How long does good messaging last? One year, five years, longer?
Throughout the first season of HearSay, m+p’s official podcast, our CEO Michael frequently referenced his sawtooth chart on communications. Featured on the blog for the very first time, we’re diving into the nitty-gritty behind this chart, the market mindset impacting how and what companies should communicate, and how long their messaging will last.
For over a decade, we have regularly asked a simple question: Which is more important? Financial security or financial freedom? At the height of a bull market, typically 3/4s of the population prioritizes “financial freedom” — the idea that money can give them the ability to do more tomorrow than today. Then, seemingly in a flash, the number flips in response to a major market correction. At the market trough, typically 3/4s of the population say “financial security” is more important. The cycle starts over, as mindsets make the slow but steady transition back to placing a priority on “financial freedom.”
In financial services, the implications can be fairly straightforward: Emphasize growth during bull markets and protection during bear markets, and make sure you don’t miss the transition. Because we tend to spend more time in cycles with a growing economy, language that ties to a freedom mindset tends to last longer. Language that aligns with a security mindset tends to be extremely important but for a shorter period of time.
As the pandemic hit, we were unsure whether this trend would hold. It did.
Remember what happened when the pandemic started: The immediate response was for companies to go into security mode. We were all in it together. We saw images of empty streets and messages from CEOs that emphasized safety and protection. Yet, while COVID is still a painful presence, there was a limited shelf life for the security mindset.
Companies looked for the first credible opportunity to shift back to a positive, freedom-focused message. While we may not be back to the unmitigated positive messages of 2019, the desire to talk about the positive has pushed out the negative. Once again, the half-life of protection and security message has proved to be short-lived. And it is likely we are starting the slow steady climb back up the freedom hill.
So, how long will your language last? Is your message focused on security or freedom? Did you design and test it (you did test it, right?) in the heat of an inflection point or the relative calm of positive economic growth?
This isn’t the only rule to determine how long your language will last, but it is an extremely important starting point.
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