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“The most important thing in communications is to hear what isn’t being said.”

That quote from the legendary management consultant Peter Drucker sums up the frequent quandary that financial advisers experience in connecting their messages to the underlying concerns that clients feel, but don’t always express.

What’s often lacking in these cases, particularly when emotions involved, is a common language that addresses clients’ unspoken fears and anxieties while bringing the focus back to the controllable factors where you can add value.

Fortunately, such a language is available and you don’t need a linguistics degree or advanced qualifications in communications to decipher it.

The language I’m talking about is a combination of scripts, stories, sketches and supplements and it is one we have seen successfully applied in some of the fastest growing advice businesses around the world.

The ‘4S’ framework, as we call it, is really a way of placing often complex concepts inside engaging and relevant communication tools to address unspoken questions that usually boil down to “am I going to be OK?”

Let’s take each of these ‘s’ words one by one, define what we mean by them and provide you with examples of how this might work in the case of a major news event, like a pandemic, war or economic shock:

1. Scripts – The word scripts can provoke objections about sounding robotic. But we’re not talking about mindlessly memorising scripts as an actor learns lines. Scripts in this sense are rather talking points to help you respond to common client questions and help you and your team stay on message.

Common questions you can prepare scripts for might include ‘how would you describe the value you bring as an adviser’, ‘why is this part of my portfolio underperforming’, or ‘what does this crisis mean for my strategy?’

So your scripted response to a crisis might be: “The anxiety you feel is understandable, but we have seen crises come and go before. In the meantime, markets have rewarded disciplined investors.” Or you could say: “We can’t control what’s happening in the Middle East. The good news is there are things we can control. Let’s focus on those.”

2. Stories – A story is when you attach an idea with an emotion. Advisers can use examples and analogies from real life to help clients connect with the message. And you can adapt these stories for different personas.

An example of a story to use during tough markets might be to remind the client that even the best winemakers know that every year can’t be a great vintage. None of us can control the weather. So the vintner focuses on what they can control like the quality of the grapes and the pruning of the vines.

Or you could use the analogy of the fear you experience on a rollercoaster ride. What is the best response? Stay with the vehicle, focus on a point on the horizon (your goal) and remind yourself this won’t last forever. Everyone gets that.

3. Sketches – It was the great animator Walt Disney who said that of all the inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.

This doesn’t have to be a convoluted chart on a spreadsheet. Often, the best pictures for clients are simple line drawings on a page.

For example, you could draw two squiggles on a page, one representing markets in the past week or month and a second showing the longer-term ascent in prices. The client naturally wants to ‘zoom in’ to what’s happening now. Your job, you can say, is to help them ‘zoom out’ to the big picture.


4. Supplements – Our final ‘s’ word for an effective communication framework refers to ancillary or third party materials like videos, articles, podcasts and other materials that reinforce the message and elevate the learning experience.

An article like this one on ‘Seven Lessons for Riding Out a Market Storm’ can serve a number of purposes – giving the client a sense of control amid chronic uncertainty, putting the news in a wider and historical context, and reminding them that we have been in this place before.

Some advisers adapt articles like these with their own examples. The point is these supplemental materials can be reinvented and repurposed for whatever crisis is occupying clients’ minds at a particular time.

Having a 4S framework as part of your communications toolkit makes sense not only for reassuring clients and bringing their focus back to their plans. It also can be a recipe for a much more successful advice business by increasing the efficiency of communication and allowing you to put more effort into value-adding activities.

Ultimately, this is a scalable, flexible and modular structure for communicating key messages in a language that anybody can understand.

Most of all, it can be used to successfully deal with not only what is said, but what is unspoken.

To learn more about the 4S framework, listen to the podcast series we recently launched in conjunction with Ensombl here.

You can also find additional resources and learn more about how Dimensional can help you, and your business, here.



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