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How and Why to Build a Strong Brand

“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.” — Jeff Bezos

Mr. Bezos should know a thing or two about building a brand, especially since Amazon was named the most respected firm in the US last week. But what exactly are the hard things? And how do you do them well?

David Mahmood, Founder and Chairman of Allegiance Capital Corporation, also knows a thing or two about branding. Allegiance, a boutique investment bank headquartered in Texas, has a respected brand among both clients and institutional peers. Mahmood, an entrepreneur himself, walked us through the key pillars of building and maintaining his quality brand:

Guarantee Client Satisfaction through Exceptional Service

According to Mahmood, the first step to building a strong brand is to go above and beyond. “If you are going to succeed and be credible selling a service, branding begins with your clients,” explains Mahmood. “You need clients who are extremely satisfied with your service and who are willing to attest to your success. That establishes and builds your credibility and your brand.”

One of the ways Allegiance ensures outstanding service is by making sure clients fully understand — and are comfortable with — the process on which they are embarking. “We recognize that most business owners understand their business, their channel of distribution, their competitive environment, etc., but have little appreciation for the M&A process,” explained Mahmood. “We work hard to ensure they understand the process, their options and how we work.”

Even more importantly, Allegiance goes above and beyond by working with clients to ensure success after the completion of the sale. Mahmood explained, “We negotiate the non-compete agreements; we introduce our clients to competent legal and financial firms; we introduce them to respected wealth management firms.”

Foster Client Trust through Relatability

Trust is the second key tenet to a great brand — clients need to trust that the process went appropriately, trust that their interests were placed first, and trust that they received the best possible result. For Mahmood and Allegiance, this type of trust is fostered through relatability.

When Mahmood was on the other side of the table, selling his companies, he was disappointed with the relatability of the intermediaries. “Many of the bankers I worked with when I was an entrepreneur were smart, but did not understand my perspective.” He continued, “To market to this niche successfully, you need to understand who you are selling to, why you are selling to them, and what’s in it for them. Most businesses fail within the first three years, and every entrepreneur has the scars to prove it. If you don’t appreciate that sacrifice — if you only relate to his balance sheet and income sheet — you won’t build interpersonal relationships.”

Mahmood believes the relatability issue applies to the M&A industry as a whole. “The inability to relate to clients is not restricted to bankers. There are many PE groups that are so focused on IRR that they cannot connect with the owner-operator. If you view the company simply as a roll-up or possible means to boost IRR, you will struggle to build a strong relationship and your brand will suffer.”

Ensure Depth of Your Brand by Hiring the Right People

Once the foundation of a good brand is established, it is critical to ensure its longevity and maintenance by hiring people who will abide by its tenets and rules. “We employ experienced, senior people who are knowledgeable and can relate to our clients,” explained Mahmood. “Our clients are generally older, they are experienced, and they know their business. They deserve to have mature, financially astute, smart representation that understands them and can relate to them.”

He continued, “We are selective in who we bring in because we want the fit to be right. If the chemistry isn’t right, we change them out. Doing this has helped us build a strong, focused brand.”

While Allegiance sets a high bar for both the investment banking and business development teams, Mahmood understands that there is always room for growth and further development. “I invest a lot in training our team. During our annual meeting, we bring in experts to teach a variety of social skills, social styles, non-verbal communications, and negotiation tactics.”

Spread your Brand Far and Wide

With a strong team and a reliable reputation, the key to develop a good brand into a great brand is marketing. Mahmood explained, “Once you have established a foundation, built upon great service, you need to employ a multiplier factor. We continually market through a variety of channels that include conferences, organizations, press outreach, and social media.”

He added, “We like to reach out to clients and prospects in a variety of ways. Whether it is a letter, phone call, email, or a combination of the above, we are constantly putting our name out there.”

This proactive outreach and marketing is crucial to the solidification and consolidation of your brand. By sharing the principles, standards, and success associated with your brand, you are able to help others understand it. “You need to take your successes and market them,” explains Mahmood. “If you don’t broadcast your successes far and wide, how will people know about them? How will they know about your brand?”

Continuously Re-Evaluate Your Brand

Even after you have established a strong brand — and have the policies to propagate it — it is crucial to continuously re-evaluate. “We live in a very dynamic world and the only constant is change. To accommodate this change, you have to be able to target your message and constantly re-evaluate it,” explains Mahmood. “If you went into business 15-20 years ago, and have done nothing to adjust, the market will pass you by. My market is continually evolving and continually changing, so my outreach to them must continually change as well.”

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