Lucian Camp outlines why, as financial services marketers, we should all be challenging our clients to keep things simple.
There are many different ways we agency people can earn our money. I say ‘we’ even though I’m very much an ex-agency person these days. Old habits die hard.
We can come up with that magical flash of creative inspiration, or gem of a consumer insight. We’re excellent sources of food, drink, tickets to major sporting events and reasons to come to London on expenses in the Christmas shopping season. And, of course, we’re always available as dispensers of tea and sympathy for heads of marketing, brand and advertising who spend the rest of their working weeks being kicked around by uncomprehending actuaries, accountants and fund managers.
However, valuable as these services may be, I don’t think any of them occupies one of the top two positions in the list. In my mind, when our clients are planning any sort of activity that addresses ordinary people, there are two messages we can convey to them which are worth many times their weight in gold.
I’m not sure which comes second and which comes first, so let’s treat them as joint number ones (or for those who remember such things, a double A side).
In joint first place, we’re doing an invaluable job for our clients whenever we say to them – pretty much regardless of what they’ve just said to us: ‘No, sorry, it’s still not simple enough’. Or, equally, when we say: ‘No, sorry, we still need to make it more interesting’.
Our job, as communications professionals, is to help ordinary people receive and understand financial propositions. Overwhelmingly, the two biggest reasons why they don’t are because they find the said propositions too hard to understand, and/or too boring to bother. And overwhelmingly the reason for that is because our clients massively over-estimate people’s level of understanding, and their willingness to engage.
I’ve presented at a few conferences on mass-market investment services recently and, early on in the proceedings, I’ve asked the audience to put their hands up if they have a Hargreaves Lansdown account. Typically about half the hands go up. ‘That,’ I tell them, ‘is your biggest problem right there’. Ordinary people are of course bewildered and bored by the Hargreaves Lansdown website in equal measure.
GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT
The consequences of this huge imbalance are plain to see. I have a new-style mass-market investment website open on my screen. The home page is amiable enough. But as soon as I get behind the home page, I’m into a world of diversified portfolio management and asset allocation strategies and annual risk-rated rebalancing. Are these and all the rest of our default investment language too complicated, or too boring? Or, massively and simultaneously, both?
At some point – actually, at many points – the clients must have laid out their vision for this website. And at that moment or moments, the agency would have earned its money at least ten times over if it had replied, ‘No, sorry, it’s still not simple enough’ or ‘No, sorry, we still need to make it more interesting.’ Perhaps they did say both of those things, maybe even several times, and the language in the finished website reflects six rounds of simplification and ‘interesting-isation’ (no, you’re right, it doesn’t). But there comes a point, when you keep saying these things, when you can tell the client’s getting fractious.
And there’s an extra problem, which is that a lot of the most baffling and sleep-inducing nonsense is there at the insistence of the FCA. So eventually you give up and take comfort in the fact that at least the home page turned out pretty well.
SIMPLE IS ALWAYS BEST
There are a few financial propositions which are intrinsically reasonably easy to understand and reasonably interesting. Price comparison sites are probably the best example: comparing the price of things is not a difficult idea, and finding that, when you do, you may very likely save several hundred pounds is not a boring idea. Paradoxically, despite this strong start, comparison sites still benefit from some of the simplest and most interesting communications. I don’t know who invented comparethemarket.com’s very clever search algorithm, but I’ll bet the most expensive premium on the site that they never guessed the best way to generate responses would be was to run ads offering free meerkat dolls.
But in many – I’d say most – other parts of the market, I’d say that most attempts to communicate with ordinary people are holed below the waterline by over complication or ‘underinteresting-ification’ (no, that word doesn’t exist either) or both. And that means the agencies involved aren’t saying the two most important things they can say, or at least they’re not saying them often enough.
On the upside, Christmas is coming. I’d be inclined to book in a couple of Friday lunchtime review meetings if I were you – then maybe some free time for shopping, and dinner and a show later on.