Ask most communications professionals to name the biggest mistakes that businesses make in formulating their marketing strategies and the failure to think of the customer's own perspective will come somewhere near the top.
At a superficial level, it should be easy to get internal agreement on what message your firm wants to send out into the world. But you'd be surprised about how often this stage of the process is either overlooked or tackled without any precision.
This mistake is usually made for a very simple reason, and one that can be a clear danger for many advisory firms. In an industry as complex as finance, advisers and principals of firms can spend so much time speaking to each other about their aims and about the topics specific to the industry that they fail to adjust for an audience who are less knowledgeable about the ins-and-outs.
Look at it this way.
Have you ever been invited out to a social occasion where a group of people, all talking about a common interest that is unfamiliar to you, leave you feeling excluded and unable to join in? Perhaps it's about a sport that you don't really follow or a popular TV series you've never heard of. The group is not deliberately trying to exclude you but, without a frame of reference, the chat means nothing to you.
Or think of being invited out on a date and your partner spends the entire evening talking about themselves.
That's a risk that many firms can fall into when they unthinkingly position their marketing and communications strategy as merely an extension of their internal business planning.
What can go wrong?
Firms that fall into this trap can leave out key information when talking to clients. They use language and jargon that alienates their potential customer base. They talk about nothing but themselves, and assume their values are shared by the market. In short, they expect that the people to whom they hope to sell their goods and services will willingly enter their world.
And because of this failure to switch perspectives from inward to outward-looking, these firms inevitably end up pitching the wrong message to the wrong audience. No-one at any point in the process has insisted that they frame their value proposition in terms of the clients' values, context, and language.
A classic example
A classic case of where this went wrong was the 2017 Pepsi advert that showed reality TV star Kendall Jenner joining a street protest and seemingly defusing tensions between demonstrators and law enforcers by handing a cop a can of Pepsi.
It had all the hallmarks of a concept that had been workshopped to within an inch of its life, but the tone was all wrong. It patronised its audience. It trivialised protest. It alienated a market for whom authenticity and integrity were prime values.
Of course, the message that the firm meant to send was that its product was an integral symbol of an up and coming generation that cared about something more than "the economy". The message the market received was that this was a cynical, tone-deaf attempt to insert a crass consumerist message into something bigger and more serious.
What goes wrong in this and many other cases is that no-one in the room represented the customer. Companies do this all the time. Everyone internally probably thought this was a good idea. Consensus and groupthink took precedence and there was no-one to play the devil's advocate.
So, what can advisory firms do?
The answer is to work backwards from what the market thinks and what the market wants from what you're providing. It means putting aside your internal voice for a moment and adopting an outside one.
As strongly as your firm may feel about certain philosophies and approaches to investment, the key to engaging with prospective clients is to focus on how your approach can really benefit them. How can you give them piece of mind? How can you help them accomplish their goals? How can help them to create a secure future for themselves and their loved ones?