“Everybody has a brand whether you are using it or not. There is nothing mystical or magical about a brand. Think of it as a tool.”

With that, Betsy Henning, the chief executive officer of AHA!, offered a practical guide to establishing and maintaining a brand for registered financial advisors. Henning was the principal speaker in a session “Build Your Own Brand into a Powerful Business Tool” at the Charles Schwab & Co. IMPACT 2010 Conference, which opened Wednesday in Boston.

A brand is what people think about you and for RIAs, a brand is indispensable.

“Everyone has a brand whether they are using it or not,” she said. They are a tool like the key to your door. Make the most of it. A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what people say about you,” she said to a standing-room only crowd of about 200. “Brand equals reputation.”

Henning laid out a simple four-step guide to brands that include understanding, creating, and implementing a brand.

What do brands say? Nike as signified by its omnipresent swoosh means winning and athletic competition. Harley Davidson means a throaty motorcycle sound. Key to brand success is understanding what you and your firm stand for.

She urged RIAs to ask themselves “hard questions” about what they wanted their brands to be given that “brokers” and “stock brokers” range in the middle to lower in professions when it comes to integrity.

In creating a brand, she advises RIAs to differentiate themselves from the competition, being relevant to the people with whom they interact and making brands valuable to the business.  

For example, she showed a slide where “timely and clear communication” was the most important differentiator to RIA clients. Yet only 52 per cent of RIAs are known for this. The second most important differentiator was quick and satisfactory problem solving, but only 58 per cent are known for this.

“Be hard on yourself and identify fully-formed individuals as target customers. Understand where you sit in their life experience,” she said.  

When it comes to implementing a brand, RIAs need to consider what clients rationally think and feel emotionally about them.

“What do you want them to feel about you and think about you?” she asked.

For example, Apple’s iPod’s ads make consumers feel like they can dance. On the other hand, Volvos make us think about automotive safety.

As for maintaining brand, also think about how your office, attire, logo and lobby say about you.

“Brands sit the middle of everything you do," she said.

Henning’s bio claims she has done “integrated marketing, messaging, and brand, tone and manner” for Schwab, H-P, Yahoo!, Starwood Hotels and PricewaterhouseCoopers.