What Wealth Managers Can Learn From Political Rhetoric

Diane Harrison, November 9, 2018


The author of this article says the wealth industry can and should learn from masters of rhetoric when it comes to explaining what they do, even if that involves politicians as controversial as Donald Trump.

At the end of this important political week in the US, a regular commentator for Family Wealth Report, Diane Harrison, the principal and owner of Panegyric Marketing, considers what can be learned (or un-learned) from the communication habits of Donald J Trump when applied to communicating ideas about investment and business more broadly. Needless to say, this is controversial territory, but worth noting that we live in a more “populist” political climate and the changed ways of communication go beyond current US politics. The ways that business leaders, politicians, music stars and sports figures use social media and slogans to get across their ideas are legion. The media may focus on the “bad” examples or controversial ones, but perhaps ignore where these approaches work in other ways.

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In the business of money management, influencing others is a skill that rivals investment expertise. If one can’t earn someone’s trust, and money, then one can’t run a true investment management business, no matter how talented a financial player one may be. To gain the support and gather assets of strangers, money managers must master the art of effective rhetoric.

Plato referred to rhetoric as “the art of winning the soul by discourse”. To inspire others, a good communicator needs to engage them both intellectually and emotionally. Donald Trump is a master at this type of communication: like him or hate him, his ability to communicate messages is unrivalled. His unceasing ability to create slogans, rival nicknames, and other memes that brand his style of communication is Cicero’s classic rhetoric in action. MAGA: Make America Great Again, Lyin’ Ted Cruz, Low Energy Jeb Bush, Crooked Hillary Clinton - these monikers are permanently linked to the 2016 US presidential campaign era courtesy of Donald J Trump.

Passion play
Unlike the typical silver-tongued politician, Trump cuts to the heart of the matter in bold, simple language. There is no stilted phrasing or tortured concept descriptions. He states a point clearly and succinctly in plain “Everyman” language. Agree or disagree with his perspective, his method articulates issues for people, and that is very effective.

The Roman philosopher and politician Cicero first organized the five canons of rhetoric in his discourse De Inventione, as a means of educating the Roman population with Greek intellectual persuasion. These canons: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery are as relevant today in defining effective communication as they were then. Together, they work to create powerful messages across subject matters and audience.

The five canons defined
Invention refers to the process of coming up with an idea to develop into an argument. Whether the delivery will be oral or written, defining what it is you want to convey is step one.

Arrangement is the exercise of deciding how to present what it is you want to communicate. This might take the form of an outline, speaking notes, or some other form of ordering information. The importance of step two is the planning process for eventual delivery.

Style is the method of communicating the message. This step three includes the actual words chosen and the format these words will take. For example, phrases delivered in active voice, versus passive voice, tend to be more forceful and emphatic. If your intent is to appear strong in delivery, active voice phrasing is always the preferable option. Which sentence carries more impact? It is believed by the audience that a call for action must be made by Congress. Congress needs to act.

Memory is step four and involves practising the content to be delivered and committing as much of it as possible to memory. While this is more important for an oral communication, it is also useful when drafting written content, as it weaves the message more tightly together prior to delivery, and helps in the final editing process.

Delivery, the fifth canon, is the process of conveying the communication. While the actual wording is central to this step, the energy and dynamic interaction of the delivery can greatly enhance or detract from the message. In speeches, videos, and other verbal deliveries, using a strong voice, gesturing appropriately while speaking, striding around a stage to engage various portions of the audience all work to help or hurt the delivery.

Words in action ran an interesting piece on August 6, 2015, well over a year before the 2016 Presidential election, “21 Donald Trump Quotes To Inspire Your Success”, by Peter Economy. The article’s focus was on how he was lifting himself above the primary candidate herd by virtue of his effective rhetoric. 

Let’s take a look at some of the Trumpian communications that have galvanized fans and foes, and why they inspire such emotion. There’s a lesson to be learned from these quotes that money managers can adopt when trying to inspire their own fans, and minimize potential foes. 

-- "Sometimes your best investments are the ones you don't make."

Investors often decide whether or not to invest with a particular manager based on risk management practices versus investment management experience. When managers can clearly articulate how they avoid bad investments or extricate themselves from excessively risky ones, they stand a chance of winning over investors concerned about the long-term impact of placing monies with an individual manager.

-- "Nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion."

This one is almost academic, but some managers need to be reminded that investors don’t just want to see investment expertise in their money manager; they need to see a passionate commitment. If you aren’t communicating this level of desire in front of prospects, it’s time to ramp up your energy and enthusiasm for what you do.

-- "Your business, and your brand, must first let people know what you care about, and that you care about them."

A brand is essentially what others think about you, not what you think about yourself. As such, the best way to develop and strengthen the brand you want to own is to reflect how you understand and deliver what your clients desire from you. Personalizing these messages and consistently following through on reinforcing them will solidify your individual status in your clients’ minds.

-- "Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game."

Investors are very savvy about finding out what makes a money manager tick. If they suspect one is motivated more by asset-gathering to earn management fees versus growing their fund business as a means of reaching optimal capacity to execute their passion in investment strategy, the investors are likely to be turned off. Management fee motivation has been the death knell for many institutional fund managers who seem to lose passion, or ability, to perform once they aggregate a certain amount of assets.

-- "In the end, you're measured not by how much you undertake, but by what you finally accomplish."

Trump is not the only one to have said this in so many words, but it doesn’t make it any less true. There’s truth in measuring value by actual performance and results, and assessing that via benchmarks. Money managers who can honestly view themselves and work to succeed against these measures will find investors willing and eager to join them. 

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