Many asset management firms I work with ask me to review their marketing and sales strategies, pitchbooks, collateral materials and website content to find ways to improve them. Beyond the stale look, I often find “marketing symptoms” that point to a much larger malady—an outdated, undifferentiated, or poorly communicated investment story. To address these issues, I recommend eight strategies firms can use to get their stories straight.
1. Build a Comprehensive Story
An effective investment story isn’t about a single fund or strategy. It’s not a description of daily operational processes. It’s not a branding statement or value proposition. It’s not business as usual. Rather, it’s a comprehensible and compelling narrative that explains:
- The specific investment results the firm wishes to achieve and how it can fit in a portfolio;
- The strategies and methodologies the firm uses to achieve these results; and
- The qualifications and resources of those responsible for implementing these processes.
- Be Consistent
When asset managers don’t have their investment stories straight, confusion results, which can often lead to lost business and reputational risk.
For example, one asset manager hired me to conduct a media review to see how the company was portrayed in the financial press.
I discovered one article in Barron’s describing the firm’s “three-step-investment process.” A different article in Investor’s Business Daily portrayed it as a “four-step process” that contradicted the other story.
On the website of another client, the investment process page positioned their team as “bottom up stock pickers,” but most of their fund commentaries and press coverage focused on “top down” macroeconomic issues influencing their decisions.
In my experience, I’ve found that several recurring reasons why members of a firm aren’t on the same page in terms of understanding and communicating a firm’s core investment story:
- The story was created a long time ago and has been largely forgotten as the firm has evolved and personnel have changed.
- The story was originally created in a vacuum by senior management and has never been fully validated by or explained to members of the firm.
- The investment story has changed, but it hasn’t been properly communicated internally and externally or fully updated in the firm’s sales and marketing materials and web site.
Given that advisors and institutional investors conduct web searches and read stories about the firms they’re researching, it’s critical for firms to use a consistent narrative to avoid credibility issues.
- Be Convincing
Even firms that consistently communicate their investment story aren’t necessarily telling the right story, or one that resonates with target audiences.
Effective investment stories offer a convincing narrative where a central assertion is supported by evidence. The investment team should be able to clearly explain what they wish to achieve, how they aim to achieve it, and why they’re uniquely qualified to do so. Here’s a hypothetical example of statements that might comprise an investment story.
- The desired results: “Our investment process aims to deliver positive returns under all market conditions”
- The strategies and methodologies: “We strive to achieve this goal by identifying and making long-term investments in stable, well-managed companies in selected sectors that have a history of generating net revenue during recessionary periods and growing profits during times of economic recovery and expansion.”
- The qualifications: “We identify opportunities by leveraging the experience of portfolio managers who have managed sector-specific portfolios and analysts who have held financial management roles within companies in the industry sectors we focus on.”
When working with clients on developing or revamping their investment stories, I also stress certain best practices to maximize their comprehension and persuasiveness.
- Keep it Simple
An investment story should not be overcomplicated or filled with technical jargon. It doesn’t need to be “dumbed down,” but it should be clear and concise enough that a portfolio manager or salesperson can explain the core story in a conversational manner in no more than a couple minutes.
- Avoid Clichés
Too many firms rely on overused phrases like “top-down,” “bottom-up.” “repeatable process,” “combined quantitative and qualitative approaches”, “disciplined investment process,” and “best ideas portfolios.”
Try to use descriptive language instead of clichés. For example, instead of using a buzz-phrase like “We use bottom-up research,” say “We focus our research on identifying individual companies with strong growth potential.” If you have to use jargon, define it.
Once you’ve come up with a working version of a new investment story, show it to selected members of your investment, sales, marketing and client service teams to get their reactions. You may also want to show it to longtime advisor or institutional clients to get their positive and negative reactions. This market research may identify issues that need to be corrected before the story is finalized.
- Know Your Audience(s)
When you’ve finalized the core story, incorporate it across all investor communications, including your web site, marketing materials, pitchbooks, fact sheets, email marketing, social media, RFPs and consultant databases. You may also need to revise product-specific materials as well, such as fund brochures where the investment objective contradicts your updated investment story.
For due-diligence focused audiences such as advisors and institutional consultants, you’ll need to demonstrate the connection between your investment story and its results. Without necessarily getting into minutiae, provide examples of how following this process guided decisions that resulted in positive outcomes.
Moving forward, any new content your firm creates—fund commentaries, whitepapers, and videos—should reflect all key elements of your story.
If communicated effectively, the intended audience—whether it’s an advisor, institutional consultant, or retail investor—should think, “This process makes sense, and is one I wish I could implement on my own—if I had the expertise and resources.”
- Get Everyone on the Same Page
It’s not enough to communicate your investment story in marketing and sales materials. Everyone in the company should be able to clearly articulate it to clients, prospects and journalists.
The best way to make sure everyone has the story straight is to hold educational sessions—preferably in person and facilitated by senior executives or external training professionals. Trainers should provide examples of how this process has delivered positive results, conduct simulated client and prospect meetings, and be prepared to ask tough questions.
Your investment story needs to be more than words on a screen or page. It should serve as a set of guiding principles for investment managers, a motivational theme for salespeople, and a trust-building manifesto for clients and prospects.
Dan Sondhelm is a veteran investment marketing professional and founder of Sondhelm Partners. He can be reached at 703-597-3863. You can also schedule a consultation.