Why words matter: Faith Liversedge shares practical tips for advisers on successful client communication

by | May 3, 2022

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It’s not just jargon we need to be clear about argues Faith Liversedge. Sometimes, it’s the everyday words we use that we need to take just as much care with when it comes to ensuring effective client communication.

If you were offered Megrim sole or Cornish sole in a restaurant, which would you choose?

It’s actually the same fish, but you’d be forgiven for choosing the second. While Megrim sounds a little, well, grim, the word Cornish conjures up something a lot more appealing: blue seas, golden sands and delicious cream teas, to name just a few. Such images make the mouth water.

And yet although Megrim is caught in that very same blue sea, 95% is usually exported to Spain. It’s hoped a rebrand will encourage us Brits to start eating it.

It might seem far-fetched to hope that simply swapping a word out will transform the fish’s popularity, but it worked with pilchards. Six years ago fisherman rebranded pilchards (adult sardines apparently) to become ‘Cornish sardines’ and Waitrose reported a 19% rise in sales as a result.

It’s not just the word Cornwall that makes people want to eat ugly fish though. And it’s not just place names that make our mouths water. Think about the difference between a fry up served in a café and a cooked breakfast served in a posh hotel. They’re essentially the same thing, but the latter sounds so much more appealing.

Why am I talking so much about food?

Because the sometimes-cynical rebranding of food can illustrate how important words can be. We know the damage that jargon can do to peoples’ approach to financial advice. But there’s more to it than spelling out acronyms or providing a glossary (which is always a great move).

Even everyday words that seem clear enough can have negative connotations for people and therefore make a difference to how they perceive your service offering.

I recently chanced upon an old episode of the Becoming Referable podcast that illustrates this rather well. In it, adviser Todd Fithian talks about the care he takes in preparing for a first client meeting: “We don’t any longer say the word ‘agenda’ because nobody likes financial advisers who have ‘agendas’,” he said. “We use the term ‘meeting plan’ because you are a planner, and they expect you to be planning.”

It’s a subtle change, but one that could make a huge difference.

Words can affect decision making too, especially when it comes to potentially emotive subjects such as property.

Research by Canada Life a while back showed this when it looked at equity release. When they asked over 55s if they would like to continue to live in their current home as they grow older, 61% strongly agreed. However, when they asked the same question but used the word ‘property’ instead of ‘home’, the figure dropped to 48%.

Talking the talk

Even if you’re convinced so far, where do you start? The key is to think about where you can connect with clients on an emotional rather than technical level.

In a recent tweet, financial planner Alan Smith, of Capital Asset Management, said: “Talking about ‘the plan’ is like describing the amazing road trip you took with your family by detailing how the internal combustion engine works – instead of describing the feeling of the wind in your hair and the sun on your back.”

He says the future of financial planning is less about funds and factsheets and more about ideas and inspiration. The only trouble is of course, that prospective clients haven’t got that memo yet. When they approach an adviser it is often because they want their problem solved. And their problem is transactional – they want to consolidate their pensions or find out if they have enough to retire on. They want to know if you can give them a good return.

Words of wisdom

The challenge is to move the dial right from the start and position your services in the most powerful and effective way possible – by using words that evoke a feeling in your client rather than a process.

You can start by looking at tweaking the words on your website. Often a huge difference can be made by choosing more conversational words than formal ones, for example offering to ‘help’ instead of ‘assist’ and inviting people to ‘chat’ instead of ‘discuss’.

Shorter, more direct sentences can help too, as can being bold and confident. So rather than being tentative, be direct, replacing ‘good’ and ‘possibly’ and using the ‘active’ rather than the ‘passive’ voice.

Gradually your communications will feel more emotive and dynamic – giving people something to really engage with.

Bring out the big guns

Sometimes it’s just not possible to find a replacement for words that people won’t ever get excited about. This is where it’s time to bring out the big guns: case studies and testimonials are what really sell the ‘sizzle’ rather than the ‘sausage’.

And not just polite sentences about how Mrs A would highly recommend your services – I mean real stories that show feelings and emotions – how your client felt before meeting you, what you did to help them, and how they feel now as a result.

Appealing to the imagination and emotions is exactly what’s happening when people think more kindly of a fish with an ugly name simply because it sounds like it’s from an idyllic location.

So, in short, it might not hurt to think about how you can be more ‘Cornwall’ in the way you communicate your services – it could make all the difference.

Photo of Faith Liversedge

About Faith Liversedge

Faith Liversedge is an experienced communicator with a wealth of knowledge and understanding of the adviser profession. She was Marketing Manager at Nucleus for 5 years, creating innovative and award-winning campaigns. Before that she worked for Standard Life, Prudential and Royal London. In 2017 she set up her own consultancy to help forward-thinking financial advisers and planners to become more profitable through websites, communications and other laser-focused marketing techniques

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