Emotional appeal: How to stand out from the competition

Female advisor working with couple

In a competitive and commoditized industry, advisors must clearly communicate their value to stand out. Behavioral economist Jay Mooreland explains how appealing to human nature can help you attract the right clients.

Key Points

  • Financial advisors are competing in a world where investors are overwhelmed with choices and information. Robo-advising and low-cost online alternatives are becoming more common. So how do you set your firm apart and attract the clients you want?

Jay Mooreland, a behavioral economist and author of The Emotional Investor, reveals the hidden biases that affect our actions—and explains how to create a sustainable investment strategy around them. He then takes those insights one step further, explaining how financial advisors can make deeper emotional connections by using psychological and behavioral principles to appeal to the clients best suited to their firms.

“Clients are looking at it from a 30,000-foot view. They see that you basically offer the same services as the firm down the street, except that you're charging a point more."

Understanding the psychology of decision-making

Behavioral biases influence our decisions, Mooreland notes, so why aren't financial professionals being trained on this? When making choices, people often take mental shortcuts without recognizing the cognitive biases that result. The same applies to investment decisions. We may "think" we analyze every piece of data that comes our way, but oftentimes we subconsciously detect patterns.

“When your clients look at a really good past performance, they want to continue in that direction,” Mooreland explains. “They're not being difficult. They're doing what the brain is telling them to do: investing based upon a pattern.”

Emotional bias also comes into play when markets react to rumors or when investors say they want to buy low and sell high, but then try to quickly unload declining assets to avoid losses. It's because of our amygdala—the part of the brain that triggers a fight-or-flight response when we detect danger. The amygdala acts as the gas pedal to get us to safety, and when it's active, it temporarily hijacks our ability to be rational.

Beyond influencing investment decisions, these biases also affect how consumers choose investment services. While an advisor may understand how their services and approaches differ from other firms', their audience may only notice the big picture.

“Clients are looking at it from a 30,000-foot view,” Mooreland says. “They see that you basically offer the same services as the firm down the street, except that you're charging a point more. Our industry is built for logical reason, but we're dealing with people who are more influenced by psychological factors.”

So how can advisors respond? Mooreland suggests reframing the conversation.

He offers these simple tips—all infused with psychological principles—that advisors can use to better communicate their value.

4 ways to effectively reach prospective clients

The way you position your firm will influence how you're perceived. A strong first impression can also help you break through the noise of fee comparisons, enabling prospects to consider your firm based on the value you offer.

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Find your niche.

“What do you do differently or better than anybody else?” Mooreland asks. “Clearly identify your value.”

If you're struggling to do this, look at commonalities among your current clients, or focus internally on your unique expertise. This could be a distribution strategy or an operations model. Or it may be a focus area, such as retirement planning or behavioral coaching, where the differentiator is coaching clients to help them make better financial decisions.

Mooreland also recommends that advisors use in-person conversations or surveys to ask clients what they value most in the advisor relationship.

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Craft a value statement with emotional appeal.

Your value statement explains the unique benefit you offer clients (your niche) and helps frame your discussions with them. “Why are you in business?” Mooreland asks. “What is your passion? You've got to answer that question, and that becomes part of your value statement.”  

It may incorporate your philosophy or personality. If accessibility and personalization are differentiating factors for your firm, they could form the basis of your value proposition. 

The key, Mooreland says, is to make the statement brief and to focus on a single takeaway that generates an emotional response. 

Consider two advisors. Advisor A “buys individual stocks and bonds for clients that help them control taxes and other things.” Advisor B “provides clarity and confidence for investors through a three-step plan.” Which statement is more compelling?

The first one focuses purely on logic. The second one is brief and direct. It uses the words clarity and confidence, which appeal to people's emotions and are benefit-driven. By responding to prospective clients' needs with language that calms their fears and connects with their aspirations, advisors can help clients see what makes their firm unique.

Developing the right value statement takes time and refinement, but once crafted, it forms the core of everything an advisor does. 

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Create a memorable elevator pitch.

Advisors can expand a well-crafted value statement to create an elevator pitch—a succinct, compelling response to the question, What do you do for a living?

Like the value statement, the elevator pitch should incorporate emotional words that convey client benefits, Mooreland says. It should be a short and personal description of your job.

He offers the following example of an effective pitch: “I create reliable income strategies so that my clients can enjoy their retirement without having to worry about what the market or economy does.”

Mooreland points out that investors want “reliability,” a concept that elicits an emotional response. Likewise, “enjoyment” and “without worry” speak to what people truly value by focusing on lifestyle, not assets. 

An effective pitch shows clients what sets you apart from other advisors who are communicating their value in factual, unemotional ways, Mooreland explains.

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Strengthen your online presence.

Your firm's website and social media are critical avenues for conveying the right first impression and promoting your unique value. The primary goal of your website is to attract prospective clients, demonstrate that you're a good match for their needs, and ultimately earn their trust, Mooreland says. 

To get started, follow the rule of three: It's easier for people to remember things in threes. Think of the top three things you want to project, and focus on them. Mooreland suggests describing yourself, your niche, and your value statement. 

He also reminds advisors that all aspects of a website—from the design to the content—play a part in how prospective clients perceive you. So it's important to present your three things in a way that's consistent across other mediums, including printed collateral or in person.

Make it actionable.

Mooreland offers these key pointers for developing a compelling online presence:

Make your website easy to navigate:

  • As mobile and tablet usage continues to grow, it's important to create a consistent user experience across every device—not just desktops.
  • Think of your homepage as your online marketing flyer. It should catch your audience's attention and clearly explain the value you offer.
  • Include an explicit call to action, and make it easy for prospects to contact you.
  • Less is more, and quality is more important than quantity. Get to the point quickly. If you want to tell a longer story, create links that give readers the option to learn more.

Create relevant content:

  • Tell your story. Clients hire advisors for their experience, so sharing anecdotes and learnings helps them make their decision.
  • If your differentiators sound too similar to competitors', consider how to recast the message to make it uniquely yours. For example, teach an investment concept up front.
  • Make your content feel personal by writing in first person or adding humor, if appropriate.
  • Show your passion to help boost engagement. Why are you in business? What do you most want people to know about you?

Give users something worth sharing:

  • Create a “sharing funnel” to build relationships that will help your firm grow. The goal is to connect with an individual, develop a relationship, earn their trust, and only then establish a client relationship.
  • Offer something valuable up front—without asking for anything. If someone has an initial positive experience, they'll be more likely to contact you.
  • Develop content for a variety of mediums, such as podcasts, videos, webinars, articles, blogs, or social media posts. This helps you build trust even when personal contact hasn't yet been established, and trust builds relationships.

The art of connection

Your unique combination of experiences, insights, expertise, and approach will help you show your value to clients, Mooreland says. By conveying what you offer in an original way that appeals to human nature and engages people's emotions, you can make meaningful connections that can yield the type of clients you desire.

About Jay Mooreland 
As the founder of The Emotional Investor, behavioral economist Jay Mooreland helps financial professionals and the investing public understand the drivers behind biases and decision-making. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional who speaks internationally about investor behavior and offers seminars that explain how to improve decision-making behaviors and processes. In addition to authoring The Emotional Investor: How Biases Influence Investment Decisions … and What You Can Do About It, Mooreland has published several articles in industry journals, such as the Journal of Financial Planning, and authored “The Irrational Investor's Risk Profile,” which explains why investors often say one thing and do another. 

We hope these insights help deepen your understanding of how investors think and behave and show you new ways to promote your value to prospects.

If you're thinking about becoming an independent advisor, consider a custodian that invests in your success. Contact us to learn more about the benefits of a custodial relationship with Schwab.


Based on “Differentiate Yourself: Identify, Define, and Promote Your Unique Value in Our Evolving Industry” presented by James Mooreland at the IMPACT® conference in Chicago, Illinois, November 2017.