On Purpose

Tips for Effective Branding and Website Strategies for Financial Services

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We talked with Melissa about:

  • Her journey through the financial services industry that led her to founding Pearl Planning and how she came up with the meaningful name
  • The power of creating a brand that sets itself apart in a memorable way
  • The importance of staying true to yourself to connect with clients on a personal level to build trust and lasting success 

About Melissa Joy:

Melissa Joy is a seasoned financial planner with over 25 years of experience in the financial services industry. Her career began with a strong focus on investment research and due diligence, eventually leading her to become a partner at a larger firm where she also played a pivotal role in shaping marketing strategies and branding efforts. In 2018, Melissa embarked on a new journey by founding Pearl Planning. She sought to connect with clients who valued thoughtful, personal conversations over the scale of a large firm. By sharing her own story and emphasizing Pearl Planning’s unique value proposition, Melissa successfully established a niche in the market, attracting clients who appreciate the tailored approach offered by her boutique firm. Today, Melissa leads Pearl Planning with a commitment to providing personalized financial advice and building meaningful client relationships, reflecting her belief that the size of the firm should never overshadow the quality of service and attention to individual client needs.

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Full Audio Transcript:

Lauren (00:05):

Well Melissa, thank you for joining us today.

Melissa (00:08):

I'm so glad to be here. Let's have a conversation.

Lauren (00:11):

Yeah, let's do this. And we're going to have a conversation about authentic branding. Looking forward to hearing about how you got there, what that means. The marketing in me is going to try not to nerd out too much, so really excited to hear your journey to how you got to that place. But before we do that, can you just share for folks who are listening a little bit about your background, who you are and about your business, Pearl Planning?

Melissa (00:37):

Sure. So I am a financial planner. I have been working in financial services for — gosh — more than 25 years. Kind of worked my way up in other organizations and did a lot of my early career focusing on investment research and due diligence and was a partner at a larger firm where I also love marketing just like you Lauren. So I had some say in how we worked on messaging and branding at my former firm. And then about almost six years ago I left that company, founded Pearl Planning, so that was 2018. I had a couple challenges. First of all, I was able to continue to work with a small cohort of the clients I'd worked with in the past. So I was limited there and I was not looking to kind of fish in those seas so to speak. So I have a brand new need to find clients and where the company itself was also going to be located — this was pre-COVID, so location mattered a little bit more — but I still really embraced a digital focus. But I was relocating from the metro Detroit area where I had previously worked to the Ann Arbor, Michigan area. My town is Dexter, Michigan, just outside of Ann Arbor, which if you looked on a map you'd be like, those are the same places but culturally and professionally they're very distinct.

So I started the company with a new market basically and a new message. I had often relied on conversations emphasizing that size and larger were better. And so I obviously believed in the mission of this new company but it was a company of myself and one employee. So I needed a new kind of book in terms of how I found clients and I found telling my story, talking about starting the business and really talking about why the business was tied to more thoughtful and personal conversations was an opportunity for us to find those clients looking to work with someone that maybe wasn't quite as big.

Lauren (03:07):

Yeah. So first of all, I appreciate that you've been in those conversations about the marketing and branding component because sometimes it's like you could have sales folks who are just like they're in that world but not seeing how it can fit all together with how marketing goes across departments. So you already were speaking that language, you could see the value of how you're pitching, how you're positioning yourself. How did you get that kind of aha confidence to be able to say, this is what sort of has been fed into me as far as big companies to then have that confidence to switch to say, no, this is who I am and this is why I'm going this route. And what was that kind of switch like for you?

Melissa (03:48):

I think the switch happened first in terms of my decision of where I was going to work. I knew I was leaving my former company without a lot of work. I entertained several offers like, hey, it would be great for you to join my company. And I knew probably since I hadn't done a lot of legwork to find those, there were probably other opportunities out there. But I really felt like one of the challenges of my former position was that a lot of vision that would be appropriate for a company I was associated with didn't necessarily fit in my former life. And so I basically defaulted to I know I can get a job if I need to but I really have a passion to start a company, have a brand, really, that has more of that vision.

And I think the easiest or the most appropriate route for me personally as well as for that vision was to start the company, a new company I called Pearl Planning, which has kind of a double meaning. It is my grandmother's middle name as well as my daughter’s. So it speaks to the legacy and future thinking of our profession of wealth management but also a pearl is an irritation of a piece of sand that turns into something beautiful and so many times, whether with me starting the business or people who we reach out to us, there's something going on they need help with — that's the problem. And so I thought it really dovetailed well with common reasons people start the wealth management and financial planning process.

Lauren (05:30):

I love that. I appreciate that you thought about the name in a way that's on the personal side but it also is very practical, so there's a narrative behind it and I feel like it's more out of the box. You can have those different analogies about guiding clients or what have you but it feels like it's an authentic out-of-the-box name, and naming is so hard by the way. So hats off where you landed with that.

Melissa (05:59):

If I could just interrupt for one moment, it would've been really easy because I picked up my last name when I got married, and I have a really great last name I think for a financial planning company — Joy — but I really didn't want the company identity to be completely tied to me. I wanted to build something other people could come to and it wasn't just kind of my show.

Lauren (06:23):

Right. It's hard with naming because it could be like you said tied to you. It can also be tied to a specific geographic location depending on where you are or what have you. So that forward-looking approach with picking the name itself, can you share a little bit more about how that process of transitioning, being with this new demographic, feeling comfortable with where you are and identifying the name. So how did that evolve from how you presented yourself in the world, if it was with a prospect, how you showed up personally, your website, all these other kinds of assets that tie back to the brand. I'd love just to hear a little bit more about the evolution of those components.

Melissa (07:04):

So it's interesting because I love marketing, I love branding, and I also learned some lessons with past marketing activity that I really think pays off in our business to look, not silly, but different than the standard company. I think everybody defaults to putting on the suits, navy's a good color for the website, gray, black. And so on.

It sounds crazy that use of color would be kind of a start but you see our brand colors are purple, yellow, and a light blue. There was an episode of a Bravo TV show about real estate, a real estate coaching show where the office had those colors in this reality TV episode. I was like, oh, that feels different, fresh, not too feminine but I want people to obviously be comfortable working with me. And I hadn't seen those colors kind of pulled together in many wealth and financial services brands. These things were happening before process and things like that were happening.

Lauren (08:33):

It's important because you want to be different but not too different. There's sort of that balance to be able to stand out in the crowd and that helps to set the tone and energy. So tell me a little bit more about the evolution of that. How did that impact your logo identity, your website, maybe even the way you show up? I don’t know. Dress codes with clients, things like this.

Melissa (08:57):

When we started, before we started recording, I was like, do I need to put on my jacket since I’m wearing a tank top today? It’s summer in Michigan. You got to make the most of those bleeding days.

Lauren (09:06):

I know.

Melissa (09:08):

So I didn't want anybody who hired us — because I was moving away from that. You've got to be bigger. And I've always been trying to push back against the need to look bulletproof and not be vulnerable with clients in order for them to be comfortable.

Lauren (09:26):

That's so true. That trust is so key. 

Melissa (09:29):

It's true. And if they can see you as a person who also cares, that really goes such a long way to credibility, especially if you pair that with professional experience. And we had this beautiful story; we had the name really before we almost had anything. I actually did a video that was the launch video for the company. It's still on our About page on the website. It was filmed three months before the actual launch of the company. So this was a very early piece in place but then it set a tone with the marketing companies we work with as well as with our team. In the beginning it was just a couple of us, like I said, but we're going to work with people who are really going to value that. I have a couple decades of experience but also aren't going to be intimidated that we're really kind of a startup in terms of what we're doing. I think on our website today it says we're serious about results but everything else is casual. We're comfortable being newer age and things like that in terms of expectations; we don't need that suit to prove we're going to be really great at the services we provide.

Lauren (10:46):

No, that sets a whole energy and it also sets a culture and environment when folks are coming in to be able to build those relationships. And then we talked a lot about the brand aesthetic, like the look and feel. Yeah.

Are there any exercises you went through as a team maybe with your website copy that helped to nail in the voice and tone or maybe even the way you talk with clients and that kind of style of communications? I don't know if it's been systematized or if there's been rules around or training or even if you kind of went through that exercise with your website but I'd love to hear a little bit more of the voice and tone component of how you all show up and you sound. Some firms are more jargon heavy, more technical, others are not; it's just different styles.

Melissa (11:34):

We've had three major website launches and relaunches and the reason I've invested so much in that is not because any one of them was broken but the website to me has been a critical driver of our growth because it's easy to schedule a meeting when you go on there. It's not intimidating. You do see a lot of women on the front page because we're an all-female team but men and women choose to click through and schedule meetings. They're scheduling during their breaks from work, nights and weekends, for us to meet with them Monday through Friday in the future. And so that website has been so important. I think we really wanted to have a communication that was speaking to the client, so you are going to get this — keep it simple and not fill people with so much copy they're not reading a text.

And we really wanted to take our cue in terms of marketing from anywhere but financial services. I think we have a lot to learn from the rest of the world. We wanted to feel like you would be marketed to by a regular company or retail or something like that. So those are some of the high-level bullet points. The only jargon I love having — and I'm surprised by this — but people do kind of google what should I ask a financial advisor? And often I'm asked, are you a fiduciary? So we did include that on our most recent kind of website but otherwise we're trying to keep it kind of to a fifth-grade level in terms of reading and more visuals.

Lauren (13:08):

Smart and simple. People scan oftentimes more than read and it's great to be able to tease folks to be able to have that initial conversation. So I love what you said about just more headline heavy, keeping it simple, easy to read, all of those pieces of it. I feel like in the post-COVID era especially it’s more of almost like your office, what your office maybe used to be with so many people being online, it's like, I'm going to check these folks out before I want to have a real conversation. 

Melissa (13:41):

Well, it’s very intentional too of the people we want to work with. So whereas I had worked with and have experience working with people who are retired and older, where the first day they bring all their money over from their old 401(k)s because they retired that week. We really are trying to work with people who are peers of our team, Gen X and millennials. And so kind of talking the way I would want to be talked to has created those results and we've really seen it's been a great strategy and really love the work we're doing and the people we're doing it for.

Lauren (14:18):

You're using their language, the way they would talk versus the way you would talk or what have you. So really hearing them out and where they are.

Melissa (14:27):

We wanted a lot of also emotion and less technical and more like we can relate to you and we understand there's things that are either like a pain in the butt that you don't have time for or a pain point and we can help you to slice through that and get things done because regardless of success, I find people have pain points or insecurities when it comes to money.

Lauren (14:51):

Money, yeah, a hundred percent. And I feel like just hearing this conversation, part of the superpower is that you took the time to actually have that introspective look about the firm and where you wanted to take it from a visionary perspective, how you wanted to show up in the market, who you wanted to talk with. And answering those tough questions takes leadership and it takes, I mean you got to peel back the onion and then being able to anchor down and say, this is what north is for us and this is what we're going to get behind. Sometimes that's a hard call to make. So I appreciate hearing your story and then also how not just being able to make that decision, but then how it's impacted where you are today. Any other food for thoughts you would want to share about how your brand came about? Does it impact your hiring? Has it impacted, I don’t know, internal processes, anything you want to call out there from where you all are to date?

Melissa (15:53):

Well first of all, I had to laugh when you were talking about how the brand and that thoughtfulness in building the brand shows because I was more confident in the beginning in the brand than that. Perhaps for example that target audience because you are starting a new business and I always laugh and say the first six or 12 months I call any business owner, not just a financial advisor. You're just pretending you've got something that's real and hopefully people don't see behind the curtain. But the beautiful thing is the brand was so real and when we're talking about authenticity, it really fit with me and who I am and how I best serve people in being, for example, we have a company value that's courageous, authenticity, comfortable in being both vulnerable but saying how things really are and things like that.

The brand has attracted the niche before I even knew what the niche was, if that makes sense. I wasn't smart enough to say, oh, we're really looking to work with accumulators who are at least 10 years away from retirement and are double income families with busy lives and a lot of stuff going on and less time to do it. But the brand built that in where it helped to find us. It was such a great fit and we were building something that spoke to the right people. So that's kind of a gift. And then I have a funny story because yes, I do think it's very much resonated with the team and it's something the team is proud of. Our most recent hire was relocating to Michigan, looking to move back, and had been interviewing at other firms in our area and didn't know about us.

We also didn't have a job posted and two separate people who are professionals who were looking to hire either had interviewed her and or knew her, were like, I really think she may be a fit for you and your company. And I have to think that the brand was speaking when they felt like she would be, they didn't know the way our day-to-day processes work necessarily. So it really was helping and it was a really great fit. And so the brand is helping to attract the right people because it is so specific and different but it doesn't feel like it’s different to be silly if that makes sense.

Lauren (18:28):

A hundred percent. We've had a similar thing. We've put together an exercise we call a brand personality where it's like, okay, how does the brand show up just like a person would and our whole team's been trained on it and it impacts the aesthetic, how we write and also how we hire and just all the energy even walking to a client meeting. And when we're doing hiring, the line in the sand is literally you can have neck and neck and it's literally the pushover is the brand personality, is it the right energy and does that feel like it's cohesive with our company values? And we see the same thing. Even when people are submitting their cover letters, they feel it right in the words as they're communicating or in the initial interviews it's a hiring tool and you don't often think of it like that too. But it also, it can repel too if it's not the right fit for a prospect, a prospective employee, even a prospective client or what have you. So fun.

Melissa (19:26):

The machine too. I've had some clients repeat back either words from copy on the website or words in our very old and I feel dated video now, but they will repeat back, oh, I love a pearl, it's an irritation that turns into something beautiful. And I'm like, well that's pre-preparing them to be really happy or excited to be a client of the company or an advocate for the company even if they're not a client.

Lauren (19:52):

Yeah, you're creating that experience before they've even had that conversation. I like your tagline too. No grit, no pearl. Can you actually speak a little bit more to that too?

Melissa (20:01):

Well a couple of just really business-like functions there. First of all, a friend of mine, a friend of my husband's actually, when we were launching the company, I was just shocked. The brand helped me to tell more of my story and it was very well received even though I felt like I was so much smaller. People were really interested in working with me who may not have known if they could work with me in my former life who were very well qualified for either place. But a friend of my husband's bought in basically a farmer's market and a vendor stand and was like, hey, no grit, no pearl — I think I still have the sign. And then when we were working on our trademark, there is another asset manager but not financial planner, that's Pearl. And so we've trademarked our intellectual property protection to include no grit, no pearl. So that tagline is included in terms of our trademark. But it really, it resonates with people. It's a nice hashtag and people really get what we're about — that the stuff we do takes resilience and rolling up your sleeves on the hard work but it really pays off.

Lauren (21:18):

Yeah, well I applaud you and that you've really leaned into that authenticity and it's helped to guide you in what you're doing and then yeah, it helps you to show up in the market. It is so much easier said than done because often we talk with folks where they might've inherited a business, they're worried about too much makeup, they're potentially worried about making their current clients upset or they just are sort of trying to market to everyone. And I think, like you said, you do learn along the way, but you lean into the authentic. That piece of authenticity is really, there's something about that you can't take away. 

Melissa (21:59):

It's so hard. So I have been in a former life that second generation, where the first generation was much less digital and it was like, oh, we change, we need to honor the paths and things like that. And it does take work to be willing to have enough. The challenge is, if you aren't willing to have a point of view when it comes to your marketing, then you really don't have any impact on anyone. 

Lauren (22:25):

Yeah, it just washes out.

Melissa (22:28):

And so somebody, yes, if you show some personality, it may or may not be for everyone. The likelihood that the person who doesn't love it is so ticked off they don't work with you is very, very low. We just changed our website and we moved a place for a common function for our existing clients and actually did push back with the marketer and say, oh, I don't know, because we want to make it convenient for our existing clients first. But we did end up moving it. We did get a call like, well, I really liked it somewhere else but she's not looking to fire us. It's just appreciated feedback for us and we'll take it under consideration. And I mean that means that there's a point of view.

Lauren (23:09):

Yep, that's totally right. And you can take all those in and what have you. So well thank you so much for sharing a little bit about your journey.

Melissa (23:17):

Thank you, Lauren.

Lauren (23:17):

Just being able to hear that story end to end. I think it's inspirational for folks who are thinking about undergoing a change. It could be a brand overhaul or redesign or just seeing the value in that, right, and how it kind of spreads across departments. So I really enjoyed hearing your story. But for your website, pearl planning.com is where?

Melissa (23:40):


Lauren (23:41):

Pearlplan, that's right. Pearlplan.com. We'll make sure to include it in the show notes below as well. So thank you again and I am going to get that pearl analogy stuck in my head, so no grit, no pearl — it's a good one. So we will look forward to keeping the conversation going and link below. Thanks.

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