A study of sixty of the biggest financial advisor websites by Visible Thread reveals that financial advisor websites suffer from a lack of clarity and transparency, putting them at a major disadvantage from a marketing perspective.
Specifically, the authors say that financial advisor websites communicate in an academic tone, use passive voice excessively, and score high for complex word density; all of which are linked to a lack of trust among consumers.
The trust gap
The problem with obtuse website copy is lack of transparency, which leads to a lack of trust among consumers – a problem highlighted by the industry spot at the bottom Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer. And that trust gap means that firms have to spend more to attract and retain customers.
While the SEC doesn’t explicitly call out an industry-wide issue, it stands to reason that compliance departments would emulate regulatory language as a hedge against adverse actions.
The “sophisticated customer fallacy”
Lack of clarity on financial advisor websites is also driven by what the study calls “the fallacy of the sophisticated customer.”
You go after high net worth clients, and those clients are often well educated and more sophisticated than the average consumer, but that doesn’t always translate into financial sophistication.
Think of medical doctors, pro athletes, and successful entrepreneurs. They’re all deep in what they’re great at, but they come to you precisely because they’re not as well-versed in your area of expertise, so why would your website treat them like they are?
The study also reasons that financially successful people are often busy people, and overly complex content may take more time and energy than they have.
How to fix it
The obvious conclusion here is that financial advisor websites need to make it easier for visitors to understand their message. If nothing else, the firms who take this to heart will differentiate themselves from their competitors. But how do they go about it? Taking the effort to define what I call the Three Pillars of Marketing Strategy, is a great start.
1. Define Personas
Personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal client. Here’s an example: a wealth management firm came to me wanting a new website. While some might jump right into the specifications for the site (navigation, imagery, etc.), I started by figuring out a few things about their ideal client, like:
- income and wealth profile
- level of financial sophistication
- marital status and family makeup
In this case, we came up with three personas:
- an up-and-comer in his late twenties to early thirties
- a mid-career surgeon with a wife, two kids, and a sizable debt-load
- a widow with an interest in planned giving
We gane these folks names like “up-and-coming Andy,” and even included representations of what they might look like. Developing these personas gave us a clear picture of who we were talking to, and none of them would be described as financial sophisticates.
The second pillar is positioning – basically, a sentence or two describing:
- who your firm is
- what you do
- who you do it for
- why you’re different/better
- why people should believe you.
Here’s an example:
“XYZ Wealth Management is a fiduciary financial advisory firm that specializes in working with individuals and families that have recently experienced a liquidity event. Led by, John Doe, an author, and frequent speaker on managing windfalls, we offer the niche expertise, generalist firms can’t.”
In my experience, most firms can’t answer or agree on the answer to these questions. In many cases, you’re just too close to what you do to see the forest for the trees.
As someone who markets to people who aren’t experts in digital marketing, I’m all too familiar with this trap, it takes a lot of practice and discipline not to fall into it, and I still end up there sometimes.
The third pillar is goal-setting. It’s crucial that you understand what you want visitors to your site to think, believe, and do when they visit your site.
Once you’ve defined those three things, you’ve got a test for all of your external communication:
- will it appeal to your persona(s)?
- will it tell them what you want them to know?
- will it move them to do what you want them to do?
If I know my audience (and given what I’ve just lectured you about, I’d better) someone is reading this and saying “but compliance won’t let me.”
In most cases, explaining what I’ve explained here goes a long way. Of course, compliance departments exist to keep you and your firm out of regulatory hot water. But they should understand that a big part of your job – and 100% of mine – is to get you as many of the right kind of business that we can. If both parties respect the role of the other, you might be surprised that a happy medium is often the outcome.
So we’ve talked about the problem, its implications, and the solution. but I saved the best part for last: the opportunity.
Like other areas of digital marketing for financial advisors, the fact that the vast majority of your competitors are not doing these thongs well amounts to big-time differentiation potential. And finding a differentiator in a crowded industry is like striking gold. The question, then, is whether you’ll do the work reap the rewards, or leave them to those who do.