After 15 years of experience in financial communications, the knotty jargon of the finance industry never ceases to amaze me.
That’s why I laughed out loud more than once reading Money Talks, Learning the Language of Finance, an essay by John Lanchester in The New Yorker. Mr. Lanchester writes that the language of money is “potent and efficient, but also exclusive and excluding,” then explains a “hedge” using a four-sentence Super Bowl-betting analogy that set a perfect foundation for his translation of hedge-fund investing.
As communicators who specialize in finance, one of our key jobs at JCPR is to “demystify” the language of finance with clear, succinct messaging that takes the form of written words, spoken words (e.g. a simple, bulleted list of talking points) and visual content such as video.
While savvy financial professionals understand the countless financial acronyms (ETFs, REITs and TAMPs) and inside-baseball terminology (securitization, convertible bonds), the investors whose money fuels the investing universe need to understand, even embrace, these terms, too.
The art of the recurring storytelling sound bite. When it comes to building a brand, public relations and communications professionals often talk about the “art of storytelling.” An engaging corporate narrative, or “story,” works wonders introducing your value proposition. The trickier part is maintaining a high level of engagement. It is essential to deliver a steady drumbeat of story “sound bites” to get your message across.
For example, a client of ours was drowning in a sea of technical terminology to describe their product, an ETF (Exchange-Traded Fund). The words they had been using to describe themselves - e.g., dividend, macro and index - were complex and uninteresting.
After an intensive storytelling workshop, the client came to an empowering revelation. They have plenty of passion in their business. By reworking how they explained it, they could garner interest using more relatable language like “our product gives investors the doughnut without the fat” and “money and investing are inherently emotional, but that can lead to bad decision making.”
Storytelling sound bites like these instantly paint a meaningful picture of this client’s key differentiators. They also empower the audience to develop their own imagery and details to complete the story, creating a unique level of engagement with every recipient.
Consider these four tips for developing your storytelling sound bites:
1. Know your audience. Speaking to your clients or the media is different than giving a presentation to investors or whoever your stakeholders are. Spend time getting into your audience’s mindset. A journalist loves to hear specific stories, and is less interested in sales trends, for example, since it makes for more compelling and engaging writing.
Warren Buffett surveyed 15 of his 18 employees to come up with the example that they were paying a higher tax rate at 32.9 percent than he was at 17.9 percent. Six years later, people are still using his story, which he shared with Tom Brokaw as an example of the inadequacies of our tax system.
2. Tap into the power of persuasion. Move logic and intellectual foundations to the side and embrace real emotions instead. Numbers and charts do not win hearts and minds, a story that people identify with does.
By way of example, research shows that more hotel guests re-use their towels when a sign reads: “75 percent of our guests reuse their towels, so please do so as well,” versus featuring the environmental benefits of towel re-use. The science of persuasion calls this the consensus principle. Showing what others who are similar to you are already doing has a greater impact on your desired outcome.
3. Create guidelines. I recently read about a cancer support charity that has a 25-page ‘tone of voice’ writing guide that directs those writing for them to be “personal, inspiring, straightforward and active” in every missive. You don’t have to be helping people living with cancer to be similarly sensitive to how people want to learn about you and your brand.
4. Go theatrical. Start thinking about your business as if it were a stage, and your staff as actors. Which personality in your office is highly watchable and really gets people’s attention with their innate speaking style? They are the ones you want to put front and center. And just like a thespian, emote: only by hearing words aloud, can you get a sense of their efficacy and impact. Practice in front of colleagues and get feedback.
Telling your brand story doesn’t have to be mechanical and filled with lofty industry terms. You can make a bigger impact by infusing your key messaging points with personality and by keeping them direct and to the point.
Share your storytelling sound bite success stories. What nuggets have worked best for you when getting your brand story across?