What's in a name?
Best Practice Advice & Sales & Marketing for Professional Services & Strategic Issues

What's in a name?

January 22, 2012
by Tony Vidler.…that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
Shakespeare raises an interesting line of thought with that quote:  something is called a particular name only because that is what the majority of humans agreed to call it.  A rose could just as easily have been called a “hippo” couldn’t it?
What triggered this line of thought on the matter of naming things, or labeling, was an interesting little article about some research done by a firm called Cerulli in the States.  The key finding of this piece of research was:
59%of Advisors perceive themselves as Financial Planners, but only 30% truly offer planning services.
I have no idea of the size of the research group, or whether it checked beyond American borders or anything else, however my guess is that this finding would be largely accurate here too.In essence, the research asked advisers to classify themselves and their practices on their own perception of the services they offer the market.  The researchers then reviewed those answers against what the adviser practices actually were, and the work that had actually been done with their clients.
Several interesting conclusions arose.  Most advisers seemed to offer some of the elements of financial planning, but then focused nearly all of their efforts on asset accumulation and/or wealth management work.Also, it is strongly implied that many advisers aspire to provide in-depth or comprehensive planning services, but the majority of their retail clients are not necessarily in needof such services.Thirdly, it highlights the ongoing confusion amongst clients AND advisers over the industry terminology and titles.
Certainly there is nothing inherently wrong or unethical about calling oneself a financial planner (for example), if one is qualified to use that label and is offering financial planning services to consumers.  That is not at issue at all.  It is irrelevant whether the consumers use the full range of such expertise or not really, if the adviser has the expertise and is offering it.I do wonder though whether an adviser is giving them-self the best chance of capitalizing on their core value proposition in the consumer minds?  That is, in their branding are advisers linking their expertise and value to what the consumer thinks they want or need?
The essence of appropriate labeling, or naming of anything, is surely to convey an image which is immediately understandable to the target audience.  We continue to call a rose a rose simply because that is accepted, understood by the majority, and instantly conveys an image to the person we are communicating with.In other words, it works as a form of communication.

So professional advisers might need to re-consider how they label – or brand – themselves.

Despite the many years of work that may have gone into earning the right to be called a Financial Planner (or any one of a number of other suitable professional qualifications), and how much distinction there might be within the industry in using such titles or qualifications, it may actually be largely meaningless to the target market.

It is all well and good to comprehensively explain to an audience that this pretty thing with a nice aroma is a typical example of the Rosaceae family.  It is completely accurate, clearly imparts that you have some specific knowledge of the subject, and sounds very clever.

But do people get it?  More importantly, will they want one?


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