Conference sessions tend to blur together but not this one: “New Word Order – It’s Not What You Say, It’s What They Hear.” Gary DeMoss from Invesco Consulting blew the doors off of the Treasury Management Training Symposium with a riveting 50 minute discussion on how financial institutions can obtain substantially better results by paying attention to the language they use with customers and prospects. For the skeptics out there, I don’t know Gary and have no relationship with Invesco so this is not an inside commercial message disguised as a social media tip. It was simply one of those light bulb moments that I want to share with you. It was that powerful.
So what’s the secret? Words matter. A lot.
Gary presented the science behind learnings with regard to word and phrase choices that make our customers receptive to our message — or angry. None of us intentionally intends to infuriate our customers, but we might well be doing so unintentionally.
He handed out a deck of nine cards with words/phrases on the front and back, and asked us to signal the phrase or word we thought best registered with our customers. Here are the pairs:
- Knowledgeable vs Experienced
- Minimize my losses vs. Maximize my gains
- Works as advertised vs. New and improved
- Financial freedom vs. Financial security
- Voluntary contributions to my retirement plans vs. Automatic contribution to my retirement plan
- Transparent fees vs. Straightforward fees
- Long-term strategy vs recovery strategy
- Diversified vs Not correlated to the market
- Investment Strategies vs. Investment solutions
Not one person in our entire group of more than 150 correctly selected all nine preferred words — in fact, half the group of financial professionals was knocked out after the very first pairing (which was not necessarily the one above — I likely mixed up the cards on the way home). Only five people were left for the last pairings before they too were tripped up. Thankfully, Gary said we’re not alone; only a handful of people over many thousands correctly identified all nine. I’d like to meet at least one them to help me with next year’s NCAA basketball pool!
Here’s what I learned — Gary’s Four Ps when communicating financial language. Apologies if my cryptic notes didn’t capture all of the concepts but there’s enough here for you to consider. If you need more (and I do), consider his book “The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics.” My copy is in the mail.
- Positive and hopeful. Words like “fees” make our customers angry. Fees are everywhere and they raise the hair on everyone’s neck. Avoid calling your charges fees at all costs. In fact, “costs” are more palatable because they don’t trigger those same negative reactions in consumers.
- Plausible. Consumers want credible messages in today’s world of the incredible. “Financial Security” rings truer than “Financial Freedom.” Financial freedom sounds unattainable for most but security is something customers understand.
- Plain English. Enough with the technical jargon and phrases we financial professionals seem to relish. The problem: even the best dressed white collar types miserably flunked man-on-the street interviews asking about basic financial terms. We may believe we know what our client’s know, but many (most?) of our clients don’t understand or misinterpret our language. “Strategy” is more appealing than “solution.” Good words include long-term, strategy and diversified.
- Personalized. Customers want to know we’re thinking about them — not ourselves. Use “You” rather than “I.” Tell what your product does, not what it is and emphasize the benefits.
I already put this to good use in some material we’re providing to our customers. I hope you find it helpful too. This session – among a group of generally very good sessions — certainly gave me plenty of food for thought on my way home.