The Paradox of Financial Messaging and Millennials

A Different Kind of Approach for a Different Kind of Audience

Marketing that targets millennials can be a tricky proposition. There are plenty of stereotypes and an abundance of unflattering anecdotal evidence floating around to pull your message astray. But most of these tend to fall apart when you perform your due-diligence and do a little psychographic digging.


Contrary to the pop-culture groupthink, millennials are motivateddedicated and willing to roll up their sleeves and do what it takes. They’re loyalgenerous and yet full of contradictions. In other words, they’re just like you and I.

Millennials are also the most connected generation ever. Technology isn’t just a part of their life, it’s a lifestyle. As a result of this connectedness, how they receive and consume information is slightly different from the boomer generations. More than anything, millennials demand speed. They don’t want to spend a lot of time wading through unrelated content to find what they’re looking for. They want precise information presented in a read to consume format. This is where the paradox of financial messaging comes in.


As millennials transition into the next stages of life, they’re starting to think about their financial future. Yet for all their growing clout in the marketplace, it’s difficult for many to find a financial services firm that feels right for them. That’s not an accident.


In the past, financial firms had a vested interest in presenting a carefully crafted and quite frankly, drab branded image. Conventional wisdom is that this kind of image conveys credibility and seriousness. So then how should a financial services firm appeal to millennials?

Cornerstone Advisors is a dynamic wealth management firm in Bellevue, WA. They are literally across the street from the headquarters of Microsoft. Living in one of the most tech-forward areas of North America, Cornerstone realized that much of the traditional financial service messaging would not resonate with millennials. This was the challenge we faced when Cornerstone Advisors approached us about expanding their branded image.


In performing a brand audit with Cornerstone, we identified five personas that would benefit from the exact services Cornerstone provided. After working up a complete demographic and psychographic profile of each, we focused on building a website that appealed to each one. This began with the creation of five gateway pages that distilled the challenge each group was facing into a single sentence or two. Each of these pages would feed the main site.


Understanding the outdoor ethos plays a large role in how Cornerstone clients self-identify, we set the entire website against the backdrop of outdoor lifestyle imagery, a deliberate departure from boardrooms and bar charts. Rather than present the firm as a venerated financial institution, Cornerstone was positioned as a long-standing member of the Pacific Northwest community. Which they are.

Most financial service sites use a laundry list approach of “services available” to define themselves. Typically this involves a “more is better” approach to the information presented. Based on what we understood about how millennials like to communicate, we broke from the conventional model and created a site with two simple silos: ABOUT YOU and ABOUT US.


The ABOUT YOU section presented all of Cornerstone’s services and offerings thru the lens of the millennial. They focused on what challenges were they facing and how we (Cornerstone) could help them move forward. Digital illustrations, unique graphics and short animations were all used to engage readers and tell the Cornerstone story. Much of the complex financial information was interactively nested to allow users to dictate what subject interested them and how much information they wanted.


The ABOUT US section was crafted in the same, info-graphic way. The content was geared towards the life of the existing Cornerstone client and the greater Seattle community as a whole. Even the Cornerstone leadership section omitted the traditional ‘work history’ in favor of a personal statement about their individual Cornerstone story.



So how’d it all turn out? The Cornerstone Advisors website can be found here. Don’t be surprised if it looks a little different from what you’re expecting. It’s a different kind of approach for a different kind of audience.


Website design for each of the personas can be found here.