People who own cattle or horses often burn a brand on them to denote ownership. The practice might seem old-fashioned today, but during times when ranchers used open prairie and wild gunman operated beyond the reach of the law, this practice was essential. A rancher needed a good, unmistakable brand to ensure their livelihood wasn’t rustled away by outlaws.

Fast forward to more than a century later, when two Bank of America executives are told of a meeting that took place after BofA had assumed control of troubled rival Merrill Lynch. As some Merrill employees discussed whether the new bank would keep the Merrill Lynch name and logo in any form, one young investment banker said he hoped so, and revealed a tattoo of the Merrill Lynch bull on his right ankle. The banker was lucky; the name remains. Merrill Lynch couldn’t assure its own survival, but previous generations of more prudent bankers had already established a strong brand.

Asset managers are no different than investment banks in this regard. People who manage other people’s money have got to establish a name that engenders trust and garners enthusiasm. A good brand is essential for that. If you’re asking people to trust you with their life savings, your brand has got to be one that they recognize and associate with stability and expertise.

The sooner an asset manager starts building a solid brand, the sooner it starts down the road to success. Like all other forms of communications, a good proactive offense is also the best defense. If an asset manager doesn’t take charge of building its own brand and controlling its own image, a competitor will.

Asset managers have to be in command of the markets they serve and let clients know that they are a port of safety during times of chaotic economic storms; a brand can convey that. Asset managers without a good brand are like ranchers who don’t brand their cattle: at risk of losing significant business to people who have taken the time to use a branding iron.

Trusted brands don’t develop overnight. Asset managers don’t have time to waste; they need a trusted name every bit as much as a burger franchise or a coffee chain. People are not going to trust their life savings to the unfamiliar.

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