Members of the financial advisor community often don't appreciate the power words have to simplify jargon-filled language, ease anxious nerves and instill confidence.
Two new programs for advisors run by Van Kampen Consulting-partly inspired by the same people who invented the term "death tax"-are geared toward providing tools to buck this trend.
Recession Proof Adviser and New Word Order are among the 20-plus educational offerings the marketing division of Van Kampen Investments offers to advisors of all stripes to sweeten the service pot.
With investor confidence at historic lows, and anxieties running high, these two programs underscore the importance of effective communication and thoughtful word choice in shaping the way advisors can impact the hearts and minds of clients, according to Van Kampen.
The two programs incorporate some of the thinking of Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who has been in the news recently for shaping the GOP's health care reform message. Luntz made his name in the early 1990s as a consultant for Republican leaders such as Newt Gingrich, for whom Luntz created the term "Contract With America"-a campaign slogan that helped Republicans recapture Congress in 1994. He's also the mind behind the phrase "death tax," which was adopted as part of the fight against estate taxes.
Luntz is the author of Words that Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear, which explores words that connect with people versus those that fall flat. The key to successful communication, Luntz argues in the book, is understanding people's perception and interpretation of what you say. His firm, Luntz Maslansky Strategic Research, put that philosophy to work in crafting the Van Kampen program for financial advisors.
"Going negative doesn't work," firm co-founder Mike Maslansky says, adding that the rule applies not only in politics, but in the world of finance. "What we have learned in recent political cycles is that going on the attack makes the aggressor look bad. So along those lines, selling fear is a bad sales tool and reflects negatively on the advisor."
The seminars, about an hour long, break down the words advisors should and should not use when speaking to clients.
"A helpful suggestion was to avoid using a term like 'ratchet up' and instead going with 'step up,''' explains Tom Walker, a Minnesota-based independent advisor. "On a basic level, 'ratchet' sounds like something forced. With the latter term, you think, 'Oh yeah, I'm stepping up.'"
Clear, plain English is emphasized over stilted, technical terms, he says. "In light of the banking situation, [saying] 'protecting' will resonate with clients much better than the word 'guarantee.'"