E34: Brand Distillery Part 1 - Escaping the Jargon of the Financial Industry

Financial institutions all share a similar language. And while each believes they've risen above the crowd, customers can seldom tell the difference. Garrett and Michael will talk what it takes to escape the industry jargon and start speaking the language of the customer.

Michael Reynolds Hey, everyone, welcome to the podcast. Good morning, afternoon, evening, whenever you're listening. Allison, how are you today?

Allison Gibbs I'm doing well. How are you?

Michael Reynolds Allison -- doing great. Allison is with us, as always, and we have a special treat for you today. We have Garrett Curry in the house. Garrett, what's up?

Garrett Curry Hey. Hello, everyone.

MR Hello, hello. Garrett is our brand strategist. We have a special treat for you today and for the next five episodes. I kind of mentioned it last week, briefly. I actually didn't have time before the music cut me off. [laughs] So I didn’t give a huge intro last week, but I did mention that we are going to be doing a special series for the next five episodes called Brand Distillery. This came about because Garrett and I -- really, Garrett. I kind of opened it up a little bit, but Garrett and I presented a Brand Distillery workshop for a group of financial institutions, actually yesterday, depending on when you listen to this, and got pretty much rave reviews I would say.

GC Yeah.

MR I'll kind of toot our own horn. A really, really great experience, and we thought why don't we turn this into a virtual version of Brand Distillery. We don't know if this is going to be great or terrible. We just don't know yet. We've never done it before.

AG Way to set that up. [laughs]

MR I think it's worth a try. Hey, marketing is all about taking risks, right?

AG It sure is.

MR You don't know until you try. It's actually a fantastic workshop; it's phenomenal. It really walks you through creating -- it's a workshop on brand messaging for your financial institution. We're going to break it out into five segments here, five episodes. Part 1 is escaping the jargon of the financial industry --

GC Yep.

MR -- Part 2 is appealing to the story of the customer. Part 3 is designing your brand perceptions. Part 4 is crafting a great one-liner. Part 5 is implementing a refreshed brand. So we're going to --

GC Yes.

MR -- give you homework at the end of each episode. And at the end you will have crafted, at least, a draft of a one-liner you can use in your bank or credit union and start going from there and taking next steps and implementing. Is that a fairly good assessment, Garrett, of what we're going to do?

GC I think it is. That's the big-picture stuff. That sounds great.

MR Okay. Great. We'll announce this at the end again, as well, but we do have worksheets for you to follow along during this series. They're at capitalpointmarketing.com/bdworksheets. B, as in boy, D, as in -- I guess I should say B, as in brand, D, as in distillery. [laughs] That's a little more accurate. Slash bdworksheets. You can download those PDFs and follow along and do the homework with us. With that, Garrett, why don't you go ahead and get started.

GC Yeah. This -- yes, as you said, the focus is mainly upon messaging and positioning. When you talk about brand, obviously, people have a whole lot of definitions of that, and so I want to get on the same page. Actually, I want everyone to get on my page when I talk about brand.

MR That's fair. It's your show today.

GC Exactly. So let's come up with a working definition. This is an ongoing conversation defining what brand is, and I discovered years ago, I think, the simplest and most meaningful way to describe it that everyone kind of gets. Essentially, brand is everyone's gut reaction to you. It's plain and simple. Now, that can come out in a logo; that can come out in space design and in words, but what it comes down to is how people feel about you. What's interesting about that is your brand originates from other people. Good or bad, beautiful or ugly, your brand is your brand. It's either a problem or it's an asset. So that's what brand is; so I want everyone to agree with that so we can go forward with a common frame of reference. But let's talk about what branding is, and that is, basically, you influencing that gut reaction others have about you. So let's say your -- the gut reaction people have about you is unremarkable. Well, you could actually do things to make it remarkable. Let's say it's negative. Let's say it's ugly. You're able influence how people perceive you. Now, here's where I toe the line. You guys probably agree that marketing can be slimy. It can be slimy sometimes; it depends on who's doing it.

MR I think I used the word "smarmy" recently.

GC [laughs] Okay. Yeah. What I mean by that is it can be disingenuous [sic]. It can be deceptive. And that's not what I'm talking about. I like using my superpowers for good instead of spinning something that should be looked at as awful and trying to make it looks great. I'm not really a fan of that. What I'm talking about is drawing out what's genuine about you and actually bringing some poetic justice to it so that people receive that genuinely based on who you actually are. So those are the definitions that I wanted to cover before we jump into that. That's our reference. I want to get on the same page on a couple other items, too, that I think that you guys would agree with as well. When I do ad copy or write brand narrative or I'm challenged with a marketing obstacle, I basically operate under a few assumptions. One, no one cares at all.

MR It's hard to hear, isn't it? [laughs]

GC Yeah. No one cares. We kind of assume people will care if I say something. No, you have to assume they don't, and you have to overcome that challenge. Usually people are not going to care about something they have no reason to care about. The second assumption is people just don't have time. There are like 10,000 messages we are hit in the face with every day. Maybe 1% will pierce through the white noise, and maybe that's something people pay attention to. The challenge is big. People simply don't have time to process through all these messages. But, more importantly, when they do encounter a message and they are reading or absorbing it or receiving it, they don't have time to interpret what it's trying to say; so if it's all in code and insider language, they're out. Those are the two challenges people face, I think, when -- with -- any business faces when dealing with marketing.

There's a couple foundational things, I would call them "plagues" that, I think, any bank or financial institution's going to face and that is this: a broken brand message will doom all of your marketing efforts. Do you guys remember the film and historic event of Apollo 13 --

AG Yes.

GC -- the failed moon mission starring Tom Hanks, if you're into film.

MR I love that movie.

GC Yeah. It's a great film. So their life-support system goes down on the way to the moon; so they never actually make their moon landing. It's very awful and sad as they miss that opportunity. What caused that problem, that life-support system going down, was a manufacturing flaw that happened two years before lift-off. So that thing was doomed from the very, very beginning. When it comes to messaging, I will liken that to that manufacturing flaw. If you are facing the wrong direction, whistling the wrong tune, it's always going to be wrong even if you bring an entire symphony orchestra behind it. Even if you put a whole lot of money behind it, it's not going to be great. But a lot of financial institutions will continue to believe Well, if we just spend more money and get louder, our brand message is going to be fixed, and that's just not true. No amount of marketing is going to fix a broken brand message. So this is the plague that people suffer from and it's the delusion that a lot of financial institutions live within: if we just do more of the wrong thing, it will fix everything that's broken. It's just not true.

So what we're going to start with today is this idea of overcoming jargon. And this is true in any industry. Every industry has jargon. Every industry has code. And financial institutions are really, really guilty of that and, I think, anyone listening to this would understand what I'm talking about. It's kind of a hard habit to break saying all these jargon-y terms. But in order to, I think, escape jargon, we have to look at what the problem is with jargon. Why is that a problem? So the first thing that it tends to, I think, ruin in any business, in any institution, is that jargon can tend to shroud the true meaning of what we're trying to say. If you guys caught the Super Bowl this past Sunday, the really good commercials -- there were some disappointments, too; there were some stinkers -- but one of the best ones was Rocket Mortgage. Did you see the Rocket --

AG I did. Yes, those were very good.

GC -- really good. So that commercial basically shows a bunch of examples of jargon within several industries. So they have a couple at a fancy restaurant; they can't read the menu. Someone's trying to interpret someone's profile on a dating app, and there's a guy next to him interpreting all this code and just saying things in really simple terms, and then they're like Oh. Now I know what that means. At the very end of it, it's just a couple sitting in front of a lender and the lender's like Well, you can get a mortgage that avoids PMI, but there's no way to avoid MIP and FHA, and it's total code, and they're completely confused. And so that's where Rocket Mortgage comes in and says Hey. Let's talk about really complex things in really simple terms. And that's brilliant. And that's the very simple truth that any industry could apply but especially within the financial world as well. So insider language, code, all of this essentially just causes confusion, and when confusion kicks in, people are out. They're just out. And so that's the risk, I think, any of us -- any of us are going to struggle with whenever we start using insider language.

So another problem with jargon is that it kind of is connected to how those people felt in that commercial and that's this: it intimidates others to talk in an insider language. So I am a big fan of coffee, and I'm a big fan of fancy coffee. I'm a big fan of coffee that costs the same amount as getting a Big Mac meal, okay? That's my coffee. I don't get it at McDonald's --

MR Yes, we have met you, Garrett.

GC [laughs] -- Okay. Good. Here's the deal with coffee. That can be ultra-fancified language that people just don't understand. If you go to a really nice, I'll call it a third-wave coffee shop, and what that means is it's not a bunch of frou-frou flavored stuff; their coffees probably use Italian terminology, and there might not even be definitions beneath those names. So imagine being not a coffee drinker -- or how about this -- not an espresso drinker, you step in line, you're about to make an order, you look up at the menu, and you're reading Italian. You have no idea what is in those drinks; so that cashier is sitting there waiting for you to make that order. Behind you is a line of people who apparently know those Italian terminologies and are waiting for you to order. You're under pressure. You have no idea what you're about to order. And then, finally, you just blurt out something that probably isn't right in its pronunciation, and it's embarrassing. So you're probably not going to return to that coffee shop because of one simple reason: you feel stupid. So I think jargon definitely makes people feel stupid. Would you guys agree? Are there some other examples of that you see in real life at all?

AG Well, we were just talking, actually, last week about websites and eliminating, essentially, the jargon from top navigation. We see that a lot where brands will come to us and they -- in the top navigation of their website, instead of being really straightforward about the products that they're offering or the services that they're offering, it's something really on brand. I always hear "it's on brand." Okay. But --

MR We are working with a credit union right now --

GC It's on --

AG -- but nobody --

GC -- it's on awful brand. I'll say that.

AG -- but -- yes. Well, and I said -- I said last week, people don't have your brand standards next to them when they're reading this. They just don't.

GC Sure.

MR They can't translate what each word means.

AG So it needs to be super basic and accessible to everybody. There's no need to overcomplicate it.

GC I think any financial institution is going to choose the scenic route of talking, of speaking --

AG Yes. 100%.

GC -- and that's a bad idea. Everyone wants a shortcut, to be honest. They want to just go point A to point B. They don't want to get rerouted. When we get rerouted we get confused. And so that's just a horrible way to go about it. When people start speaking that insider language, it intimidates them. I remember the first time someone used the word "facetious" with me, like in junior high, when they were, quote, "kidding with me." I never wanted to talk to that person again, because it was in a public conversation. It actually was in class and it kind of made me feel dumb. I'm like okay. It just feels like people are toying with you when they start using that language. And I think people feel like you're just messing with me. Why aren't you just straight forward? It intimidates people.

Here's a big one, though, and people don't intend this. I think as insiders of any industry, we tend to leave people behind and ignore them when we're talking our jargon. You're having a conversation with someone; you start using all this fancified terminology; they don't feel like they're even part of that conversation. It's almost like you got tricked Hey come talk to me. And then you really aren't talking to them at all; you're just talking to the wall using all this jargon that's not landing on them at all; so they kind of feel a bit left out. It ignores what people are thinking and feeling. I think that's really easy to do that. Here's why that happens, though. All of this that I've talked about kind of feels like a knock to any expert in any field. And I'm kind of doing that a little bit, but I'm also going to admit that it is not what people intend when they start talking their own language within their industry. There's a knowledge gap that exists between the expert and the novice. That expert is going to be at a level 9 or 10; they're like a Jedi at a 9 or 10 within their industry. The novice is not going to be able to keep up. So that expert tends to speak over their head. That expert's task is to begin to speak the language of that novice. Not their own language, but the language of the novice. That's really the point of brand distillery is to learn not to speak jargon, but to let go of it and to begin speaking the language of your customer. And last thing about jargon -- why it's a problem is that it just doesn't sound sexy. It's just not attractive at all. It turns people away.

MR Especially not in the financial industry.


GC No. It's not an interesting conversation. In fact, these conversations normally happen because there's a crisis because something has happened and there's an urgency and they kind of have to have the conversation; they don't really want the conversation. Imagine if it were a conversation that people actually did want to have because it made sense to them. The last thing I wanted to mention as well, and this is pretty important, the financial world is a very, very competitive world. Everyone, I think, assumes that they're unique and they're different and that might be so from their own perspective. But to the public, banks and credit unions are all the same. They really are using the same words; they're using the same jargon; they're sharing the same list of products and services; so it's all kind of the same. When we choose to use jargon all the time, when we use that common speak of insider language, we're basically all saying the same thing, and so it's just not very remarkable. Are there any other things that you guys would suggest are kind of a problem with jargon, where it leads people to, where it makes financial institutions tend to fail in there messaging? What do you guys think?

AG Yeah. I think in some cases the actual product names themselves, if it's not very clear as to what it is that you're providing or what the product is, then I think that sometimes -- they get so excited. You guys get so excited about your names of things --

GC I know. I know.

AG -- but it has to have the plain-speak in it as well.

GC Well, why do we do that? Why do we use jargon all the time?

AG Well I think, in this case, it's because everybody is selling the same stuff. I mean, everybody is, generally speaking -- they have the same set of core products, and so they're trying to set their products apart from the others.

GC But they're not. They're aligning them with everyone else.

AG Correct. Exactly.

GC They're on the same bookshelf; they're the same color book.

AG Yep. Yep.

GC Again, it's not -- alignment is different than transcending, and that's what we want to get to. Transcend this language a bit. I think people want to impress others. Here's what's sad: we're trying to impress our peers. In other words, we're trying to impress our competitors, and where's the profit in that? That doesn't make any sense. Who we need to be impressing is our customer. That's where our sales are; that's where we get our memberships and so forth. Another reason why, I think, we tend to use jargon, and I think anyone's guilty of it, is that we want to sound intelligent. But when you sound so intelligent to where you cannot connect to the humanity of the person you're talking to, that's an awful mistake, obviously.

So what does, really, jargon really cost us when we use too much of it? I certainly don't want to make people too paranoid, but using too much of it is going to cost sales. Period. It's going to affect our bottom line, and I think that's what makes it so urgent to talk about this. I want to suggest -- I hope I built my argument; I hope everyone silently in their car or on their iPhones listening to this is kind of slowly nodding their head in absolute humble agreement that, yes, this is a problem. No one really cares to admit it, but it is a problem.

Here's a really good exercise I want to suggest for people to do over this next week. Two things. Maybe you remember -- some of you remember, in the 90s, there was a game called Taboo. Do you remember that game?

AG Sure do. One of my favorites.

GC Did you like that game?

AG Oh yeah. Cause you have the buzzer.

GC You know, I would always notice when I would play that game and it was against girls, girls read one another's minds. It was very strange. I witnessed this. I'm not even going to go into it. There is a very specific example that, I think, proves the paranormal, and I'll go over that with you after the podcast.

AG Perfect. Yes.

MR [laughs]

AG I love paranormal talk.

GC Taboo. Let's play Taboo -- I'm encouraging people to play Taboo this next week. First is a warm-up, and it's this: I'm challenging our listeners to attempt to describe something without using its common words. And that thing I'm challenging you to describe is Facebook. How about describing Facebook without all the common jargon-y words? So here are the five words that I encourage people not to use in attempting to come up with a definition of Facebook. Don't use the word social media. Don't use the word friends, status update, share, or like. Now we've done this with a lot of people within our Brand Distilleries, and it's pretty interesting what their definitions of Facebook become. What I've noticed is that their definitions of Facebook become more human, more meaningful, because when you withhold jargon, it forces you to reach down a bit deeper in choosing the words that you're going to use.

I think that's a really good exercise everyone can try. But that's leading to the next one -- you're going to see this on your sheets; we have two little Taboo card -- blank cards. The other one is try defining what a bank is or what a credit union is without certain terms as well. And here are those terms. Don't use the word checking. Don't use the word savings, ATM, online banking, or mortgage. It's like what do you have left? Explore that for a little bit and write a definition of what a bank or credit union is, and I think you might be surprised what comes up. It's a great exercise to do alone, but it's also great if your [indiscernible] with your team. On a Monday morning, get them together and make them sweat and get really intimidated and try to drill something out. I'm really curious if people are listening to this and you do this task, we're very curious to hear what you come up with. And if we have some doozies, I'd love to share them next week.

MR Yeah. Yeah. Send those to us at podcast@capitalpointmarketing.com. So send what you come up with our way and we'll share a few if we can.

GC There's marketing hacks at the end of each of these and, in this case -- the marketing hack at the end of this section is this: trade your old jargon for words that are more meaningful. But you're going to have to go to the effort of trying to discover those. So that's the takeaway for today.

MR Nice. Excellent. And the homework worksheets -- again, you can follow along; they kind of give you an outline of how to write this stuff in and work through it. It's at capitalpointmarketing.com/bdworksheets, for Brand Distillery worksheets. Yeah, send those our way at podcast@capitalpointmarketing.com. We'd love to here them. Is that our segment for the day, Garrett?

GC That's our segment for the day.

MR All right. We're doing five parts of these -- or five episodes for this. So next week, Part 2, we're going to go into appealing to the story of the customer, right?

GC Yes. That's a good one.

MR That's a fun one. I really enjoyed how you laid that out during the live sessions. It'll be a lot of fun. All right. What do you think, Allison? Anything you would add?

AG I don't think so. I'm super excited about this. I love this kind of stuff.

MR So far so good. Let's do it. All right. Well, thanks, Garrett. I'm excited for next week. I'm excited to hear what our listeners come up with. Send those our way. Looking forward to it. All right. Thanks, everybody, for joining. We will see you next week.