Practice Management

The right images can enhance yours

Your website's design can speak volumes, so be sure that it's speaking your language

May 6, 2012 @ 12:01 am

By David Langton

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but are they really the right words to describe you and your firm? We live in a visual world, and you can differentiate yourself and connect with your audience when you use the right imagery. We performed an informal survey of adviser websites recently and found many to be using images successfully. We also came up with several suggestions about how improvements in design and visual intelligence could enhance the client experience.

Avoid the financial clichés. At a recent meeting to discuss a website re-design, the first thing a new client said was, “No sailboat images and no compasses.” How refreshing. One of the first bits of advice I recommend is to stay away from financial clichés. From one adviser website to the next, cliché images abound — from the green of money as a color scheme, to the lighthouses, to the happy couples walking down the beach in retirement.

The chess-playing images that show strategy and thinking ahead are overused as a metaphor for investing. Such images don't add anything to a theme unless you can use them in a distinctive way.

There's one practitioner who really should use this imagery — Dennis Stearns, whose University of South Florida chess team won the Pan-American Intercollegiate Championship in 1976. The president of Stearns Financial Services Group Inc. has a real connection to chess, and he could come up with a distinctive way of using this theme. The rest of us should put this metaphor in a retirement plan.

Use images effectively. If your only choice is to use sailboats, a compass or one of the reliable investment metaphors, find a way to do it that distinguishes you from the competition and adds some visual panache.

For instance, while Cassaday & Co. Inc. (cassaday.com) uses photos that are not unusual, it has coupled the imagery with themes in a professional design that articulates its mission and investment philosophy.

Another example from the firms we surveyed is Spruce Hill Capital LLC (pjnfm.net), which uses common images, but in a unique way, with a beautiful color palette and thematic terms such as “balance” and “life planning.”

The firm created cohesive imagery that feels inviting. The use of a slide show of its well-selected images, cropped in a distinctive manner, further helps to advance the firm's marketing message.

Hire a professional photographer. If you are going to use original photography for anything, especially executive head shots, you should absolutely hire a professional photographer. The difference between what a professional can deliver and what your office assistant can do could make all the difference in how clients and prospects see you and your firm.

For instance, if you look at the executive photos used in the team section of the Willow Creek Financial Services Inc. website, wcfsinc.com, you'll see that the firm does a nice job of presenting its team with good, professional head shots. You can tell they were taken by the same photographer. They have the same backgrounds and are well-lit.

On the other hand, homemade photos on your website that look like snapshots can have the opposite effect. Most financial advisers want to look professional, smart and engaged, yet we often see photos with poor lighting that come across as unprofessional and make the firm's owners appear unprepared and unpolished.

Keep in mind that executive head shots don't necessarily have to be you in business attire. Informal is fine; just be sure to stay consistent across all the team's photos. And while you're at it, be sure to negotiate the rights to use your photos in advertising, promotion and on your LinkedIn page. Unless you specify otherwise in your contracts, the photographer owns the rights to the photos.

Remember, an investment in your imagery is an investment in your firm and the visual representation you want to portray to your clients and prospects.

David Langton (david@langton cherubino.com) is a partner at Langton Cherubino Group Ltd., a design communications firm. Julie Couser, owner of Invest MarCom & Events, provided research for this article.

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