In more than 20 years of experience, I’ve observed that the more the advisor is unsure of the value he actually delivers to his clients, the more likely he is to use extreme language to describe the benefits of what he does.

Author and marketing consultant Jack Trout describes the typical language used in advertising as “spin” and “puffery.” For a variety of reasons, there is often far too much fluff and hyperbole in the language being used to describe the typical advisory practice. 


When crafting unique value proposition-type materials, modifiers and descriptions that cannot be meaningfully validated or that must be experienced to be believed should be left out. Some common examples include—but are by no means limited to—the following terms:

  • “superior service” – Superior to what?
  • “increased depth and breadth” -- Increased from what to what?
  • “more personalized attention” -- More than what?
  • “concierge-level service” -- What is this? I know what a concierge at a hotel is…
  • “highest degree of integrity” -- What degree is this?
  • “uniquely proactive approach” -- Unique compared to what?
  • “eliminate uncertainty and fear” – Really? Eliminate?
  • “complete transparency” – Really? Complete?
  • “our clients are like family” -- Do you need more family?

In most cases, the writer is trying to elevate and distinguish what the practice is about—to clarify how the reader should understand and value the services offered. But  because a more sophisticated reader won’t believe extreme language, it's a good idea to resist the use of hyperbole and claims that are difficult to support. Especially when it comes to “fuzzy” ideas like quality of relationship, integrity, trust and the like.

Another common problem with this type of material is that it often describes behaviors and services that are generally expected of financial advisors with extreme language. Things like market knowledge, personalized attention, long-term relationships, industry training, integrity, privacy, discovery, identify goals and so on.

These are all common attributes of financial advisors. A good correction for those advisors who tend to describe themselves according to the services that they regularly provide is to consider this question: “Do most advisors do the majority of these things, and do all advisors do many of these things?” If you are describing common attributes of professional advisors and you are addressing a sophisticated investor, your documentation is seriously missing the mark.

The response we typically hear when delivering this question when coaching is, “But we really do them,” or “We do them more so than other advisors.” But doing common things a bit better isn’t exciting, and it isn’t something to get worked up enough about to change from one provider to another. 

This type of language doesn’t help to differentiate your business and it isn’t useful to include in unique value proposition-type material.  However, it is helpful to always remember this: we are talking about a “unique” value proposition here, not a typical or average value proposition!

Ken Haman is the managing director at the Alliance Bernstein Advisor Institute, visit

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