OPINION: Make your marketing different – or save your money

Kevin Chesters

Kevin Chesters, Strategy Partner at Harbour Collective, explains the importance of standing out in a “sea of same”.

The brain is the most amazing organ. It is also one of the most efficient – one could more accurately call it lazy – entities ever created. It has been honed through 50,000 years of evolution to edit out anything extraneous so it can just focus on the most necessary things for survival. Back on the savannah this was pivotal to man’s survival because we could forgo the flippant to focus only on the vital.

In our modern world, this means that your brain (and the brain of every one of your clients or customers) edits out anything that it deems unnecessary. Or, more importantly for this article, it ignores things it thinks it has already seen or heard before. This is the reason why supermarkets change their aisles every few weeks (newsflash: it isn’t for your benefit!) They do it because otherwise you’ll shop on autopilot, and they won’t make as much money from your dropping random things in the trolley.

In behavioural science this principle is called the von Restorff Effect. This can most simply be explained by saying that all of us – including every one of your clients or customers – only notice the noticeably different. So, if we are not different, we might as well not bother. Our brains won’t – in fact, can’t from a physiological standpoint – notice. It’s just pointless noise to be edited out of life.

So why am I talking to you about it? The other day, for a project, I looked at the marketing of forty (yes, forty) of the top companies in investments, wealth management and private finance. Here is an example of the taglines that some of those companies – probably including YOURS – were using. A random selection:

Own your tomorrow / Look Forward / Thank yourself later / Take control of your financial future / Secure your future / Securing tomorrow / Living Forward

Notice anything? It’s just the same words being moved about. It’s a bit like those boxes of fridge poetry you can buy in bookshops. I mean, in most cases, it is LITERALLY the same words being moved around in a sentence. The financial services industry – and especially its marketing – is drowning in a sea of same. And basic evolutionary psychology will show you that therefore its marketing spend (your marketing spend) is being poured down the drain.

I would posit a theory that making sure you invest money wisely “today” so that you have more of it “tomorrow” is pretty much table stakes for your industry. It would be like Nike marketing to you by telling you it had some trainers that you could go for a run in if you fancied it.

Let’s go back to that study from the 1930s by that German psychiatrist, Hedwig von Restorff. What her pioneering work on the ‘isolation effect’ that bears her name showed was that when multiple homogeneous stimuli are presented, the stimulus that differs from the rest is more likely to be remembered. In short, if you’re just saying the same thing in the same way to the same people using the same words then you are highly unlikely to get remembered. The first law of advertising – and I’ve been doing it for a quarter of a century – is that if you aren’t noticed then nothing else matters. One study showed that only 4% of adverts are remembered positively, 7% negatively, and 89% not remembered at all! Don’t tell the Finance Director.

But being different is more than just stopping you LITERALLY wasting your marketing money through being ignored. There is another significant reason to make sure you are differentiated in the financial services space.

In the finance sphere, especially wealth management or professional services, you are most likely selling a premium product or service that you want the ability to charge a premium for. The premium one charges for luxury or quality goods is largely an intangible thing. There isn’t a 1,000% difference between the time telling abilities of a Casio watch or a Patek Phillipe, but there is a reason one costs £20 and the other costs five figures (at least). Skodas, Seats, VWs and Audis are made by the same conglomerate and largely in the same factory but the badge on the front of one of them commands a significant premium. Why? Because they have established an intangible difference through their brand. The amazing Coco Chanel once said; “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.”

What I am saying is that companies in the financial space should start to think a bit harder about how to differentiate themselves from the competition – especially in advertising. This is hard when it comes to products and services. Financial services companies largely offer the same fundamental suite of products to their competitors in whatever category they are in. The way to differentiate normally comes in the HOW and the WHY of your business (people, approach and purpose) rather than your WHAT.

My plea to you in the industry is to think a bit harder about what you are asking people to buy INTO, not just buy. Think about what makes your company or product different from those being offered by your competition. Really think about it. And then make sure you look, sound and act different to them.

I have just written a book called “The Creative Nudge”. Despite the title it is not about writing or drawing or film (or advertising.) If you look up the word ‘creative’ in any dictionary it will simply say it is about doing things in new and original ways. You can bring creativity to any field you are in – even a big muddy field. The book proves that in order to be successful you have to be different and offers nine chapters of tips and nudges for how to do so. You need to think differently, act differently, sound different and just BE different in order to get chosen. It is basic human nature.

The next time you think about telling your client or customer that you can ‘look after their money’ or that they should ‘save for tomorrow’ think back to that ancestor of yours dodging that sabre-toothed tiger. To survive and thrive humans had to focus on the different and new. To survive and thrive as businesses we have to be, and act, different to get noticed.

You have to get yourself on the list, before you get chosen from the list.

Kevin Chesters is the Owner/Strategy Partner of marketing and communications consultancy Harbour Collective, and the co-author of “The Creative Nudge”.

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