How to write for rich people

Senior editor Martin Wake outlines some key assumptions to avoid and useful steps to follow when addressing the content needs of the ‘high net worth individual’…

 How to write for rich people

‘What content do rich people want?’ Phrased bluntly like that it’s fairly obvious that there isn’t a single, simple answer. Yet it’s all too easy to treat this group as a homogenous group of identical people with no distinguishing characteristics beyond their level of wealth.

What counts as ‘high net worth’ anyway?

When talking about wealthy people, marketers (particularly in financial services) use the phrase High Net Worth Individuals, or HNWIs for short. Exactly how much wealth makes you a HNWI is debatable, but a commonly used benchmark is having at least $1 million in liquid financial assets – investments and money you can actually turn into spendable cash, rather than just, say, the value of your house.

The range of wealth for HNWIs goes up to around $5 million, above which you might be called ‘Very HNW’. Past about $50 million a new category of ‘Ultra High Net Worth’ (UHNW) is commonly used.

Even this brief overview shows how easy it is to fall into using simplistic market segments based on wealth alone. And with around 840,000 dollar millionaires living in Britain alone it should be pretty clear that a more careful – and better researched – way of segmenting an audience this big might pay off.

Three assumptions to guard against when writing for the wealthy…

1. They like a deferential tone of voice

Perhaps the most common unexamined assumption is that wealthy people expect your tone of voice to be basically that of a butler. I’ve yet to see a confirmation screen that reads ‘Very good, sir’ but perhaps it’s only a matter of time.

Regardless of how much they have in the bank, dozens of times a day these people encounter copy that uses normal, approachable language – in advertising, magazines, online services, product packaging, apps and more – without obvious difficulty.

And since your tone of voice might need to be consistent across feature content, service messages, web forms and more, you should remember that these people are still, well, people – the basic facts about how they interact with online content and use apps don’t change when they make more money. There isn’t a special secret rich way of navigating a signup form.

Take Vertu, for example. It’s a luxury phone brand whose Signature range features a two-inch non-touch-sensitive screen, a Nokia software platform first introduced in 1999, and prices starting at £9,500. Here’s a screenshot from their website:

Vertu

Why ‘May we assist’ instead of ‘Can we help’? Why the awkward ‘purchase’? The tone of the copy here – for a relatively functional point in the customer journey, when the user is looking for help – is classic butlering, and could get in the way of a good user experience simply by being harder to read.

The word ‘boutique’ might jump out at you, but I’d argue that’s a legitimate tone of voice decision. If Vertu calls their shops ‘boutiques’ instead of ‘shops’, ‘dealers’, ‘retailers’ or ‘stockists’, it does give a certain impression of the brand and doesn’t really affect my understanding of what’s going on.

The buttons are better – ‘LIVE CHAT (ONLINE)’ is fine (though caps are generally held to be less user-friendly than sentence casing), and demonstrates the point about functional copy needing to stay functional. There are good UX reasons for not having buttons labelled ‘CONTEMPORANEOUS DISCUSSION (ELECTROTELEGRAPHIC)’.

2. They all have similar tastes and interests

People with a high net worth are not all the same. They vary greatly in age, location, background and lifestyle. Even the sources of their wealth are diverse. Consider four quick sketches of people whose net worth could be identical:

  1. an entrepreneur in his mid-thirties who has just sold the business he built from scratch
  2. the middle-aged heir of a wealthy family whose financial affairs have always been managed by a family office
  3. a professional sportsperson
  4. a senior executive at a FTSE 100 company

Put them in a room together and these four might find they had little in common. In particular, a senior executive with 25 years’ service might be looking ahead to retirement, while many entrepreneurs hate the very idea of not working and plan to go on until they drop.

Yet it’s easy to find the same themes repeated again and again in content and imagery aimed at high net worth individuals. Here’s an exercise: pick three financial services firms, find the part of their website aimed at high net worth people (Private Banking, for example), and see how long it takes you to find a picture of 1) a yacht or 2) a sports car.

The point is not that you need to tailor your content to every individual, but just that you should research and categorise your audience more carefully than by dropping them into big tranches according to wealth alone.

3. They’re busier and more time-poor than other users

While this is also an unhelpful stereotype, it does contain some truth. Many HNWIs may indeed be time-poor and impatient, but then again:

  1. this is not directly related to their wealth, and
  2. it’s also true of a great many online readers.

As a point of general good practice it never hurts to assume that your readers are in a hurry: particularly when it comes to copy that is meant to move them through some kind of journey or give them valuable information. (This is another reason to fight the urge to overwrite – flowery language slows down reading comprehension.)

Again the answer to overcoming this preconception is to do more and better user research, but also to map your content to customer journeys and needs. There’s a place for long-form, in-depth content – the tradition of the ‘investment letter’ is strong in content aimed at HNWIs, and ‘thought leadership’ is often cited as something brands want to be doing – but that place is not in the middle of a customer service enquiry or product application.

Better content planning for HNWIs – do your research

In summary, then: when you’re creating, planning or commissioning content aimed at a high net worth audience, be on your guard against unconscious preconceptions of what they want and need.

Their wealth may be the main reason your business is interested in them, but for a clear understanding of what they need from content you have to know more than just their bank balance.