Innovative branding strategies

While many dealers and advisors have chosen to go back to their roots, with town-hall meetings, seminars and more face-to-face meetings, to establish their expertise status, there are a few individuals and companies choosing to forge the unknown road.

Over two years ago, Hosein Ansary chose to launch a magazine aimed at the Iranian community. As a Montreal-based financial advisor and chartered life underwriter with over 21 years in the business, Ansary opted to start his own publication based on his experience as a guest financial columnist.

“I started writing for a local newspaper and before long, I was receiving between five and 10 calls a day,” explains Ansary. Even more amazing was that Ansary’s closing rates — his ability to sell during the initial one or two meetings — rose exponentially. “The credibility I received through writing those articles made these [potential clients] see me with different eyes.”

Ansary estimates his book of business increased by 50% in two years. But the benefits of being a magazine publisher were not limited to just expanding his book of business.

“In order for me to explain insurance, I needed to write interesting articles, articles my readers would enjoy. That meant I was forced to read. I read four to five books a month, five to six magazines a week, and daily publications all the time. Nobody really learned as much as I did during that process.”

This summer, Ansary published the 24th issue of his magazine: Etebar. Just over two years ago, he published the very first issue of the monthly magazine. “We started with only 24 pages and after only six months of publishing, the page count increased to 100 pages,” explains Ansary. The magazine has stayed at 100 pages ever since.

From the start, Ansary’s formula was fairly straightforward: stay away from politics, keep the financial or economic coverage to a maximum of 30% and focus a lot on social issues that affect the Iranian community.

“We had to touch on the issues that touched the community,” explains Ansary. “We had to be professional. We had to be part of the community.”

This meant awareness campaigns attached to the magazine. “We organize an annual community benefit BBQ and we co-ordinate blood drives twice a year.” It also meant determining how to best use the magazine.

“The top 10% of my clients receive this magazine for free,” explains Ansary. The other 90% subscribe for a nominal fee.

While the publication still does not break even, Ansary now publishes 4,000 copies of the glossy publication at a cost of roughly $15,000 each month.

“We don’t make a million, but I now have over 2,000 clients and I no longer need to prospect — the clients come to me. [Also] selling has become so much easier,” says Ansary. “Now it’s just a question of me meeting them and them accepting.” He credits this to the potency of the written word. “I cannot convey to clients in a 10-, 15- or 60-minute meeting what an article can say in one or two pages.”

Ansary is also pleased with the growth of Etebar, which started with only an editor and a few freelance writers not more than 24 months ago; its growth now helps to employ 17 people (though not all of them full time, he says).

Ansary is not the only advisor/broker forging his own branding path.

Kish Kapoor, president of Wellington West, is one of the brainchildren behind the launch of his firm’s new client-focused magazine, Inspired Thinking.

Launched last spring, Inspired Thinking caters to the high-net-worth client, whom Wellington West has unique access to based on their proprietary arrangements as the financial planning company for university alumni across Canada.

Despite competition with a number of other consumer publications that cater to the well-heeled crowd, Kapoor believes Inspired Thinking offers readers and advertisers a unique entity.

“Advertisers know that we have 22 universities and all their alumni [as potential readers],” explains Kapoor. “This association provides us with the privilege of interacting with highly educated individuals [at and from] these universities.”

Yet the rationale behind Inspired Thinking was not to simply provide an advertising product to the 50,000 hand-picked HNW readers from across Canada; Inspired Thinking is part of Wellington West’s overall branding strategy.

This type of out-of-the-box thinking was prompted by Kapoor’s prior experience at Assante in the U.S. As a former marketing executive, Kapoor immediately noticed Wellington West’s innovative approach — forming alliances with first-class institutions — but he kept asking: How else can we tell our story?

“When I was at Assante we catered to athletes and actors and we used a magazine to tell our story. It was so popular that every institutional investor subscribed to the publication because it was the best way for them to understand our firm, our culture, our philosophy. This helped people understand the company and prompted decisions to purchase stock.”

The result was Inspired Thinking.

“We market to alumni [from universities] across Canada, including University of Toronto, Waterloo, Queens, Trent, Victoria, UBC and Laurier.” He adds that over the last few years, the company has expanded its roster of university affiliates to include more than 20 universities, giving the wealth management company access to current and potential HNW clients in need of financial services. “We know that with all this momentum we need to continue to create awareness of our name, our brand and our principles. We want these [potential clients] to know what we stand for. Now, you have to ask: How do we, as a small player in a land of giants, get our message out? What better way to do that than to tell our stories.”

The proprietary magazine allowed the firm “an opportunity to showcase our biggest asset: our people,” says Kapoor, “and provided an avenue for the firm’s commitment and philosophy.”

The magazine is not all about financial services. “We talk about food, fads, art and so many other things, not just about financial planning and Wellington West,” says Kapoor, but quickly adds that the magazine is part of an overall plan to create brand awareness so that Wellington West attracts the right clients and the right employees.

“To really understand the magazine, you need to understand who we are and what our business is — the role and position [of the firm] in the competitive landscape. This piece [the magazine] is part of something much bigger. Without putting the magazine in context, you don’t fully appreciate what we are doing.”

Ansary and Kapoor both offer unique avenues for advertisers wishing to target specific communities.

While Ansary distributes the magazine to his clients in Montreal and Toronto (and areas in between) he is beginning to garner interest in stores that cater to the Iranian community in other parts of Canada and the U.S.

“The magazine is definitely not bringing in enough money, but my [financial services] business has grown by 50% in two years because of the magazine, so it pays for itself.”

But Ansary had no illusions about the magazine. He did not expect to make money, at least initially, and saw the labour and cost of producing the magazine as part of his overall marketing plan.

“It takes time [with a publication]. You have to prove yourself,” says Ansary. “The magazine put me on the map. My sales pitch now comes in the form of an article. And next year my [business plan] includes not losing money directly from the magazine. Next year, I plan to break even.”

Originally published on Advisor.ca on January 22, 2009