The words you use in positioning yourself and communicating clearly, WHO you are, can have a huge impact on your personal brand, on your business, and on the corporation that you work for or lead.

For my feature on strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracy Nickl, Senior Vice President of Head of Client Development and Engagement at Wilmington Trust.

Tracy has a track record as a leader in wealth management helping successful families and their advisors protect and grow wealth. She is passionate about the client experience and spent the last decade studying and writing about the traits of successful advisors, as it can make a significant difference in not only the overall client experience but also the results clients achieve. Her current role at Wilmington Trust allows her to build on her research and help our team deliver innovative, practical, and successful integrated solutions to prospective and current clients through our national boutique.

Prior to joining Wilmington Trust, Tracy worked for BNY Mellon as head of relationship development for asset servicing in the Americas, where she was responsible for driving approximately $180 million in new revenue annually for the largest division at BNY Mellon. She was also a member of the Corporate Operating Committee. Prior to this role, Tracy was a senior executive of the platinum client team in Global Client Management (GCM), where she headed the strategic partnership and service delivery for a select group of BNY Mellon’s key global clients representing annual revenue of approximately $250 million. This role provided her with extensive experience in middle and back office functionality and solutions. Prior to that, Tracy was executive director of sales for Wealth Management, where she was responsible for sales force expansion and implementing best practices globally, including developing and delivering a successful proprietary client centric team process. Before joining BNY Mellon, Tracy was director of Wells Fargo’s Family Wealth Group, Southern California, overseeing 28 families with a minimum net worth of $50 Million.

She is pursuing her PhD at the University of Antwerp and holds an MBA from Boston College and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and management from Simmons College. She is also a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA).

Tracy is on the board of trustees for Providence Little Company of Mary Hospital Foundation, as well as the board of managers for the Ketchum Downtown YMCA. She is also a member of the Palos Verdes Women’s Club and Las Madrecitas, which supports the Orthopedic Institute for Children.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have worked in the wealth management space for more than three decades, helping successful families and their advisors protect and grow wealth. I am passionate about the client experience and have spent the last decade researching and writing about the traits of successful advisors. It is well known that an effective advisor can make a significant difference in the overall client experience, and the results clients achieve.

When I began researching the qualities of successful advisors, there were no findings on how those attributes could benefit the employer. In our business, advisors can be employed by a top firm, build their client roster based on the firm’s reputation, leave with a good portion of their client base, go to another firm, and then do it all over again.

This leaves many wealth management firms spending time building policies and procedures to disincentivize advisors from leaving, rather than working hard — or intelligently — to retain them. Beyond mere retention, companies can greatly benefit from the success of their employees.

I wanted to know the recipe for creating a mutually beneficial relationship between employees and the corporation. How could an employee — in our case, an advisor — use the positive reputation of their firm to build a strong client base, while concurrently, the firm leverage the robust network of its advisor to benefit its own corporate brand.

More than a decade ago, I recognized that one of the most important things for wealth management clients is to have deep trust in their financial advisors. We work with wealthy families and business owners to help them with some of the biggest moments in their lives; setting up their business or succession plans, ensuring their family legacy, passing down their wealth to the next generations, guiding their investments, helping finance significant purchases, and more. I realized that the key to building trust when working with clients and customers in any industry is to own and share your personal story. People buy into people.

The digital economy and specifically social media provide new tools and a medium to share our stories, and also place a spotlight on the need to develop intentional personal brands. Today, an employee’s social brand and their firm’s brand coalesce together in social media. They intersect when employees use corporate logos with work experience and perform functions such as liking and commenting on corporate content. Given the potential value to both employees and their firms of having intentional personal social brands coupled with their associated networks, it is important to understand to what extent employees are currently intentionally building personal brands, as well as how they are incorporating (or not) the corporate brand and content.

I started to research digital and social media to provide new tools to build intentional personal brands that could not only help the wealth advisor but also the corporate brand.

I identified that there was no existing research that showed the significant value for both employees and their firms or the best way to go about it. So, I decided to take it upon myself. I entered a Ph.D. program at the University of Antwerp and started my own research, which has just been submitted to relevant journals.

My current role at Wilmington Trust allowed me to build on my research and help our team develop a process to offer personal branding for all advisors that also benefit the firm’s corporate branding and expand its reach by over 400% within one year.

I started researching with a few people and piloted a program where we focused on LinkedIn, as the largest professional social media platform in the U.S. I first began speaking to affinity groups (Latina, African American, Women, etc.) and our advisors. Everyone has a different story to highlight but still can’t figure out how to get there. Once at Wilmington Trust, I built on the research with an initial quantitative study assessing 474 financial services employees’ LinkedIn profiles and activities.

The quantitative study results identified that just 75% of our advisors had profiles and only 3% achieved “All-Star” status, demonstrating personal brand intentionality. Corporate logos were utilized by 80% of All Stars versus 55% of non-All Stars. Additionally, sharing third party content versus the firm’s content was identified as statistically significant. We held two-hour workshops, which were conducted with 52 employees to test the firm’s ability to impact the intentionality of employees’ personal brands and actions.

Subsequent training interventions with 150 additional employees were completed determining that providing baseline knowledge significantly improved personal brand intentionality and the use of corporate brand, content, and logos. The brand development framework was accordingly evolved to incorporate this critical interrelation. A post workshop assessment confirmed that social media offers significant opportunity for employees and firms to develop brands and networks that are mutually beneficial when built intentionally.

Overall, there was a 330% increase in All Star profiles, a previously established measurement of personal brand intentionality. A key finding for the firm was a 429% increase in sharing corporate content and 75% of the employees were now using the corporate logo. The corporate content reach and amplification to individuals through employee personal networks grew from 4,300 people in June of 2019, to over 371,000 by April 2020. We are now up to 650,000. Followers also increased to 23,069 versus the corporate network of 10,986. The numbers tell the story. Building personal, intentional branding increases the success of the advisor and the brand awareness of the corporation itself.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Early in my career, I was working on a marketing research project for a company that makes shavers. We were doing focus groups and had created five perfect questions that we thought were wonderfully worded. The first questions we asked was, “Where do you shave?” We were hoping they would answer, shower, bathtub, or other. But instead we heard all the interesting places they shaved on their bodies. This was not what we were going for, and I learned that words matter. Which is what we are teaching people today. The words you use in positioning yourself and communicating clearly, WHO you are, can have a huge impact on your personal brand, on your business, and on the corporation that you work for or lead. Words spark emotion and transport people into a different mindset. They forge an emotional connection between the experience of one person and another. They make the passersby relate in an entirely different way to what and whom they see. Recent studies show that we have about two seconds to engage consumers (recent Mars neuroscience study), so make them count!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The wealth management businesses is not a financial business, it is a humanity business. Wilmington Trust has been helping families and business owners since 1903 to grow, preserve, and protect their wealth and their legacies. We understand that people matter, their families matter, their businesses matter, their legacy matters. And we help them with that. Now more than ever.

Wilmington Trust is owned by M&T Bank, a community bank with deep roots and a strong legacy. It is one of the top 20 banks and most financially sound banks in the country. Wilmington Trust has had a very deep legacy of helping affluent individuals, families and institutions since the early 1900’s when it was founded by the duPont family. With the acquisition of Wilmington Trust in 2011, M&T Bank was able to offer its customers a premiere, wealth management option to complement its traditional banking services and offerings. This is a major differentiator for a community bank.

This also makes the branding even more challenging for our relationship managers and wealth advisors. How do we leverage the differentiator and the value that Wilmington Trust can offer, and showcase our expertise across the wealth continuum?

The more specific question is, how do our advisors and relationship managers connect the dots for clients and prospects and build the necessary trust to begin new relationships and deepen existing ones?

We want our advisors to understand their clients better than anyone else. It is their business to know their client’s life goals and help guide them with full, integrated wealth planning services. In order to have a deep understanding of a person, a business owner, or a family’s overarching goals, client’s must have trust in their advisor as an expert who will create a comprehensive plan designed to meet their needs. They want to understand their advisor’s network and be a part of their community.

One story that illustrates this involves our market leader in Los Angeles. He did not use social media or see the value in networking on LinkedIn, nor did his team. He has more than two decades of experience helping clients with issues such as investment management, risk management, business succession, and retirement planning. Prior to joining Wilmington Trust, he was a top producer at both Northern Trust and BNY Mellon. He was also an adjunct professor at California Lutheran University where he taught employee benefits and retirement planning for their CFP certification program. Clearly, he is very credentialed.

His personal story is equally compelling. He was commissioned as a United States Marine Corps Infantry Officer in 1989. He was awarded the Naval Achievement Medal with combat distinguishing device for action during Operation Desert Storm. He also took part in the humanitarian relief operations during Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1993, serving under the command of then Major John Kelly and Lieutenant Colonel James. He serves on many boards and foundations supporting veterans. Once we worked on how we would position his story, connect with influencers, and like-minded groups, we put him and his entire team through the program, growing their network by owning and leveraging their own story. Its not surprising to understand that once he “told” people his story, they “connected” with him in a different way. They developed a trust in him because they felt they knew who he was and how he could help them.

After we put them through the program, they also started getting their information in different ways. They are realizing that this is the way to reach people. Their reach has grown from 4,000 followers to reaching out to more than 370,000 people so, they were able to dramatically increase the number of people that they can help. But it isn’t just about the reach. It is HOW they are reaching out to people. The team is presenting themselves in a personal way, with relevant content that is engaging. They are seeing results in their conversations with clients and prospects.

People want to be communicated with in different ways. They don’t buy into brands, they buy into people.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes, our Wealth Innovation Lab. The Wealth lab is a predictive model that studies the daily actions, activities and trends occurring in our client’s accounts to better understand how everything is coming together in their lives at Wilmington Trust. The goal is to enhance their lives and serve them better. We are now working on sending this data to our advisors in a format to help them improve their clients’ experiences.

In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

There is a new concept in branding that I believe is the way forward, so you don’t have to choose between branding and product marketing — personal branding. This may completely evolve the concept of branding, advertising, and potentially product marketing. Most people are not putting the personal branding into action as we are. We have invested in our people and it has paid off. We have shown a significant impact on both the corporate brand and product branding through the efforts of our brand ambassadors.

Our senior managers now understand how it positively affects the corporate brand when you invest in your talent and their network. The halo effect can be far more meaningful to your bottom-line revenue, than the usual corporate brand techniques.

Can you share 5 strategies that a small company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

I can do one better and tell you six strategies for success.

1. Leverage LinkedIn as the largest professional network as a starting point.

2. Do a personal brand assessment/audit of client facing employees (75 % had profiles and 25% did not). These days, most people look you up during the consideration phase. We found that many of our people had old profiles which caused confusion and actually lost business. Its not only a missed opportunity but it’s a risk. We had an ex actor who left his old profile up. The profile listed his former acting career credentials, and the prospect wondered why an actor would be managing money. Needless to say, he lost the business

3. Look to 8 areas that make you an “All Star”

a. At least 50 connections (500 + is ideal)

b. Industry listed

c. Location listed

d. Up to date current position including firm logo and past positions listed

e. Education listed

f. Skills — at least 5

g. Professional profile photo

h. Sharing, commenting, and Liking content (critical)

i. Personal summary statement

j. Volunteer experience

k. Recommendations

4. Invite everyone in their network — clients, COIs, prospects and it should match their other contacts (emails, phone, etc.)

5. Marketing and PR depts should work to create a proactive “plug and play” content strategy that builds a brand of value and incorporates email/contact strategies and social media in concert

6. Buy software for social media (Sprinklr, etc.) that makes it easy to engage on social media and helps get metrics and customer insights

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

I think Wilmington Trust has done this over the past few years and shown the power of brand. Bringing all the elements together. We created a full ecosystem for success. We hired great talent who had a solid network. We invested in our people and in their brand, teaching them how to use the power of personal branding to connect with clients and prospects and build trust. Through their efforts, we broadened the corporate reach and expanded our brand awareness exponentially.

There are a few other trail blazers. Social media has been a core part of Dell’s marketing strategy for years. Dell was one of the earliest, large tech companies to deploy sentiment analysis and social media monitoring technology.

Dell is truly a pioneer in the world of employee advocacy. In addition to having top-level executive support for their program from its inception (a key to any program’s success!), they were the first to encourage employees to find and share their own content in addition to what the Dell team provided them.

Empowering their employees to share content beyond news about Dell has been hugely central to the success of their program. Employees who participate in Dell’s employee advocacy program have shared hundreds of thousands of pieces of content since the program’s rollout and have driven tens of thousands of clicks back to

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Brand building is the number one driver of our success. It is my entire focus. I have devoted a large portion of my career to studying the traits of successful advisors in delivering a holistic, positive client experience. The best way to do that these days, is through social media and personal, intentional branding. I am convinced that this combination will improve client experience, benefit our teams, uplift our entire firm, and transform our industry.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Make sure you’re prioritizing your time based on the value something brings to you or your customers.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Connecting to the next generation and teaching them how to own their story and their journey. That is my focus. And, because they are native users of social media, it is possible. I am driven to unlock the potential of the next generation, especially young girls and those that are underprivileged. I serve on the board of trustees for Providence Little Company of Mary Foundation, as well as the board of managers for the Ketchum-Downtown YMCA and Las Madrecitas, an auxiliary of the Charitable Children’s Guild of the Orthopædic Institute for Children.

Getting kids to college, so they can own their own story and their journey can make the biggest impact on our world for generations to come.

I partnered with the Ketchum YMCA in Los Angeles and Wilmington Trust to develop and introduce a new teen program to identify and assign mentors and coaches from the local business community to help teens both apply to college and mentor them while in college. The Ketchum Y’s program helps some great kids dream of bright and successful futures. Many of these students don’t have family or friends who are knowledgeable and experienced about college and careers, so they need help to guide them.

It’s an opportunity to pay it forward and have a lasting impact. I got the idea as I mentored two girls in a program sponsored through KPMG. It gave me a whole new perspective on college and what it takes to make it through when I had my own girls. These two girls inspire me every day — one graduated college and is on her way to Graduate School in Public Administration­ a far cry from inner city Indianapolis where she grew up. The other is a senior at Smith and on her way to doing great things!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I always return to the inspiration of the great Eleanor Roosevelt when she said, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” It means that we must own our story, shape our lives, and make our own opportunities.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Well, I’d love to meet Eleanor Roosevelt, but since she will probably not be connecting with me on LinkedIn anytime soon, I’d opt for Arianna Huffington. What she pioneered with Huffington Post and then, amplified through Thrive, shows the power of networking through social media. She used the powerful potential of social media and created an empire. She led the social transformation and is the original social media maven.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Through my LinkedIn, of course!