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Yet Another Lighthouse, Compass and Yacht

Yet Another Lighthouse, Compass and Yacht

The opportunity for “differentiation” in financial services may mean simply moving beyond the clichés that dominate so much of the industry’s marketing.

Lost in a fog, guided toward a beacon that helps navigate around dangerous rocks. Lost in a forest, aided by a compass that provides direction and helps navigate toward the clearing. A yacht at sea, guided by the wind and an able-bodied (usually grey haired male) sailor toward its destination.

What do these things have in common? They are images on hundreds if not thousands of investment marketing pitch books (and they all suggest that investors are utterly lost).

There is something about the finance world and the need for investors and advisors to be the same. There is a strong, palpable discomfort with stepping outside the box and differentiating from what everyone else is doing. It’s kind of like a date, only knowing what it already looks like before getting to the “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” part – a lighthouse, a compass, a yacht – or maybe all three!

Welcome to the undifferentiated world of financial services marketing. So much so, I would argue that it is largely one single brand with firms gradually morphing into a single message:  we put client’s interests first.  Look at my lighthouse, my yacht, my compass – we steer, we guide, we navigate, for you.

This is not exactly the stuff that resonates or even interests today’s new young wealth. There are a burgeoning number of technology products that are already forever changing the way people interact with their money. New brands like Wealth Access are presenting new technology platforms, user interfaces, and new and bold ways to engage and understand wealth. Big old brands don’t stand a chance so long as they represent themselves as lighthouses, compasses, etc. and lead with messages like “We put our clients’ interests first.”

In a world of technology, social media and instant access to information, knowledge is no longer behind the wall. Today’s generation of investors have GPS on their smartphones, and they know how to use it. They don’t need lighthouses, or compasses or a sturdy seaman.

According to famous photographer, Ansel Adams, “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” The traditional icons of financial services do nothing to differentiate. The opportunity is enormous for firms to leverage their value props, differentiators and become more visible to attract/engage clients and referral sources. 

Smaller firms and independents have the edge, and the playing field can be flattened. Whereas size matters, it becomes an advantage to be smaller, more nimble, less restricted and jump ahead in this race. In the past, these firms have simply duplicated the efforts of the larger firms by utilizing the same, boring, tired iconography and messages. 

Private banks, multi-family offices, wealth management firms and others have the “choice” to change or die. Messages like “We have been in business for 100 years” may resonate with baby-boomers, but those same messages are turn-offs to younger generations whose preferences are to eschew big, opaque brands for newer, hipper, more nimble and more accessible firms and people. This opens the door for Apple, Google, and others to walk in and take over. The younger generation are drawn to transparent brands, and they seek community and trust in their friends more than their parents. 

To survive, let alone thrive, financial services must connect with their customers of all generations in multiple ways. They must change their tactics from throwing out large nets hoping to reach a large number of fish to smaller, more targeted fishing, with many forms of “bait” and messaging to reel in the catch.

They also need to get away from the notion that what they do requires “navigating” on someone else’s behalf. Yes, investing is tough, complicated and difficult. But it’s not 1950 or even 1990 anymore. Nex-gen want to feel connected, informed, communicated to – they do not want to be instructed, or worse, navigated.

So please, lose the lighthouses, compasses, yachts and even the smiling couples sitting on the beach. I want to be surprised the next time you show me yours – and so does a whole generation of wealth.

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