(This blog can also be found at the FPA Practice Management site: http://practicemanagementblog.fpanet.org/2014/02/04/speak-to-me-in-pictures/)
What once had been the privilege of the wealthy and well-placed, highly-specialized information has become a commodity available to anyone with a computer and Internet access. This information cuts across every angle, layer, and shade of our personal and professional relationships.
In this digital age, while the volume of words has risen to a level unimagined twenty years ago, visual communication—photos, video, graphics, and icons—has become the preferred communication medium for most people younger than sixty-years old. We see this from the billions of pictures taken daily, on-demand videos, and flashy website imagery. Facebook represents this paradigm most clearly in which visuals dominate in connecting “friends” much more than words. Even the word “like” has been transformed from four letters to a thumbs-up image.
Stepping Out of the Sea of Words
What gasoline is to an engine, information is to a financial and wealth management practitioner. Across much of the industry, particularly among small- to mid-sized firms, the dominant communication form is the written and spoken word.
Across all segments receiving content from practitioners, the volume of words dispensed either overwhelms the desire to read it or prevents the ability to comprehend. While the words may be elegantly used and within full regulatory compliance, what is accomplished if it’s all ignored or, worse, misunderstood?
By no means are words irrelevant, but the prevailing trend for content delivery in the marketplace is a visual-oriented presentation.
A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words
While people have preferred learning styles, everyone has the innate capability to process visual imagery. Our sight is the first method through which we learn and process information (i.e. even in reading words, we capture them visually). Long before much of the world became literate, visuals were used to communicate important information. We see this when visiting a medieval church and looking at its stained glass windows, paintings, statues, tapestries, and awe-inspiring architecture, all of which tell stories that in an otherwise literate society would have been written.
A visual allows much faster information processing than words so, even in literate societies, pictures produce efficiency that words cannot. Today, with information pressing on every side, efficiency matters. The sooner a practitioner migrates to a visual standard, the more quickly he or she builds the bridges needed to communicate with the information-burdened marketplace.
The following are the primary visual categories that practitioners must become agile in using when communicating in all these forms: proposals, presentations, reports, website content, newsletters, and e-mail content.
Infographics. A major barrier facing practitioners is communicating difficult concepts and holding to a regulatory-compliant standard. Converting detailed and complex written information into an infographic is a powerful delivery method. The infographic is a teaching method that captures the information as a mental image in which learning occurs by replaying the visual representations in the client’s mind’s eye. (See examples via a Google image search using the keyword “infographic”.)
Few practitioners possess the distilling skills or artistic ability to create infographics. Working with an outsourced artist, the practitioner’s due diligence methods, investment processes, servicing models, and so forth are converted to an infographic. And, this can be done at low cost yet with high impact. (When working with the artist, be sure to receive the infographic in the forms necessary for both electronic and printed distribution.)
Pictures. Professional services is a relationship business. Instead of just writing or talking about “the team” or “client relationships”, use photos, supplemented with captions, to quickly convey the key theme or thought. Using pictures is not just for social media, but a suggestion for all content even for what’s hung in reception areas, meeting rooms, and hallways.
Video. Search engine rankings are increasingly influenced by video content. Unfortunately, prospects/clients expect a professional-level video if you choose to use this medium. A small investment of $1,000 to $2,000 for an attractive background, an HD-quality camera, and scripted spoken dialogue often is sufficient to meet the expectation. When your videos convey a professional-level production, a small firm begins to take on big-firm qualities.
If a new investment program or approach rose to common usage, advisors would quickly expand the solutions available (e.g. ETFs); it would become a competitive mandate. While visual communication methods have become a preferred form generally, most advisors remain stuck in producing word-dominated content. Liberally using visuals in your client content not only enhances comprehension, but also results in a competitive leap.