Word Trends: Should You Actively Manage Your Evidence-Based Messaging?

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As an evidence-based adviser, you already know better than to actively chase investment trends or pick hot stocks. But what about language trends? How actively should you pick the words you use when managing your marketing and communications?

Just as stocks and bonds go hot and cold with little rhyme or reason, so can words and phrases. If you’ve been knocking around the business block for a while, you may remember now-stale expressions such as “Total Quality Management” and “continuous improvement.” Ugh, I never did like those, even when they were popular. More recently, I’ve been hearing an abundance of business-speak about leveraging things, creating value propositions and being impactful. These too shall pass, I hope.

A Piece of My Mind

On the financial front, when I first began writing about evidence-based investing in the late 1990s, “peace of mind” was huge. It was so popular, in fact, that if you’re still using the expression these days, be on notice: It may well be perceived as a hackneyed platitude, the verbal equivalent of an Elvis on Velvet. I hope you’re still delivering peace of mind to your clients, but you’re best off calling it something else in your communications.

Efficient Marketing Hypothesis

Word trends – especially their connotative/emotional component – operate a lot like market pricing in relatively efficient markets. It’s the wisdom of the crowd that gets the say on how everyone is likely to feel about what you meant to say.

Say what? If you’re unaware when public sentiment has moved on from a once-popular expression, you could be left communicating something very different than what you meant to convey. This can result in mishaps ranging from confusion to annoyance to anger.

The Survey Says …

Frank Luntz is a well-known political pollster and an able writer in his own rights as author of the classic “Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.” As part of his day job, Luntz gets to track and report on popular word trends. ThinkAdvisor.com’s Editor-in-Chief Gil Weinreich recently reported on Luntz’s comments about this year’s winning and losing expressions of interest to financial professionals.

I recommend you read the article yourself, so I don’t have to plagiarize it. To summarize, it appears that many of the qualities that fee-only, evidence-based advisers have long been emphasizing are being well-received by the public: relationships, efficient, effective, transparent, prepared … these all appear in his top picks.

That’s good news, sort of. It’s also potentially bad news. Weinreich warns (emphasis mine): “Luntz says his words and phrases lose impact after they become commonly adopted, which generally takes two years.”

Actively Managing Your Messaging

Not unlike the life span of a hot stock trend, popular words grow empty with overuse and careless abuse. That means, while you and your firm are genuinely committed to not only talking the talk but actually walking your clients toward their ideal financial walks of life, the clock may now be ticking on how you differentiate yourself from the lip-services echoing the same words, with different intent.

When this occurs, you must find new ways to deliver your clear, consistent message. While the values you have to offer your clients haven’t changed, how you need to present them may have. So, to answer my original question posed, yes, there are times when you should actively manage your evidence-based messaging and choose your words wisely, to ensure that your true meaning is still shining through.