WASHINGTON-Most people are familiar with the saying "A Diamond is Forever" and know it is the slogan for De Beers diamond jewelry, as it has been used by the company for the past 59 years.

But can people recite a catchy slogan for a fund company? Clever marketing and branding is missing from the fund industry, yet it is the key to exciting investors about products, according to panelists at the Investment Company Institute's 49th Annual General Membership Meeting here this month.

"We are boring people to death and turning them off as to what they should be doing in regard to financial planning," said Steve Cone, author of "Steal These Ideas: Marketing Secrets That Will Make You A Star." He resigned early this year as managing director of global advertising and brand management for Citigroup's global wealth management business.

"We need to step up and embrace marketing," said Dave Swanson, managing principal and founder of SwanDog Strategic Marketing, a Chicago-based consulting firm. The industry has fallen into a trap, and there has been no call for change. However, really good marketing can help set an organization apart, he said.

"We've taken the sales-driven model as far as we could," Swanson said, explaining that the industry has never fully been in charge of its brand. Financial advisers have had control for a long time, but now customers' word of mouth is driving brands, he said.

What's the key to a successful brand? Understanding human nature, Cone said. People are all about themselves and want an ad to convey to them "what's in it for me" if they buy the product, he said. Ads need to create excitement and have a call to action, he said, adding they also need to create a sense of intimacy.

When creating an ad, companies should evaluate if it's news, does it have attitude, is it spoken, can you see it and do people know what to do when they see it, Cone stated.

Attitude is very important, and "it is something we all shy away from," he said. People don't want to think about retirement because it's boring. Companies need to get people excited about what our industry does, he said.

Using taglines to help individuals become familiar with brands can be very valuable, Cone said. Often taglines are hidden way at the bottom of a statement and not used across all communications. Companies then wonder why no one knows their slogan, he quipped, adding that they do make or break a business.

The insurance industry has some popular ads that stand out, but mutual funds are not doing anything earth shattering. For example, most individuals are familiar with Allstate's "You're in Good Hands" slogan.

"If you have a good powerline, don't walk away from it. Keep it and use it to differentiate yourself and put your company on the map," Cone said.

There are challenges to marketing, such as making sure not to bombard customers with too much information, the need to shy away from the homogenized Kodak moments that most financial services ads use and attempting to catch the clients' eye, he added.

"People sell to people, not institutions," Cone explained. Most often, magazines have people on the covers because that is what catches people's attention.

Companies need to expand how they get their message out to clients and potential clients, while also understanding the best places to advertise. Companies should decide what they can afford, and if they have limited dollars, they should hire a good public relations firm to get their message and products known in the market, Cone suggested.

The top three areas are television, radio and the Internet. Advertising on television and the radio is very important, as sound is 100 times more powerful than vision, Cone noted. People are not going to stop driving to work or watching television, he said.

Millions of people are now reading blogs, and advertising on them can be beneficial, said Paul Verbinnen, president of New York-based Sard Verbinnen, a financial and corporate communications firm. Bloggers are very influential and can introduce people to products in a constructive way, he said.

A surveillance program should be in place that goes beyond regular mainstream newspaper clippings, Swanson said. Companies need to listen to client's complaints and hear what people are saying about them through blogs and trade publications, he noted.

(c) 2007 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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