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The “Mexican fisherman” story is played out and, frankly, boring

Last week, a couple of my colleagues and I spoke to a client looking to produce brand-new content to promote their services.

These calls are pretty standard fare for us. We have a chat, discuss the sort of things they’re interested in producing for their clients, and then pitch and write on topics that fit the brief.

In this case, the client was interested in something that’s a bit different.

They were, in their words, looking for content that speaks the language of their clients while also being disruptive, throwing a spanner in the works of the other content that’s out there.

At one point, one of us even used the word “clickbait”.

We were more than up for this challenge – after all, when you spend between seven and eight hours every day writing about pension legislation and mortgages, literally any other topic seems like a welcome break.

Between us, we created a list of pitches that would have sparked joy in even the most depressed Buzzfeed staff writer.

From Shakespeare, to Poirot, to an article even explaining to clients that it’s a financial planner’s job to help them spend their money rather than save it, it’s an eclectic mix to say the least.

At this point, you may be wondering what this has to do with that classic story in financial planning circles of the Mexican fisherman.

Here’s what.

Sleep late, fish a little, take siestas, sip wine, and play guitar

You’ve surely heard the Mexican fisherman story before, but if not then here are the SparkNotes:

  • An American businessman on holiday in Mexico sees a local fisherman in a boat returning to the shore in the early afternoon, having caught two delicious looking fish.
  • The businessman asks the fisherman why he hasn’t stayed out to catch more fish. The fisherman responds that rather than work for longer, instead he sleeps late, fishes a little, plays with his children, take siestas with his wife, strolls into the village each evening where he sips wine, and plays guitar with his amigos. He wouldn’t have time to do all that if he stayed later to fish.
  • The businessman suggests that the fisherman should start a fishing company to catch even more fish, which he could then sell for a profit. In time, he could make even more money and become very wealthy. From there, he could launch an IPO for his business, eventually sell it, and retire a millionaire.
  • But, as the fisherman points out, all this money will allow him to do is sleep late, fish a little, play with his children, take siestas with his wife, stroll into the village each evening where he can sip wine, and play guitar with his amigos.

So, what’s my problem with this story? Nothing, really. It’s an oft-used metaphor, albeit a loose one, about planning for the life you want rather than targeting as much money as possible.

The real issue with it is that it’s extraordinarily played out. Type in “Mexican fisherman story” into Google and every single result on the first page will be some self-described “business guru” repackaging and reselling it as their parable.

The other glaring issue with the story is this: how does it relate specifically to your – or indeed any – clients looking for financial support?

Unless you’re advising Mexican fisherman or American businessmen (although probably not both), it’s going to miss the mark. You’re going to throw a story at your clients that could easily bore them, simply because it isn’t relevant enough to them.

Telling stories that mean something to your client

In the case of the client that we were working with last week, I’d argue that the story of the Mexican fisherman misses on every single part of the brief.

While it is (or perhaps once was) an effective retelling of a meaningful principle, it isn’t speaking your clients’ language, it isn’t disruptive, and it is, frankly, boring.

Instead, if you wanted to speak in your clients’ language, why not talk about “5 things the Winter Olympics can teach you about money management” or “Lessons you can learn about your pension by watching Netflix’s Emily in Paris”?

Disruptive? Tell them something about themselves that they don’t know. Tell them “Why it’s every business owners’ job to be entirely obsolete in their business” or “Why planning for your death isn’t about you at all”.

As for clickbait, here you are reading this blog. Choose content that engages your readers personally, and then write enticing, clickable headlines to match.

One of the greatest marketers of the 20th century, David Ogilvy, famously said that you’ve already spent 80 cents of your dollar once you’ve written your headline.

That doesn’t mean taking the Buzzfeed approach every time and writing “19 pension tips and tricks that are guaranteed to work – you won’t believe #7!” It means dedicating time to creating a headline that your clients can’t do anything other than click.

Speak your clients’ language

Of course, you don’t have to write the most audacious, outrageous content every time you want to send a newsletter.

But, if you do want to engage your clients by speaking their language, or you even want to try some more disruptive content, we can help.

Email or call 0115 8965 300 to find out how we can produce content that your clients want to read.

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