a strong impact in a relatively short space of time.

3.     BREWIN DOLPHIN

Watch the video in the blog here.

Brewin Dolphin launched a national TV campaign in mid-2021, which was clearly aimed at a mass-affluent market who were new to the concept of wealth management. It ran until the announcement of its sale to RBC in March 2022.

The advert’s message is to trust Brewin Dolphin with your investments rather than relying on your gut instinct – which can, of course, be risky. It’s a generic wealth management message with no real emotional connection.

The ad starts with some cute, attention-grabbing animals depicting the different types of investor: “the market-dip jumper, the finance-phobic plan dodger, and the follow-the-hype type.” An attempt, perhaps, at persuading the audience to think twice about their habits.

But it could be argued that rather than creating an emotional connection, this opening narrative alienates the audience by implying that their decision making isn’t especially good. At best, the segue from the opening animals into a dolphin for the end conclusion might enhance awareness of the Brewin Dolphin name – and in the absence of a compelling brand story, the creative team might have had little else to work with.

4.     SCHRODERS

View image in blog here.

Schroders Personal Wealth launched a six-week ad campaign across print and tube adverts in November 2019, with the aim of challenging public perception about financial advice. They launched the campaign based on their own research, which found that 21% of consumers would rather visit the dentist than speak to a financial adviser. The objective was to make financial planning more accessible and appealing to people in the UK.

Similar to Brewin Dolphin, the core message was that trusting your own instincts can lead to questionable conclusions, whereas Schroders can help you make the right investment decisions.

The lead headline poses a maths question. The body copy then goes on to say that most people (and by implication, you) get the answer wrong. Schroders can help you ‘understand your own mind’ and ends with an invitation to take an investIQ test.

I don’t know for certain, but I’m pretty sure that a large percentage of the UK population would also prefer to visit a dentist than solve a maths question and take an IQ test. So, for me at least, it fails to reach the aim of making financial planning more accessible. There’s a good chance it makes it even less accessible, in fact.

What impact did these campaigns have on brand salience?

Our critique of the four brand stories above has been subjective. On face value, Brewin Dolphin and Schroders appear to have struggled to create a compelling narrative that creates a memorable, emotional connection with the audience. They fail to subvert the common position that wealth managers are ‘experts you trust your wealth with’. Both campaigns were relatively short lived across a small number of channels, which, based on the research by Binet and Field, would suggest that any impact on brand salience would be limited.

“…a well-crafted brand narrative creates a strong emotional link between what the brand stands for (why it exists) and the motivations and values of its customers…”

UBS and ABRDN, on the other hand, appear to have elevated the brand promise through classic storytelling principles, promoted consistently thanks to a committed investment in a balanced portfolio of channels.

View image in blog here.

The Google Trends chart above provides us with objective data to base these judgements on, showing the relative volumes of UK brand searches for the four firms over a two-year period.

UBS (the yellow line) shows a consistently higher share of brand search over Brewin Dolphin (red) and Schroders (green), reflecting the effectiveness of the campaign with a steady investment overtime. ABRDN (blue) shows a swift incline in brand searches which they’ve sustained since the brand’s launch. In comparison, the red and green lines of Brewin Dolphin and Schroders show no discernible impact, which indicates that the creative story didn’t resonate at the time and the investment was short lived. The peak in Brewin’s volumes match the time when the sale to RBC was announced, so this is almost certainly a PR spike rather than a brand response.

So what can we learn from these examples?

While it’s still relatively early days for wealth management brand advertising, the trend certainly won’t decline as the market gets more competitive. It’s clear from these early movers that successful entrants will need to develop their own compelling brand narratives and invest in them consistently to see any significant commercial returns. It’s not a game for dabblers, as winning will require significant commitment. But the returns are potentially substantial. It will be interesting to see which of the other firms in the market grasp the nettle and seriously enter the fray.

Stay tuned for the next article on women with wealth – the second part of our wealth management marketing series.

If you’d like to explore your brand story or create a compelling campaign, get in touch with our marketing team by emailing [email protected]

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