Political Atheism & Branding
by Matt Oechsli | @mattoechsli
Denver: “I’m not certain about my social media branding,” Ralph explained before asking, “Can you, or somebody on your team give me some guidance? I think I might have hurt myself and damaged a couple of important relationships.”
I immediately put Kevin Nichols, our in-house social media guru, on the case. It took Kevin a matter of seconds, not minutes, perusing Ralph’s social media footprint to uncover a blatant faux pas. The messaging was extremely political and highly opinionated. However a blinding glimpse of the obvious can also be a blind spot for the well-intentioned and true believer.
When Kevin suggested that Ralph keep politics out of his social media footprint, he got serious pushback. Ralph felt very strongly about his conservative views, wasn’t at all pleased with the election results, and felt compelled to voice his opinion on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
It was only when Kevin peeled back the onion (asked more penetrating questions) that he discovered the reasoning behind Ralph’s inquiry. Ralph’s concern about branding was a result of a local physician and his CPA falling off the radar after each were asked to connect on LinkedIn. Ralph had developed a relationship with the physician through cycling. They had both ridden in a couple of fund raisers. He was introduced to his CPA at one of the post-ride social events.
The physician was a great prospect and the CPA was a strong potential referral alliance. The silence from both was extremely disconcerting to Ralph. With a bit of prodding, Ralph was convinced to orchestrate personal contact with the physician through a Sunday group cycling ride. This became his “ah-ha” moment. As they cycled, Ralph asked about the silence following his request to connect on LinkedIn. Without hesitating, this affluent prospect told him that he didn’t want to be associated with someone who had such opinionated political views. He felt that this was polarizing, it made him uncomfortable, and that his CPA felt the same way.
Not only did Ralph get the proverbial “whack across the side of the head,” he was about to get a coaching lesson on branding and its effect on relationships.
The old adage, "avoid discussing politics and religion" could not be more relevant for advisors in today’s politically charged environment. Although Ralph never actually discussed politics with the CPA and doctor, his social media messaging was full of disparaging comments about our second term president. Apparently, this was enough to give both of these professionals cause for pause.
Our research is quite clear; politicians of all parties are at the lowest end of the trust rankings of all professionals amongst today’s affluent investor. Next to Wall Street, they blame politicians for this Great Recession. However, elite advisors are ranked at the top of the professional trust rankings. Why? Because elite advisors have spent time with their affluent clients making the necessary adjustments to ensure they were protected and would be able to survive this financial crisis.
Bottom line; today’s affluent investor is not hiring a primary advisor because of their political views. No more than they are looking for a politically aligned cardiologist to put a stint in Grandpa’s heart. Hardly. In either instance, they are looking for a professional who has the skills to get the job done. In the case of hiring a financial advisor, they are looking for someone who is open-minded, has a depth and breadth of industry knowledge, understands their family goals, and has their family’s best interest behind every decision.
It is very difficult for financial advisors to pull this off if they blatantly express strong political opinions. Our recommendation, from a professional vantage point, is for advisors to view themselves as a “political atheist”. In other words, you’re riding the middle of the road. We use that language as it tends to resonate with today’s affluent, it’s not threatening, there is no blame throwing, and it reminds them that there’s no simple political solution.
It also helps to remind today’s affluent to focus on what they can control, such as having a risk analysis conducted on their family’s portfolio. We recognize that the majority of advisors are very conservative, and many aren’t happy with the results of the election. So be it. Rather than bash the political opposition, casting blame, why not take a chapter out of the elite advisor playbook; put your political atheist hat on, view the glass half full, and use the fear around the fiscal cliff to offer a second opinion to every affluent prospect you encounter.
As Kevin clearly explained to Ralph – get rid of all the political slogans, comments, and especially disparaging remarks. Regardless of your personal belief, you want to present yourself as politically neutral.
Incidentally, just as I was finishing this piece Kevin stuck his head into my office to tell me about another soon-to-be political atheist. This advisor is extremely conservative but took the initiative to get all of his political photos, slogans, etc., out of his office. A smart move, but not smart enough.
In his third meeting, the first in his office, with a $2.2 million prospect (who was introduced to him by one of his top clients), the wife asked about a statue in the corner of an elephant in an aggressive pose. If you guessed political undertones, you were right. Rather than sign the paperwork, the couple decided to think about it and now aren’t returning phone calls. Word from the client who introduced, the wife is quite liberal and didn’t appreciate the political humor. Ouch!
The Oechsli Institute does ongoing research and coaching for nearly every major financial services firm in the US. To take the first step towards coaching with The Oechsli Institute, complete the pre-coaching business profile for a complimentary consultation.