Merrill Lynch and Fidelity don’t have anything on Jeanne Gibson Sullivan, CFP of Financially in Tune.
Yes, Merrill has its readily recognizable bull and Fidelity its long-standing pyramid. And yes both of those companies, as well as others of that ilk, are able to and often do spend millions of dollars developing and advertising their logos and messages.
But all that that hasn’t stopped Gibson Sullivan and other advisors of her ilk from creating – often on a very small budget - and using logos of their own to convey a visual message to prospects and clients.
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In Gibson Sullivan’s case, she uses a stack of three coins as her logo on her letterhead, website, business cards, marketing materials and the like. In addition, she submitted her company’s logo to Fidelity and Schwab so it’s included on her client statements. And she’s uploaded her company’s logo (see image below) to Morningstar for her client quarterly statements – all at no cost.
Like Gibson Sullivan, Jason Branning, CFP of Branning Wealth Management, uses a logo (a play on the firm’s name - BWM) on his company’s website, letterhead, business cards, newsletters, e-correspondence via Constant Contact, as well as his business Facebook account.
Dave Caruso, CFP, the founding chairman and managing director of Coastal Capital Group, uses a logo – a stylized sailboat (a play on Caruso’s love of sailing and his firm’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean among other reasons) – as well. “We've actually had three versions already of our logo over the last eight years,” says Caruso. “We freshen it every three to five years to make sure there were in line with the firm identity meeting the firm’s personality.”
Others, meanwhile, have had a long-standing or better yet a long-imagined logo in place. Case in point is Neal Solomon, CFP, CLU, ChFC, CASL, the managing director of WealthPro. His logo (see image) is a custom design from an idea he had a couple of decades ago. “I hired a graphic designer to create the image based on my idea,” he says. “Then I took the time (and went to the expense) to register the mark as a registered trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. So it is our unique identifying ‘mark’ and I can prevent others from using a similar look.” The logo is named “The Graph Climber.”
The idea, says Solomon, is branding.
Other advisors, meanwhile, don’t have a logo per se. Instead, they’ve improvised or used off-the-shelf templates. “I primarily use my business name, Aqua Financial Planning, in an aqua color as my ‘logo’ on everything,” says Francine Duke, CFP.
Improvised or not, off-the-shelf or not, Ed Gjertsen II, CFP, vice president Mack Investment Securities, Inc. is a big believer not just in logos, but in the science and art of marketing and branding. “I believe logos are very important in the overall branding of a firm,” says Gjertsen. “In the financial services industry, there are only a handful of logos that come to mind yet, in the consumer discretionary world, I can think of dozens. What are the McDonald’s, Starbucks and Lexus’s doing (outside of millions of dollars in ad buys) that our industry is not?”
In some cases, advisors spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars creating a logo. In other cases, not so much. “The cost of my logo was quite low,” says Gibson Sullivan. Low indeed. She asked her son’s friends who were good artists – and just 15 years old at the time – to draw a few sketches.
Gibson Sullivan chose one of the sketches (only one friend took the time to do sketches, she says) – three coins stacked. “I liked it because it was simple and to the point,” says Gibson Sullivan, who then had a graphic designer turn the sketch into a real logo. (By the way, Gibson Sullivan did pay her son’s friend, who is now a senior in high school and has designs on studying graphic design in college, for the logo.)
“Once the logo was done, and I paid for the signs for my office, there was virtually no cost,” says Gibson Sullivan. “I did have some labels printed that I attach to folders (purchased in bulk at Staples for short money) for use when I present information to clients.”
Some advisors, meanwhile, are keeping the logo/branding exercise not just inexpensive, but fun and quirky. Duke, for instance, recently purchased the new iPhone 5 and got, of course, a white case with aqua trim. Duke is also keeping her eyes open for an aqua-colored car. “If Mary Kay could have a pink Cadillac, this should be ok for me,” Duke says. For the record, Duke does use a small logo on her company’s website that she downloaded from Microsoft for free, but she is “probably going to get rid of that as I don't use it elsewhere at all.”
Gjersten would likely applaud Duke’s and Gibson Sullivan’s approaches to creating and using a logo. “For a firm just starting out, the consistency of brand is important but doesn’t have to be expensive.” he says. “Today’s software programs make logo making easy and economical.”
The end game
In Solomon’s case, there was an expense associated with creating the logo, but it was more than worth it. “I think that it has been worth the expense,” he says. “Actually if I ever wanted to - I could sell the trademarked image itself as an intellectual property asset. But I have no plans to sell my mark in the foreseeable future.”
Other firms have spent thousands – though under five figures and certainly well under the six or seven figures that Merrill and Fidelity spend – on logo and branding efforts. However, they do so with a very specific end game in mind.
“We want to make sure that we identify ourselves as Coastal Capital Group as opposed to LPL Financial,” Caruso says. “It's probably (cost us) less than $5,000 or so to do a total revamping. So basically we are spending as much as we think we need to spend at this point.”
Indeed, much like the process that many large firms go through when creating a logo, advisors interviewed for this article think long and hard about the message their logo ought to convey. Says Gibson Sullivan: “The type font was somewhat important as I wanted the “F” in ‘financially’ to be a similar font to the “f” in “forte” in music, which means the strong part of the music (a subtle nod to my love of music, and the name of my firm “Financially in Tune” that I would never expect anyone to pick up).”
In his case, Branning says having a logo can be worth the expense. “Yes, if it is effectively communicating the message of the business in a memorable way,” he says.
For Ben Coombs, though retired from the financial planning business for 13 years now, communicating the message of the business in a memorable way was job number one for his firm. “My partner and I chose our company name ‘Petra’ to speak of in whom we believed,” he says. “It comes from Matthew 16:18, ‘upon this rock build my church.’ It was upon this rock that we wanted to build our business as well.”
So, says Coombs, he and his partner chose a stylistic mountain peak for the firm’s logo.
Other advisors also say they want their logos to be memorable. “Hopefully it is recognizable, memorable – and unique,” says Solomon. “It is intended to convey a sense of focus in the pursuit of important financial goals. Obtaining financial objectives is not easy – it requires effort similar to a long climb. But by showing that it is a graph being climbed, we hope to make clear that the goal involves something measured and measurable.”
And for Solomon, the good news is that he knows that some clients recognize and open his firm’s mail when they see the logo.
As for measuring the logo’s effectiveness, Coombs - like Solomon - used the empirical approach. He would tally how often he and his partner were asked what “Petra” referred to. And that, he says, happened two or three times a year. “So we felt it was effective; both the name and the logo,” Coombs says. “And it didn’t cost much. We hired a graphic artist who went to my partner’s church who chose our colors and came up with the graphic for our logo.”
For the most part, however, advisors say they are unable to measure the effectiveness of their logos. “I can't say for sure,” says Duke. “I'm just having fun with it and the nice thing is, it costs me nothing.”
Gibson Sullivan isn’t able to measure the effectiveness of her logo just yet, but she does feel that her firm’s logo “adds a polish to my materials and perhaps legitimacy for a sole practitioner with one employee now.”
Others also say it’s less about measuring a logo’s effectiveness and more about the warm and fuzzy feelings one gets from having a logo. “Well I’ve never done anything to formally study (the effectiveness of his firm’s logo),” says Solomon. “It makes me feel good and creates a tangible image for the practice I’ve worked so hard to build. Does that count? Seriously I think that people associate the image with us. It’s all about creating a unique identity.”
Like Gibson Sullivan and Solomon, Caruso hasn’t measured his company logo’s effectiveness either, but he too thinks it’s worth the effort. “We started this so that we could standardize all our corporate literature,” says Caruso. “So that things look like they belong and are not are just pieced together.”
In his firm’s case, Caruso says creating the logo has been an evolution vs. a revolution. And when his firm recently merged with another firm, he felt it was imperative to update the logo again. Caruso also hired as part of his firm’s branding process, a consultant to help with social networking and putting the firm’s message together as well.
“I think it’s important for us to be consistent in all of our lines of communication, but we are not fanatical about it,” Caruso says. “I truly don't know if it’s effective or not and quite frankly have no way of gauging it for a firm our size. “
Gjersten says his firm doesn’t measure the effectiveness of his firm’s logo, but like other advisors his firm puts the logo on every piece of correspondence, business card, notepad, and the like. (See the Mack Investment Services logo that was originally designed by a graphic artist client when the firm was founded back in 1986.)
Ultimately, Gjersten says a firm’s has to measure the effectiveness of its entire marketing effort not just the logo. “How effective the logo is has more to do with marketing dollars after its creation than the cost of the logo itself,” Gjerstan says. “A firm’s external brand, to be successful, needs to be consistent and measured.”
Like Gjersten, Branning tends to view a firm’s logo in the context of a larger picture. “A logo can be effective if it communicates a core business message or philosophy,” says Branning. “A logo should aim to communicate its message in both form and substance - how it looks and what it says. I would measure a logo on its ability to communicate business message and philosophy that is memorable (or sticky).”
The bottom line
Ultimately, advisors say having a logo says something about their firm that isn’t said without a logo. “The professional tone is important to me, plus it adds a small bit of color,” says Gibson Sullivan. “Most importantly, I have been able to keep the cost incredibly low, which is important for a small practice.”
Others share that point of view. “I think the best way to put it is that allows you to be more professional using a logo with some relevance to our current times and can only hurt you if it's ugly and outdated,” says Caruso. “I think this is one of these cases where we play defense, not offense.”
And Gjersten had this to say: “I believe the difference in the ‘success’ of logos has more to do with how a logo is used rather than if they are used at all. A firm may spend a lot of money on a visually impactful logo yet fail to promote it correctly. The logo, in my view, is a visual representation of your brand. Logos, when used effectively, create an instant recognition among current and potential clients of your firm.”
Financial advisors might not always agree on lots of topics, but on the subject of logos and whether to have one there’s almost universal agreement. “I think that financial professionals – and any business for that matter – should use quality logos as a part of their brand building effort.”
Do you have a logo? If so, let us know in the comment field below whether and how you use it and whether and how you gauge its effectiveness. Is it worth the expense? If you don't use a logo, why not?