No shocker here: Our industry, in general, is pretty disconnected from how the average person really thinks about the world. We like to bring order to chaos and know how to make the balance sheet balanced and how to keep the cash flow flowing. We seek performance and adore benchmarking. We’re attracted to this business because it interests us, even those of us in financial services marketing. We’re oddballs!

Unfortunately, the way most of us present ourselves to the market is not interesting or particularly relevant to our audience. Over the past year my firm has spent a lot of time on research we’re happy to share because we all need to get more people engaged in making better choices that lead to truly richer lives. We did the research in two phases, which I’ll address in sequence.

We started with visuals and voice

Last summer, we conducted a marketing study to evaluate the industry and branding efforts, performing over 200 surveys in six major markets. Partnering with Clear Point Research Group, LLC, we reached out to male and female adults between the ages of 35 and 64 with incomes over $125,000, who currently use a financial adviser. A small minority, only 5 percent, knew of our company so this was a solid sample of the average target for most financial advisers.

We tested two advertising concepts that are typical to our industry, and presented a third creative direction for exploration. First, we developed a mock ad based on “Inner Dialogue,” such as, “I’m worried about retiring comfortably,” with some lovely photography. Second, we made a more conversational ad, “What Are Your Dreams?” with an abstract visual feel. A lot of brand campaigns take one of these two approaches. Our third mock- up was, literally, mocking the industry. We said, “Let’s get real about your financial life.” We showed people on an obviously fake stage pretending to be retirees on their sailboat, and we called the ad strategy, “Truth in Investing.” It was edgy, tongue-in-cheek, but pointed.

We considered the interesting feedback

Of the three concepts tested, “Truth in Investing” was the winner by a wide margin, and the comments were very insightful. Here are a few reactions:

  • “Inner Dialogue – This is an ad that would have me turning the page…Another financial planning ad...Nothing strikes me as a call to action.
  • “What Are Your Dreams” – Totally lost on me…not very unique. ZZZZZZ… This is a little boring, not attention grabbing.
  • “Truth in Investing” – The ad pokes fun at the industry and it works…Reassuring, realistic and with good humor…Honesty in approach instead of the same old same old from everyone.

What we learned from the data

After the respondents viewed the concepts and gave feedback, we asked a series of questions allowing statistical measurement. While the two more traditional campaigns had high scores for being reassuring and friendly or approachable, they scored low on innovation, intelligence and creating confidence. The “get real” message in “Truth in Investing” was less reassuring by 20 percent, and less friendly by 28 percent. On the other hand, it was 40 percent more innovative, 44 percent more confident and considered 25 percent more intelligent. I’d rather be interesting than nice, how about you? Trying to be likeable can backfire.

How should we all apply these findings? These are my own point of view:

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