How Advisors Can Develop a Good Positioning Statement

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Louise Cole, CWC, RLP, CFP®, managing partner of The Heritage Group of North America, introduces herself as an "affluenziologist" who helps people transfer their values as well as their valuables to future generations. It is a quick and catchy way of telling people that if family unity around financial issues is important to you, then you need to call her office to learn more.

Marge Randles, CFP®, principal of The Practical Planner, says it this way: "My friends call me the financial farmer. I help my clients plant the seeds, nurture their crops and harvest the fruits of their labors when the time is right."

"It" is the all-purpose positioning statement, known in the trade as an elevator speech, because it should be short enough to convey who you are and what you offer in the space of an elevator ride. It helps you present yourself and position your capabilities in the listener's mind. While you should be prepared to talk with passion, power and clarity about your entire range of services (known as your value proposition), your positioning statement may be your foot in the door to that conversation. It should be at most a sentence or two—generally no more than 60 words that convey what you do for whom.

Positioning—creating perceptions in the listener's mind—is an important aspect of marketing yourself. You must be perceived as "the best" at what you do for your particular marketplace. Every business grows and changes, and your pitch needs to grow and change with it. If your elevator speech is out of date, you're missing one of your most important opportunities to "brand."

Whether or not you use your prepared comments verbatim or as a foundational element from which you improvise, just going through the process of developing a positioning statement can be a useful exercise because it forces you to identify and concisely articulate your distinct value to your client. Ideally, it will distinguish you from your competitors; in today's marketplace, no business or product is deemed "good" unless it has an original pitch, brand and message.


As a marketer working with advisers for over 20 years, I venture that many financial planners have misunderstood what a positioning statement really is. It doesn't have to feel sleazy or shade the truth. In fact, a good positioning statement isn't so much a sales pitch as an answer to the question, "What do you do?" No one likes to feel that they're "being sold," but we all want to know what other people do and how they might be able to help us.

"We see developing our elevator speech as a means to get all the staff focused on what we're all about," says James Tarvin, CFP®, a fee-only adviser with Guardian Wealth Management, Inc. in Chattanooga, Tenn. "It's a succinct way to tell our story and distinguish us from others. And it's a way to qualify potential clients, since we are intentionally casting a narrow net. We also hope that we can get enthusiastic clients and co-professionals—attorneys and accountants with mutual clients—to know our elevator story as a means of helping them generate referrals for us. It is also a good conversation-starter at community functions, and gives us confidence as we work a room of strangers."


So, how do you develop a good positioning statement? You want to tell people who you are and how they will benefit from working with you, with an eye to what makes you stand out from the crowd. If you're a fun and spunky person, you might play up your personality with colloquial language. If you are more serious, trying to deliver a cute positioning statement will just come across as phony.

Once you've developed something that feels right, you'll want to practice and internalize it so you speak naturally whenever a need or opportunity is presented. Notice how people react when you deliver your positioning statement. Do you pique the listener's interest? Do they say, "How do you do that?" or "Tell me more?"

Whatever your style, create a clear, compelling positioning statement that quickly answers the listener's fundamental question, "What's in it for me?" If you truly believe in what you do and how you help people, you'll exude a confidence that will attract people. The more clearly you define and communicate the value of your services, the more distinct your marketing edge will be.

Challenge yourself – how can you stand out in the sea of sameness? You are one of a kind. What is your distinct personality? What makes you different from all the others?  What statements can only you make in your promotions and marketing communications? What statements do competitors dare not say (or don’t bother to say) in their promotions and marketing communications? What ideas, images and motivations can you use that will distinguish you from all others? If fiduciary becomes a standard, you will have lost a qualifier … now what?

Don’t rely on industry jargon or buzz words. How else can you communicate in layman’s terms concepts such as “fee-only” and “fiduciary”? Repeat, rephrase, refocus. Make sure your mother would be able to easily understand what you say you do.

You’ll also want to have a couple variations rehearsed and internalized so that you can adapt and adjust your key words and delivery depending on whom you’re speaking with and what you perceive as pain points and interests.


Here are some “value words” that might describe you – jot down the ones that ring true and weave them into your positioning statement.

-- Integrity

-- Competence

-- Prudent

-- Judgment

-- Personal service

-- Client-Centered

-- Advanced education

-- Industry knowledge

-- Experience

-- Consideration

-- Credibility

-- Innovation

-- Adaptability

-- Value-based fees

-- Quality 

-- Attention to detail

-- Consumer advocate

-- Proprietary process

-- Affable

-- Dedicated

-- Analytical

-- Focused

-- Holistic

-- Integrated

-- Personable

-- Efficient

-- Prompt

-- Independent


Kirk Hulett, one of Securities America’s practice management experts, offers additional insights and advice on how to create what he calls a 3-3-3 or elevator speech so you can always answer with confidence when asked, “So what do you do for work?” He steers advisors to Harvard Business School’s free Elevator Pitch Builder, which breaks down the process into five easy steps, provides sample wording, and even provides an evaluation of your pitch at the end.  To read Kirk’s additional thoughts, go to http://advisorpod.com/PL028.


I’ve just posted a new two-minute video clip on the FPA Twitter Live blog. This week: Sheryl Garrett, CFP, AIF, talks about real time financial planning and how advisors can provide immediate value. View it at www.FPATwitterLive.blogspot.com.



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