Posts Tagged ‘business brand’

Inside The Executive Office: Compelling Stories

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

I have spoken to in excess of 750 customers of financial services, insurance and business services advisory and brokerage firms globally over the past 12 months. Hear are the 3 most important questions your clients want to know:

  • Your ability to fix a human problem
  • Your ability to satisfy a human need
  • Your ability to ignite the human spirit

5% of customers report firms providing “absolute clarity/absolute conviction” to all three questions, 55% report firms providing answers that are “opaque/self-doubt” and 40% of responses that are “totally unclear/disingenuous”. If you are an executive in the last two groups (the overwhelming majority), you have a lot of work to do, fast, to change your customer’s perception of your business, your people and the perceived value.

Look at your marketing collaterals, exhibits, media comments, speeches, client and prospect conversations and ask

  1. Internally and externally (clients, business partners, media partners), where can we improve in 1 week?
  2. What needs to change first? (priorities, quick wins)
  3. How will we know we are successful? (what ideally do you want to see, hear and feel)
  4. How can we sustain that level of improvement? (better accountability, enhanced performance, changes to feedback and rewards system)

© James Berkeley 2016. All Rights Reserved.

The Global Reinsurance Market Uncovered

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

There is a scene in the 1973 film “The Sting” where Robert Redford’s character, Johnny Hooker an aspiring con artist keen to ingratiate himself with the seasoned pro, Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman). Redford utters the line “”Luther said I could learn from you. I already know how to drink.” I am not equating today’s reinsurance business directly with the 1930’s underworld but for any current or future participant that is an attribute sure to draw a rueful smile in a hyper-competitive market.

If you believe as I do that the future of re(insurers) and intermediaries is dependent on the wisdom of line managers to consistently apply knowledge and great judgement to organisational issues in alignment with the firm’s strategic vision, you would be wise to think about three critical issues:

1. Profitable growth mindset: this is a philosophical issue, you cannot have profitable growth if your line managers visibly don’t have the right mindset. Ask yourself, does our environment (leaders’ behaviour) actively encourage our line managers and employees to think big (ambition, prudent investment and risk tolerance, innovation, new standards of performance) or minimise risk (fear of failure, conserve cash, problem-solving, deflect responsibility)? On a personal level, are we constantly and consistently investing in their self-worth (acquiring new skills)? In volatile times, the future of businesses is largely determined by the number of managers and employees with high levels of self-esteem, not the deepest pockets. There are plenty of examples over the last three decades of brokers (Pat Ryan, Graham Chilton)  and re/insurers (Brian Duperreault, Bob Clements) who have swept past their competition for these exact same reasons. Why should this decade be any different?

2. Brand Power: Let’s keep it simple, whether you are an underwriter, broker, MGA or any other professional services firm, you are really in the marketing business. Your brand is important to your future because it is a representation of your quality. You can build and nurture it yourself or let the competition or market define it for you by default.  If you want to command a premium for your product or service you cannot be the 1500th person talking about the complexity of cyber risk underwriting or the transformative effect of alternative capital on traditional reinsurance. (Try the simplicity of cyber risk prevention or  the transformative effective of traditional reinsurance on alternative capital). You need to stand out from the crowd (try a contrarian stance).  Ask yourself is our brand(s) sufficiently memorable and powerful to:

  • Attract our ideal prospects over the next two years?
  • Weather the amount of uncertainty (future-proof) and the competitive threats (new business models)  impacting the future of our business?
  • Allow us to command a “premium” price for the value delivered to clients (Hermès, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey) or must we offer a “premium” value (Tesco, Samsung, Delta) to justify the price our customers are willing to pay for your products and services?


What tweaks or dramatic changes must we make?

The current period of M&A may lessen the competitive threat from traditional players but it may be largely irrelevant if the new entrants are gorillas encroaching on the path to your strategic goals.

3. Diversification: a spread of risk is a fundamental insurance concept, yet in many firms the call for greater diversification often feels like a response to the fire alarm going off in the boardroom.  Ask yourself, is your desire to diversify being made from a point of strength or weakness? Is it a response to competitor moves, invalid market assumptions (defensive, protect operating margins) or serendipity and planned growth (offensive, assume a distinct or market-leading position)? Is it a response to the quality of your employees and management or the amount of uncertainty and competitive threat facing your firm’s future? What hard evidence or strong anecdotal information do you possess (or can easily acquire) to demonstrate the positive impact diversification will have on your firm’s short- and long-term profitable growth? Is it in the best interests of some or all of your firm’s key constituents (customers, shareholders, employees, business partners, regulators and so on)?

In tough trading conditions diversification is often the wrong call, businesses are better making their strengths more productive. Yet the demands of assertive investors chip away at what top management “know” to be the right course of action. This gets exacerbated when their key competitors make what appear to be “enlightened” moves to diversify when they have yet to be proven as a “wise” move (the decision stands the test of time).

The future is bright. The future is not in the stars or a glass of whiskey, it is within ourselves.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.




First Impression

Wednesday, January 7th, 2015

I am asked by a client to approach a potential investor to garner interest in an early-stage growth opportunity. The investor is but one of a thousand or more firms chasing diamonds in the rough. Calls to their Home Office reception for the mail, telephone and email address prove fruitless “Sorry Sir, I don’t have a listing for that individual or business unit, let me see if I can refer you to a colleague.” A public tour of their organisation’s website has a a one-page summary of their expertise and an “info@” email address where friendly emails go unanswered for weeks on end. A personal introduction from a friendly competitor falls on deaf ears. We are not talking about getting hold of Warren Buffett or Li Ka Shing. This is a small group of investment partners in a $40 billion financial services business, who are accountable for attracting world-class entrepreneurs with leading-edge business ideas and the volition to transition those ideas into large multinational businesses in return for capital support.

Speed is as important as the quality of your response. When you don’t hold yourself and your colleagues accountable for answering the door (in person, by phone, email or other means) in a timely and professional manner, why should I wait?

Is it little wonder that the most attractive clients and prospects move on and rarely return? “If the communication is so poor at the outset, imagine what it would be like working with/for these guys”.

More troubling, when this becomes a pattern, is it a surprise when others preface a referral or comment about your brand with “be warned, they aren’t good with paper or returning calls or emails” because they fear the embarrassment that you might create for them with the lack of respect shown?

Contrary to a lot of nonsense, we individually control the first impression with our prospective clients, peers and others. There is no one, who cannot answer a call, reply to a letter or respond to an email within 24 hours (my standard is 4 hours or less) anywhere in the world. Travel and holidays, I am sorry are not a credible excuse. Neither is volume of calls, emails and so on. I can achieve that standard without any additional help in a solo practice and basic technology. There is no reason a corporate manager in a mid or large sized business cannot organise themselves and their time appropriately. It starts with having the requisite enthusiasm, a willingness to hold yourself and your peers accountable (appropriate penalties), and the belief that my/our first impression is critical to my/our success. You need all three elements.

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.


What Is In A Brand Name

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

I received in my inbox this morning from one of the media communities I am quite active in:

“About FCKING Time (AFT), a magazine focusing on sex, dating, relationships and travel and aimed at women in London, has launched. The monthly title will be produced by the About.Time Magazine team.”

Seriously, this is not a reflection on my choice of reading material. There is a valuable lesson for those of us creating new brands or refreshing tired ones.

If you consider what attracts your ideal clients to your business, the impact of your brand name and the way you chose to organise and convey your value, think about “CUPID:

1. Compelling content (articles and insights that cause the reader to say “I never thought of it that way before?”)

2. Unparalleled credibility (the people speaking, the suggestions offered and the results outlined are something I would have difficulty in challenging)

3. Powerful affinity (the intellectual perspective, the stories shared, the shared values)

4. Incredible value (tangible benefits personally and professionally)

5. Demonstrable impact (repeat business, referrals, growth of your community and so on)

An effective brand name is one that is short and memorable, which when applied consistently, frequently and intelligently in the mind of your ideal clients conveys the key attributes of your organisation and the impressive value you provide. Organisations spend kazillions on endless needs analysis that does little in moving the needle.

Pick three potential names, draw up a list of key constituents (customers, shareholders, employees, business partners and so on), ask their feedback and move confidently to a final decision. The objective here is both quality AND speed.

You may well choose  a brand name with a higher degree of subtlety and taste than the aforementioned magazine, however, don’t waste a lot of valuable time and money that could  more productively be deployed on your marketing, client acquisition and client delivery processes. After all “Goldman Sachs”, “Apple” and “Versace” have served those organisations just fine, long after their founders’ deaths.  

©    James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved. 

Who Owns The Client

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

When corporate advisory firms think of “ownership of the client”, we largely think in terms of “economic” (key account holder) or “legal” (the firm and its’ shareholders) ownership. Yet we largely overlook the fact that the Client increasingly “owns” the relationship with our key people and our firm today. Shouldn’t we first increase the potential that the Client’s interests are strongly aligned with that of the firm and its’ key employees if we are to profitably grow?

In an age where clients have greater access to competitor information, an ability to check the cost of services and an ability to establish the degree of a firm’s credibility (word-of–mouth) in a very brief time period, firms need to forget “customer-centric” rubrics or allow onerous regulations to supercede this priority.  They need to think of themselves as a “customer-owned” business that provides tremendous value and huge levels of excitement. What does that firm look like and what must we ask ourselves:

  1. Who are our ideal customers, why is it attractive to have a relationship with them and them with us?
  2. Our value proposition needs to succinctly state why we are the first choice of our customers. “We are uniquely positioned to provide _________________ (our target client) with unprecedented levels of _________ (results).”
  3. How do we best attract them to our business and our business best attracts them to our firm. Which marketing tactics are most effective and efficient for which customers? (networking, speaking, referrals)
  4. How do we best communicate with them in a time (service standards) and a manner (in-person, phone, email) that best suits them?
  5. How do we leverage technology to enable a more impressive relationship and rapid responsiveness for our customers’ existing (strategy) and anticipated needs (global expansion)?
  6. How do we assemble our people and client groups to accelerate, not hinder both the quality and speed of the interaction (resolution of an issue and/or transfer of skills and knowledge) with our firm and their dealings?
  7. How do leverage our success with our customers to reinvest in our firm and provide even more impressive outcomes (referrals, testimonials, case studies, learning experiences, joint promotional opportunities)
  8. How do we attract better quality employees who want to provide our customers with even more impressive results? (use our clients as evangelists for attracting talent from our competitors)
  9. How do we know the interests of our clients, our firm and our people are increasingly aligned? (unsolicited referrals, unsolicited requests, strong anecdotal evidence, client feedback)
  10. How do we know that a “stronger bond” with our customers is financially beneficial to the organisation? (increased repeat business, shorter closing times, negligible acquisition costs, lower labour intensity, higher profit margins, improved image)

Decision-making in advisory firms today remains largely driven by a need to satisfy the demands of shareholders and key people. Yet there is no more impressive way to appeal to those individuals’ self-interest than first, keeping the clients’ happy. Recognising that over time the clients you are minded to keep happy are the relationships that you want to “own” in future, not the “past”. When you hear someone talking about how we need to be more client-centric, escape the empty gesture and ask yourself, how do we fair with the above questions and where do we need to take action now?

© James Berkeley 2014. All Rights Reserved.


The Asian Consumer Expectations Unfulfilled

Thursday, February 20th, 2014


James discusses the myths, and incorrect beliefs that lead to failure in so many businesses chasing the affluent Asian consumer. He provides practical steps and a plan of action for a Brand Manager or Profit Centre Head to put their business on the fast track to find new Asian consumers, new ways to compete and new ways to create gravity to their brand.

The Biggest Mistakes Organisations Make

Monday, January 20th, 2014


James gives a primer on the biggest lessons for entrepreneurs and executives wanting to avoid the pitfalls to profitable growth. He looks at the impact on international expansion, evolving a business brand and operating in a volatile marketplace.