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The power of understatement
Marketing — February 23, 2017

The power of understatement

Daily we read about the importance of marketing to attract new clients. For most, this means building and promoting the profile of a business or brand through various means – whether it be writing articles in the consumer press, referrals, sponsorship or advertising. While the textbooks and thought leaders promote these initiatives and more as the best way to attract new clients or customers, there are alternatives that are becoming more relevant in today’s market, particularly among high net worth individuals.

According to data collated by Statista, in 2009 the wealth of high net worth individuals in the UK amounted to USD$1.5 trillion. By the end of 2014 this had grown to nearly USD$2 trillion. Overall, high-net worth individuals in Europe held approximately USD$13 trillion U.S. dollars in wealth and assets in 2014.

While this market is highly attractive, high net worth individuals are elusive and frequently non-responsive to traditional marketing techniques. Their profiles are characterised by a complex set of attitudinal, aspirational and lifestyle attributes that are difficult to categorise. 

Prior to the financial crisis, some high net worth individuals were known for their conspicuous enjoyment of wealth. In the aftermath attitudes have changed and there has been a shift towards understatement, greater social responsibility and engagement with philanthropic causes.

Gone is the need for conspicuous consumption – a trend that has filtered through to high growth luxury markets such as China. But what remains among this group is a desire to maintain relationships with providers of products and services that understand their needs in detail through a personalised experience.

Recently we have been working with two highly successful firms that offer services to high net worth individuals on their business development strategies. The common theme for both related to the power of understatement and how this can be used to engage demanding high net worth individuals seeking a discrete experience. 

In this article we look at some of the characteristics and principals these businesses adopt to attract the right clients. 

1. Have a simple, clearly defined purpose

Both businesses can clearly and easily articulate what they stand for, and the value of their products and services. They have a clearly identified target market and know what their clients value.

When communicating where they delivered value, they typically focused on a small number of messages. They also took care not to promote generic statements that failed to differentiate what they do.  Recognising the importance of consistent messaging, they ensure everyone in the business can articulate what they stand for and why they were different. 

2. Keep your offer simple

Knowing your target market means understanding the needs of individuals and what’s important. These businesses don’t have overly complicated propositions. They have identified a core set of needs and developed an offer that can be repeated across multiple clients. Bespoking is kept to a minimum to enable a streamlined infrastructure and operating processes. If clients request variations to the terms of service, often the answer is no. If they feel is a client is not right for them, they explain why early.

3. Build the business through personal relationships

Both businesses recognise that relationships can only be established once there is trust. And that building trust takes time and requires a significant amount of effort when dealing with high net worth individuals.

They have various ways of achieving this, but a common element is spending time with their prospective clients face to face. There is no hard sell. Instead the emphasis is on getting to know the individuals, their interests and preferences. This would be achieved by identifying opportunities to engage during activities where they are considered to be a peer. These include exclusive business forums, charity dinners or talks and seminars relating to, for example, social interests delivered by engaging speakers with a compelling story.

On occasion they host these events in partnership with other businesses with a common purpose. They also look for opportunities to help prospective clients in ways not directly linked to the product or services they are looking to offer. 

4. Brand has a minimalist presence

Their brand was important, having carefully considered what it stood for and how it related to their offer and culture. But interestingly, they don’t spend significant time or effort promoting their brand. Their websites are well designed and updated regularly to reflect current design trends and use of new technology. But they are largely static with occasional high quality content added. An important part of their attraction is their low key approach.

Their approach is to focus on key details and provide minimal, but carefully considered and well-presented information. The purpose of their website is to demonstrate to anyone searching online that their business exists and to offer some key information and contact details.

They don’t actively participate in social media. One of the businesses has a placeholder on Linkedin but recognising that their prospective clients typically don’t use social media to identify providers of the products and services they seek, they prefer a more direct and personal approach.   

5. Attention to detail is paramount

Recognising high net worth individuals have demanding expectations, the businesses continually pay close attention to detail and understand their prospective clients. They listen carefully and research publically available information to understand as much as they can about their current circumstances and background. This helps to define how they engage with these individuals from the outset.

Are they from a family business, a senior corporate executive, or an entrepreneur? They adapt their style to reflect individual preferences and etiquette while maintaining their understated code.

They record this information.  Not just what they liked to drink, or family details but more importantly how they liked to be communicated with and their personality traits that would determine points such how they like information presented and how they make decisions.

One of the businesses used a personality-profiling tool to assist with this, with specific fields added to their client relationship management system to denote the approach to be adopted when working with the client. This also included dress code.

When a prospective client became a client, a team would be assigned to work with the individual. The team is briefed on all of the points mentioned above. By working in this way, the firms have developed an approach to serving clients that accurately reflects their clients’ expectations, building high degrees of intimacy and loyalty over time. 

6. Adopt a slow, considered and consistent pace 

These businesses take their time. Nothing is rushed and everything carefully considered from their actions to communication, both verbal and written. They regularly reflect and discuss to ensure they really understand what their clients and prospective clients are seeking.

The pace is uniform across the business. Hiring the right people plays a key role in protecting this culture. They look for people who are similarly understated in their approach and attitude.

Their slow pace is reflected in their business plan. They focus more on the inputs and less on achieving ambitious business targets (although they do exist). They believe that by doing the right thing and by paying attention to the detail growth will come. Given their year on year growth, this is proven.

7. Communicate with intent and deliver

The language used is purposeful. They communicate with intent, with emphasis on delivery. They are careful not to use words such as “we hope to”, “we will try to”, or “perhaps”, “maybe”. Instead they say “we will”, “we are going to”.  The language is unapologetic, clear and concise.

Less is more. They only include relevant information. Points are presented in a concise, easy to read manner. They also clearly articulate and highlight any points that require special attention. 

For clients, it reinforces the message that these businesses know what they stand for and are confident in their ability to accurately meet client expectations. 

8. Know your target market

While the businesses have targets, they take a long-term view. There is no pressure to accept a client if they are not right – and often they say no. Doing so means that while their clients are different in many ways, they can still apply a common approach and protect their brand. They recognise that deviation from this weakens their offer. 

The leaders of both businesses are clear on what they stand for and why they are different. They communicate the finer points of their vision to everyone across the business, achieving universal buy in to their approach.

So these are a few important lessons that could be relevant, but this approach is not for everyone and takes confidence to get it right. However, for certain clients and segments of the market, an understated and discrete approach works. Their slow and considered approach proves the power of understatement. Less can be more.

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