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The Importance of Being Earnest

FINANCIAL ADVISORS, C-level execs, and entrepreneurs make daily sales pitches. Whether you’re trying to persuade a prospect to trust you with their assets, motivate an employee, or win an argument with family or friends, persuasion skills are essential. This article details a proven persuasion technique.

It’s easier to persuade people if you and your argument appear genuine. Consider Coca Cola’s famous ad “Coke is the real thing.” Successful marketing portrays products and services as the “genuine article,” “the real deal,” and “authentic.” Given society’s demand for transparency and accountability, and social media watchdogs, authenticity is critical. A study found 90% of consumers are looking for authenticity. If you appear genuine and honest, investors will trust you with their assets. Accenture defines trust as “a consistent experience of competence, integrity, honesty, transparency, commitment, purpose, and familiarity.”

Frontify, the Swiss brand management firm, advised companies that marketing must address the fact that “Millennials are relentless and obsessive in their quest for authenticity. They want real and organic, not perfect and packaged.” When people lose trust in a company or financial advisor, they certainly won’t be persuaded by them. A 2018 Accenture study determined that “54% of the companies on the Accenture strategy competitive agility index experienced a material drop in trust and lost $180 billion in revenues.”

If you doubt the persuasive power of authenticity, study the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard trial. Both parties were represented by high-powered lawyers and jury psychologists. Typically, I tell my clients going to a FINRA arbitration or trial to dress and act like they are going to church. They should not stand- out, they should blend in with what the average person looks like. No cuff links, expensive jewelry, flashy clothes, or crazy hair styles. When you get to either

edge, you’re more likely to offend some jurors and arbitrators. People are more likely to be persuaded by people who look, act, and talk like them.

The Depp trial proved that sometimes authenticity overrides the conventional wisdom that witnesses at an arbitration or trial should look like “the average Joe.” Heard followed the traditional trial advice and dressed conservatively, with her hair pinned up like an old school marm. Given Heard’s stylish appearance in the past and her provocative look as Aquawoman, when she showed up in the courtroom looking like a school-teacher and pretended to be scared when Johnny Depp walked by her in the courtroom, the jury viewed Heard’s dress and demeanor as fake and the opposite of genuine. Imagine how fake a New York lawyer with a heavy Yankee accent would look if they appeared in front of a FINRA panel in Mississippi wearing cowboy boots.

Depp, on the other hand, wore dark glasses, an earring, Italian designer suits with black shirts, and loud ties. Depp’s appearance persuaded the jury and the public he was authentic and they were seeing “the real Johnny Depp.” That lead them to trust Depp and believe his testimony.

Depp won and won big: $15+ million verdict and the PR and social media war. #justiceforjohnnydepp had 20 billion views while #IStandWithAmberHeard had 8 million views. And, the studio decided to use Emilia Clarke instead of Heard as Aquawoman in the movie sequel.

The Takeaway: if you lie to an arbitrator or a jury, even a small lie, your credibility is destroyed and then they won’t believe anything you say. That’s why it’s so important when you are in front of a FINRA panel and when you are trying to persuade people, that you are authentic and not perceived as pretending to be somebody you’re not.

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