Marketing an intangible—like service, or advice—is not an easy task, especially when the “experience” you are communicating is tough to describe well. In my industry, wealth management, we have a few common challenges as marketers:

  • People don’t understand what we do (or care much, to be truthful).
  • Public opinion about our industry ranges from indifferent to outraged.
  • Despite best efforts, our industry’s marketing is mostly a giant sea of sameness.

We’re in the process of building a marketing program to differentiate our firm, which does, in fact, offer a unique and interesting approach that delights customers and creates raving fans. The problem is, with prospects, I find myself saying, “Try it—you’ll like it!” without the benefit of the Alka-Seltzer! You can describe Alka-Seltzer (fizzy stuff to cure headaches and indigestion), you can show them the box, offer a free sample and really it’s low-risk for people to give it a go.

In businesses like wealth management, law, consulting, accounting or even IT services, it’s much more complicated (and frankly not that easy) to switch from one provider to another. How can we communicate in a way that makes what we do understandable, interesting and desirable in a world that is full of jargon and sameness? How do we express ourselves so that our tone and personality get us a favorable response that makes people want to know more?

  1. Focus on visualization, not just visuals. We don’t have an easy and interesting way to use visuals for “comprehensive wealth management.” Instead, we’re focused on visualization using analogies that people just “get.” One of my personal favorites is “Our process is to financial planning what the smart phone is to the telephone booth.” And since our process is that cool, I can easily explain the many ways in which we are unlike other firms.
  2. Describe your “Uncola” and tribe. Although it’s a product, not an idea, the classic 7UP “UNCOLA” campaign was brilliant, creating fans who didn’t want to associate with the status quo. These days in consumer marketing, there’s a race to create tribes around new or alternative brands where people self-identify. For instance, FUBU’s clothing line was named on the phrase “for us, by us.” Who’s “us,” exactly? The hip hop tribe. What’s your “Uncola?” Who is your tribe? If you are a brand that wants to challenge the status quo and give people a new choice, go for it. We are.
  3. Don’t be afraid to say what you are not. Especially if, as in my case, your category isn’t particularly beloved. “We are not Wall Street cowboys. We are not robots or just number crunchers.” That gives you a chance to say what you are: “We put your interests first; we are deeply human and concerned with your whole life.” Just make sure you really are different so you can back it up.
  4. Try a little humor—you don’t have to be so serious! Within wealth management, most firms are pretty conservative. It’s people’s money, after all. But it’s no secret that things in our industry can be scary, confusing, difficult and boring for people. Why not admit it—you’ll be on their side! We like to tell prospects that we know going to a financial adviser can be like a trip to the dentist, and our goal is to make it enjoyable and fun. If it’s more enjoyable, we think people will stay on track better, which is a good thing for everybody.

We just finished a consumer research project with 200 affluent investors in six cities asking for their quantitative and qualitative feedback on a range of marketing ideas. We got great input to shape our creative direction: everything from, “Not very unique, ZZZZZZZ” to “The ad pokes fun at the industry, and it works,” and “This catches my attention.” There certainly is a balance point where if you try too hard to be cute or interesting, you will lose the audience. But the overwhelming guidance I took from this feedback is that marketers have to appreciate how fatigued consumers are with jargon, confusing messages and the “same old, same old” look and feel. If you want to be able to say, “Try it—you’ll like it” and get real results, marketing an intangible like wealth management or other services, take the time to craft your message so it sets you apart from the giant sea of sameness!