In 1987, KFC opened its first China-based fast-food franchise smack-dab in the heart of Tiananmen Square. Despite the unpredictability of entering a foreign market, the fried chicken maker had a bigger problem on its hands. 

For years, KFC’s slogan was, “It’s finger lickin’ good.” While that worked in Peoria, the direct translation in Chinese was, “We’ll eat your fingers off.” 

At LIMRA’s Retirement Conference, being held this week in Arlington, VA, a topic focused on how advisors, like KFC, find their message to consumers lost in translation.

Speakers Maria Ferrante-Schepis, managing principal at Maddock Douglas, and Scott Kallenbach, director of strategic research at LIMRA, posed a question for the audience: “Does the language commonly used by the financial services industry motivate consumers to adequately prepare for retirement or does it confuse, intimidate and drive would-be buyers into a state of paralysis?”

After reviewing research material gathered by interviewing actual consumers, Kallenbach summed up the problem. “These are our customers out there and they don’t know what the heck we’re talking about.”

As one consumer said in a video the audience was shown. “When I hear the word ‘underwriting,’ I have a mental picture of people working in hell with typewriters.”

The problem is not only one of speaking in jargon. Kallenbach showed a video of consumers discussing industry marketing material. If one were to look at the material, they’d think all retirees were gorgeous, incredibly happy, and living a beachcomber’s dream life. “But that’s not reality,” said Kallenbach. “Not everyone wants to live in Margaritaville. Most people I know are worried that they’re going to outlive their money.”

Ferrante-Schepis said “authenticity” is one of the keys to cutting through the jargon. “Be real when you speak to clients,” she said. “Use real-life examples and talk in conversational language” not in the dull, lifeless monotone of an insurance policy. 

Being real is also talking to clients like you would friends or family, not talking to them as if you were an…insurance agent. As one consumer said in the video, “I don’t think they are trying to confuse me on purpose. I think they have a really difficult time in communicating a set of concepts and people have no interest in hearing how complicated everything is.”

Before closing, Ferrante-Schepis said there are six elements to authenticity that every advisor should ask himself before talking with a client.

    1. Are you easy to understand?

    2. Are you down to earth?

    3. Are you memorable?

    4. Are you positive?

    5. Are you credible?

    6. Are you relevant?

Following those golden rules will go a long way in closing the industry’s communication gap.

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