It’s a stock photo world. We just live in it.

Part 1: How we got here

The use of stock photography has profoundly affected the field of creative communications over the past decades. I thought it might be interesting to explore the factors that led to its adoption, the challenges its use presents to designers, and ways in which marketers and communicators can avoid the more obvious stock photo pitfalls and best integrate it their work.

As I was driving out of the Philadelphia airport recently and passed billboard after billboard, I noticed a visual pattern – large stock photo images of attractive, smiling men, women or children. The products and services being advertised were…what? A healthcare plan? A bank? A junk removal service? A nonprofit’s fun-run? And what do all those shiny, happy people reveal about the brands and ad agencies that employ them in their communications?

To better understand why we live in a stock photo world, let’s first start at the beginning.

Stock as last resort

For years, stock photography agencies supplied either topical or historical news photos that were difficult or expensive to go out and shoot – a monkey in a jungle, a mountain climber atop a peak, FDR smiling confidently. Art buyers at ad agencies put out an image request to a few stock photo shops – there were several in Boston and many more nationally – and a few days later several FedEx packages stuffed with plastic sleeves of 35 mm slides arrived. The art buyer or art director pored over the tiny images on a light table with a handheld magnifying ‘lupe’ – now there are two quaint anachronisms some may remember – and made several selections for client consideration.

Once an image was settled on, the stock shop calculated fees for a license based on specific media criteria – number of publications, total circulation of the pubs, number of insertions and usage period, for instance. Usage fees could run into the high 4-figures for larger campaigns.

Usage fees spread

Commissioned photography was the norm for ad agencies for many years. A creative team developed a concept, and the art director hired a photographer to take a specific image that brought the idea to life. While licensing fees were sometimes negotiated with top commercial photographers, usage was seldom discussed with the vast majority of commercial  ‘shooters’. In many cases the client paid for location fees, model fees, a makeup artist, a stylist, wardrobe options, photo assistants, Polariods and film, the processing and, yes, lunch. Most photographers made a living on their professional fee.

The Copyright Act of 1976 legislated that creative work was the sole property of the creator. Suddenly many commercial photographers saw a way to increase revenues and photo licensing terms entered the conversation. The same questions that asked by stock photo agencies were now asked by photographers. Where will the photo appear? How long will it be used? How many times will it be used?

Understandably, conversations about incremental usage costs with clients were uncomfortable for agencies. Going back to the client constantly for additional photo usage fees as ad campaigns were renewed wasn’t something an account executive enjoyed. Clients ended up paying more than they anticipated for photography that they had funded in its entirety to begin with. There was ample room for resentment.

Tighter budgets, more scrutiny

The 80s and 90s were a period of consolidation and efficiency in all lines of business, Bottom-liners who counted beans carefully took the reins of companies on the agency and client side.

One of the many marketing line items that received close scrutiny was photography costs, and it, along with a host of other costs, were subject to downward pressure.

The search for relief

With concerns rising over photo costs by both agencies and clients, the commercial photography business was about to be rocked by a force that disrupted the commercial image market.

It came in the form of a thick, printed catalog that arrived in ad agency mailrooms and a small compact disc that designers slipped into their Mac’s CD player.

Next: It’s a stock photo world: Part 2: Disruption

Financial Advisor Videos: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

If you follow digital media consumption habits even slightly then you’re aware that the popularity of online video has exploded. Your wealth management firm can’t ignore the potential that it offers to engage site visitors and to help tell your story. So how do you decide about where video might fit into your firm’s marketing?

You may find the following helpful in focusing your thinking.

The primary types of advisor videos

I’ve divided wealth manager videos into three categories. Each has its own purpose and requirements.

1) Profile Video
Profile videos serve as an introduction to your firm and are typically shot within the firm’s offices. They often feature partners speaking about the firm and they may include b-roll – cut-away footage that either illustrates points being made or simply provides visual relief.

The Good: A well-executed profile video first and foremost communicates the personality of your firm that simply isn’t possible with static bios and “mugshot” photos. Further, video with focused messaging can communicate what makes your firm different and why someone should care. Good videos exhibit high production values and leverage a firm’s personality, knowledge and professionalism.

The Bad: Video can be challenging. Not everyone is comfortable in front of a camera, no matter how well-prepared they think they are for a video session. Compromises occur when on-camera individuals appear stiff, rehearsed or flat. Further, if the video’s subject matter is too generic, you’ve missed an opportunity to educate viewers about your firm’s unique qualities and areas of strength.

The Ugly: You know one when you view it. The video appears to be shot on a iPhone, the lighting is poor, the sound quality echo-y, and the story line a jumble of firm attributes. The result is unprofessional, incoherent and off-putting. Your firm deserves better.

2) Topical Video
There’s a lot going on in the world, and as an advisor you’re expected to stay on top of all of it so your clients don’t have to. Topical videos tackle what’s going on right now. They provide proof to clients, prospects and centers of influence that your firm is paying attention and reassurance that it isn’t likely to get whipsawed by current events.

The Good: The best topical videos are timely – they are produced as close to actual events as possible. Production values are less important than the conviction and intelligence conveyed by the on-camera spokesperson. As viewer engagement should be a top priority, an authoritative presenter is a real plus.

The Bad: Being late to the party is the biggest crime here. There are lots of reasons why this occurs in firms – personal time commitments, compliance review holdups and even a lack of internal consensus can conspire to derail your efforts. Old news gets little attention in today’s ‘right now’ environment.

The Ugly: You may have come across the lowest common denominator in user-created video: a guy reading a script off of his laptop screen while speaking into the laptop’s camera. An advisor friend of 360’s recently called these ‘hostage videos’. That kind of says it all.

3) Evergreen Video
If your firm has discrete stories to tell, there’s no better way to do it than in short-form videos. Subject matter is wide open – dealing with life events, specific firm differentiators, solutions for issues within vertical markets, firm expertise in specific areas. Finding messages that resonate with your prospect personas is of course the goal. Because these videos will be a staple on your site and can prove useful for content marketing, investing in creativity and quality production is worthwhile.

The Good: There is no better story-telling tool than video. Good evergreen videos address subjects that are important to your firm and your prospects and clients. Bringing a story to life is best done in narrative form. Ready to watch another video offered by a firm? Then they are producing good ones.

The Bad: The road to bad wealth manager videos is strewn with good intentions. “Let’s include the entire firm in a group shot”; “We’ll feature the partners because they’re most important”; “We spend a lot of time in meetings, so let’s show us all in meetings.” Focusing on the everyday routine of your firm produces routine videos.

The Ugly: Generic messaging. Table stakes claims. An incoherent storyline. Production values that are no better than a viral cat video. If they’ve lost you after 15 seconds, you’re watching a truly bad advisor video.

Other common advisor video types

Bio Video
Every advisor website has photos and bios of team members. What I’ve found more common of late is an accompanying personal video. The best of them convey a subject’s personality, expertise and point of view.

Explainer Video
Please, enough already with the hand-drawn whiteboarding and breathless narration. They were kind of fun when they first appeared 5 years ago. These belong on investing 101 websites, not on yours.

Do you believe that there’s a story to be told about your firm’s approach to wealth management? I’ll explore an effective approach to conceptualizing your videos that we’ve used here at 360 in a future post. The process is designed to tease out and bring to life the authentic stories that every firm has to tell.

Advisors untrustworthy? Sorry, I’m not buying it.

A friend of mine who knows that 360 does work with financial advisory firms told me he had read a study recently that showed that fewer than half of Americans trust the financial advisory industry, and he wanted to know what I thought about the findings.

Frankly, the low number didn’t surprise me. I understand that questions about the practices and ethics of the financial services industry in general, and the big banks and Wall Street in particular, have cast a shadow over all participants, advisors included, since at least 2008. And I recognize that among the thousands upon thousands of financial advisors in America, there are occasional rogue players who have, in the words of Mark Tibergien, head of Pershing Advisor Solutions, inflicted reputational damage with the investing public, dissuaded young people from entering the profession and increased government regulation and compliance costs. (See Madoff, Bernie for amplification.)

Despite all this, my personal experience with advisors suggests a different story. I believe that by and large, they share certain characteristics that are actually quite positive and commendable:

  • They are intricately and intimately focused on the financial and personal well-being of their clients.
  • The concept of fiduciary responsibility is deeply ingrained in them (i.e., Madoff was an aberration, not the norm).
  • They operate with integrity.
  • They are almost always driven by a long-term orientation and, in that way, are precisely the opposite of short-term traders.
  • They are typically motivated by strong values like commitment to their community.

Was I just being naive?

After the conversation I had with my friend, I considered why my personal point of view differs so markedly from those who say they lack trust in financial advisors.

The new DOL Fiduciary Rule notwithstanding (and who knows if it’s even going to be put into practice), there’s no doubt the issue of trust is a hot button.

A 2015 study by the CFA Institute and Edelman, the PR firm, sought to determine, among other things, what led affluent investors to select a wealth management provider. Interestingly, while 17% said it was their ability to achieve high returns and another 17% said it was their commitment to ethical conduct, more than double that number – 35% – said trust was the #1 determinant. Net, net – did they trust the provider to act in their best interests?

Similarly, State Street Global Advisors, quoting experts from Wharton, said that when it comes to selecting a manager, “the advisor the client chooses is frequently the one the client feels she can trust the most.”

They went on to cite three levels of trust they said an advisor needs to satisfy:

  • Trust in their technical competence – Does the advisor know what he or she is doing?
  • Trust in their ethical conduct and character – Can clients trust the advisor “not to steal their money?” (That’s not my language, by the way. It’s the experts from Wharton.)
  • Trust in their empathetic skills and maturity – If clients tell their advisor personal things about themselves, can they trust that the advisor will be discrete about it?

Of course it comes down to money.

The subject of money is one in which bias and prejudice can often override rational discourse. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that money can end friendships, strain marriages, disincentivize children and cause no end of grief generally.

Since the stock and trade of financial advisors is other people’s money, it’s not surprising that issues can get raised and tempers can occasionally flare.

Still, I wonder if the people who disparage financial advisors have actually ever worked with any.

If fewer than 50% of Americans said they doubted the investment performance of financial advisors could match the performance of popular indexes, I’d say they might well be right about that.

But not trusting advisors?  Speaking personally, I reject that.


Appealing to the right brain: 4 ways to rethink your wealth management brand messaging

In my last post, I explored the ways in which prospective wealth management clients evaluate firms and make decisions using both sides of their brain – the left, or rational, side, and the right, or emotional, side. In this post, I’d like to focus on the right side of the equation.

Recent research into the science of decision-making reveals that the right brain plays a significant role in the process, even in areas that might be considered primarily the domain of rational deliberation.

Choosing a wealth advisor is an obvious example.

With this in mind, I think now may be a good time for wealth management companies to reevaluate their messaging. By understanding the implications of these findings and learning how to leverage them in your communications, you can open up new avenues to engage with, educate and on-board new clients. 

Appealing to the right brain

Reaching out to the right brain has some interesting implications for your brand, your messaging and your creative strategy.

1) Communicate from the inside out

At the center of your brand is the emotional core of your business. Call it ‘purpose’. It’s always there, even when it’s obscured by the day-to-day demands of your business.

To define your firm’s purpose, start with answering the simple question, “Why?” Why are you in business? Why do you and your colleagues get out of bed every morning? Why do your clients trust you to manage their money rather than a competitor? The answers to these questions are powerful because they’re personal, and because they’re personal, they’re differentiating.

2) Tell your story 

Storytelling has a strong appeal to the right brain which engages your prospects more readily. Indeed, prospects are far more likely to pay attention to you – and far more likely to remember what you had to say – when the stories you tell relate to their own personal experience. Find narratives that address their wants and needs, and you’ll find a receptive audience.

And make sure your stories relate to prospects’ needs in a human way. Talking to a millennial who is starting to accumulate wealth? Show your understanding of their mindset through a story about how your services have changed with the times or how your firm gives back to the community. Is multigenerational wealth transfer top of mind for a prospect? Weave in ways in which you’ve helped others in similar situations in your messaging. In all cases, strive to demonstrate sensitivity, experience and personal commitment.

3) Communicate in a human way 

Think of the conversations you have with friends and family. They’re not formal or data-focused – they’re personal. Similarly, find ways in your communications to integrate metaphors, imagery and everyday language. The right brain listens harder when you do.

I’ll give you an example. Which of these two statements do you think is more approachable?

  • “We construct sophisticated asset allocation strategies designed to withstand market volatility.”
  • “We can’t predict how fast your money will grow, but we can invest it wisely in a variety of ways with the goal of protecting you from losses.”

Now ask yourself, which statement more closely reflects they way I talk to my clients, and which is more easily understood? If it’s the second statement, it may be time to look at your current communications and see if a new firm marketing voice is required.

4) Appeal to how your prospects REALLY make decisions

There’s a lot of evidence that human beings make decisions with strong emotional input, and then we use our rational minds to justify our decisions. Although the balance between the two may shift depending on whether you’re buying a circular saw or selecting a wealth manager, the two decision drivers are always in play.

When you present your prospects terms like ‘fiduciary responsibility’, ‘alternative strategies’ and ‘rebalanced portfolios,’ you’re appealing to their left brain/rational thought process. But you’re also missing an opportunity to talk to them about the same issues in a more human way.

Think of why clients engage with your firm in human terms. Emotional benefits like reassurance, encouragement, confidence, and relief may come to mind. These are emotion-laden words that are the counterparts to the uncertain state of mind you may encounter in prospects. Weave them into your brand story, and you’ll be making connections with prospects that simply aren’t possible with the language of wealth management, which can often come off as clinical and unapproachable.

A final thought

For a variety of reasons, transitioning the way you communicate the benefits of working with your firm is challenging for wealth managers, who are often more comfortable when they’re dealing with numbers, analytics and hard and facts. It requires a commitment to rethink not only your firm’s purpose, the services you provide and how you deliver them, but how you communicate all of this in a human way.

Here at 360 we believe that while it may be challenging, it’s also how your wealth management firm can differentiate itself, engage with prospects and stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Decisions, decisions: what a wealth advisor needs to know about how a prospect thinks

We make decisions everyday that are relatively inconsequential: medium latte or large cappuccino? Take the tunnel or the bridge? Run out for lunch or eat at the desk?

But other decisions we make carry more weight, and few are as important as deciding who we trust with our money and our financial future. The process a potential new client goes through in identifying, evaluating and selecting a wealth advisor requires multiple decisions, and that’s why we think it is valuable for an advisor to become familiar with current thinking about the science of decision-making.

Right brain – Left brain

While it is anatomically a bit simplistic, the right brain/left brain concept is a convenient device to help visualize the rational and emotional thought processes that take place simultaneously in all humans. The important take away is that the two sides react to input differently.

The left brain is detail oriented and evaluates in a businesslike manner. It gathers information, breaks it into pieces and looks for facts and details. The left brain takes input literally and processes it methodically. You could say it behaves like a classic “quant” to use an investing term.

The right brain seeks to understand things from a broader, more human perspective. It responds to stories and humor, observes tone and body language and looks for context relevant to individual experience. The right brain is forward looking and evaluates intuitively.

It’s noisy over there on the left side

It’s tempting to assume that the left brain is heavily favored in the process of selecting a financial advisor. After all, there are plenty of facts and figures a prospect can use to evaluate an advisor. And it’s little wonder that advisors often default to presenting empirical data, because that’s the world in which they live during much of their day to day work.

But there is growing evidence that the right brain plays a crucial role in all decisions. Dr. Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist and professor at USC and the Salk Institute, is highly regarded for his pioneering research in this area. His findings include a noteworthy factor: emotion and feeling act as the bridge between rational and non-rational processes.

We believe this reality should be taken into account in all prospect communications.

Additionally, there appears to be a correlation between the quality of the decisions we make and the quantity of information we’re required to process. Too much information (TMI) has been found in studies by Sheena Iyengar, a professor at Columbia Business School, to lead to poor decisions that are regretted down the road. Advisors often sell into an information-overloaded prospect who has been conducting on-line research, watching MSNBC and reading headlines. Prospects have a hard time weighing these inputs, further contributing to a lack of confidence in their decision-making.

Edge over to the right

An important truth that advisors should take to heart: you can’t appeal to a prospect’s right brain by presenting facts and figures. That’s their left brain’s job, and it’s already suffering from ‘TMI’.

By appealing to the right brain, an advisor is communicating to a more open, less cluttered area of a prospect’s mind.

Furthermore, presenting an emotionally accessible story that appeals to the right brain tilts the field in favor of the advisor. When the new client’s right brain feels that a decision was made with confidence, it stands to reason the client is more committed to the relationship.

We’ll explore ways in which to communicate effectively with the right brain in our next Real & True blog post.