How Financial Planners Can Use Words to Reach, Persuade and Connect

A few weeks ago I attended a free evening marketing class led by three local business coaches. Each owns a coaching franchise and are part of a global coaching organization. 
  
The information was confusing, the slides were dated and almost unreadable. The graphs and charts redefined ugly. The audience in the room looked remarkably similar to the slumping bodies I used to sit next to in my Art History survey classes, back in my college days. We were all bored silly. 
  
Then, business coach “T”, announced, “We’re not advancing any new ideas here.” 
  
That woke me up like a bucket of ice water over my head. None? Really? 
  
I was struck by these two facts. No new ideas. And, a global organization unable to clearly and effectively communicate relevant, important, and yes, new, information to its audience. They weren’t connecting. Not a whiff of inspiration, either. 
  
I’m a freelance copywriter and I work with a few financial planners. I am skittish around money matters myself and I’m fascinated by the challenge that financial planners have in persuading people to take care of business. All this led me to a thought experiment. 
  
Take the same scenario described above, but replace the coaches with financial planners. They are facing a roomful of relatively well-off couples and individuals. A perfect audience – ready and willing to absorb and act on what they see and hear. 
  
Sadly, much like our business coaches, our financial planners deliver a confusing, uninspiring, and forgettable presentation. Not one person signs up for anything, for the very obvious reason that their money and their futures are at stake. 
  
 As a Financial Planner, Your Website Is Your Presentation

As a financial planner, you are intimately involved with peoples money and money, as we know, is a loaded topic. Anyone who is serious and passionate about helping people with their finances, simply cannot afford to deliver a poor presentation. 
  
So what to do? How do you improve your presentation? What should you say and how should you say it? I’ve put together a few thoughts, specifically about the words you use to reach and connect with customers. 
  
Take a Customer-Focused Approach

The words you use on your site communicate to the visitor what your focus is. If your home page blasts a 72 point headline that says, “We’re the No. 1 Financial Planning Firm in the Entire Western U.S. then it is very clear where your focus is. It’s on yourself and your amazing Number One-ness. 
  
In this instance, you are “marketing” to people which means you are not having a conversation with them. And all marketing is conversation. And not to put too fine a point on it, but who cares if you are No. 1? What does that have to do with me and my problems and concerns about money? 
  
I can almost guarantee you this: The most important people in your life are not shouting, “I’m No. 1!” 
  
The Gobbledygook Manifesto

A customer-focused approach goes a little deeper than a boastful headline of course. A customer-focused approach avoids what David Meerman Scott calls, “gobbledygook.” In the Gobbledygook Manifesto, Scott identifies meaningless phrases like “cutting-edge” “market leading” or my personal favorite, “solutions.” There are dozens of these words clogging up websites – finance related and otherwise – the world over. 
  
Scott has said gobbledygook is a problem because these words have lost their meaning. He’s mostly right about that. 
  
But I think it’s more than that. Gobbledygook is a problem because:

a) it leads with your language and your point of view instead of your customers language and point of view and 
b) it puts a wall between you and your visitor.

Instead of bringing you closer to your customer, meaningless, empty phrases create distance. And distance does not build trust. 
  
To illustrate, let’s say you and I meet at a dinner party. I ask you what you do for a living. You say, “Bay State Financial is a leading provider of wealth planning solutions for high net worth individuals.” That’s not much of a conversation starter is it? 
  
But what if you said, “I do wealth planning. I help people like you make good decisions about your money so you can keep more of it and grow what you already have.” 
  
That first voice is a deadly marketing voice. The second is a human voice and a human voice is the one that connects. It’s that voice, true and authentic, that signals a customer focused mindset. It is that voice you need to get onto your website. 
  
Educate, Inform, and Be Absolutely Clear

Financial planning sites have the potential to veer off into highly technical language. There is peril and opportunity attached to this reality. 
  
The peril comes by simply presenting – without explanation – words or terms that you understand and work with everyday, while assuming that everyone else knows what they are. Worse yet, in money matters, people are often embarrassed to admit what they don’t know. 
  
The opportunity arises this way. If you present a glossary of financial terms, it helps by giving people an easy way to gain knowledge at their own pace in their own way. 
  
However, the real opportunity here is to go beyond the basic glossary idea by avoiding “money speak” in order to have a real conversation around these definitions. Make that glossary customer centric and not something out the Financial Planners Glossary of Terms to Confuse the Uninitiated. 
  
Here’s an example of what I mean. These two examples define, in different ways, a 401(k) account. 
  
Example 1. 
“401(k) accounts: a plan that allows an employee to save for retirement by having a portion of his or her wages paid directly into a 401(k) account that is administered by the employer. These deposits are tax-deferred, meaning tax is not due on these earnings until they are withdrawn.  The employee can select from an assortment of mutual funds and many companies also offer the option of purchasing company stock.” 
  
Example 2. 
“401(k) accounts: A 401(k) plan is one of the easiest ways for you to save more of your money for retirement. It works like this. Through your employer, you simply sign up for participation. This usually happens through your HR department. You can then decide how much you’d like to save. (There are limits to how much you can divert into your 401(k) and your HR department will have that information.) 
  
Your account is administered by your employer, but they are not in control of the funds. You are. You will typically have some choices in how you invest this money – usually in the form of mutual funds or stock in the company where you work. In most cases, when you sign up for a 401(k) account you’ll receive a packet of information that will help you to understand how this all works. Be sure to read it over carefully. 
  
It’s important to know a couple of things about a 401(k) account. The money that you divert into your 401(k) is not taxed. It’s tax deferred, meaning that it is only taxed when you withdraw it, at retirement. Again, read your packet of information. 
  
It’s also important to know that a 401(k) is not a savings vehicle. It’s specifically for retirement. You can’t withdraw the money before retirement without paying a stiff penalty fee.” 
   
I’ll admit, No. 2 is a lot longer than example No. 1, but which one do you think has a better chance of actually connecting with someone? Which sounds more like a real human being explaining the concept of the 401(k) to another human being? 
  
It’s incredibly important to bring simple, straightforward clarity to your customers and prospects because it demonstrates that you have thought about and respect their need for information without always trying to sell them something. 
  
In my next post, I’ll share some thoughts about “Cognitive Fluency.” I’ll talk about what it is, and why financial planners ought to know about it.

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