Asset management has always been one of the most conservative industries in terms of its approach to marketing communications. Obviously, much of this lack of risk-taking stems from compliance restrictions. But this conservatism is more pervasive than being limited in how you can talk about performance or how you are allowed to engage with clients on social media. The conservative nature of asset management marketing also manifests itself in the language and tone that firms use in their communications.

PAICR-201711-1.jpgIf you were to audit the language used by asset managers in their advertising, brochures, websites, blogs, social posts, and other marketing materials, you would probably find that the following descriptors would apply to the word choices and tone: sophisticated, formal, modest, traditional, measured, precise, refined, authoritative, or stuffy.

If you are in an industry whose value proposition is based on managing other people’s money, being perceived as being serious and careful are undoubtedly good things. But when it comes to differentiating your firm’s brand and capturing your audience’s attention in an increasingly crowded marketing landscape—one where ideas have to be conveyed in 140 characters (or 280 characters now) and clients expect to receive real-time messages that are personalized to their reading interests—sounding like a traditional, old-school asset management firm probably won’t get the job done.

Tailoring Your Brand’s Voice – Lessons from PAICR

At this year’s PAICR national conference in New York in November, I was on a panel that discussed how asset management firms can adapt their brand’s voice to fit today’s media landscape by being more engaging, conversational, and informal. (PAICR is the leading organization for investment management marketing and communications professionals.) On the panel, I was joined by Tucker Slosburg, the president of Lyceus Group, a Seattle-based firm that provides public relations and message development services for asset management firms.

During our discussion, “Tailoring Your Brand’s Voice in a Disrupted Marketing Landscape,” Tucker and I talked about several lessons that marketing professionals at asset management firms should keep in mind as they think about how to adapt their firm’s voice. Here are several of the key takeaways:

  • Simple is smart: One of the reasons that asset management firms tend to use such sophisticated language in their financial writing is a desire to sound smart. But using big words and complex sentences isn’t what convinces someone that you are smart. The ability to take complex ideas, boil them down to their essence, and convey them in a simple, tangible way is the true mark of the rarest and more valuable form of intelligence. As Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Two of the most successful investors of our lifetimes, Warren Buffett and Bill Gross, are also among the best at explaining their investment principles in a straightforward way.
  • Be authentic and relevant; not trendy and hip: If today’s texting and Twitter conversations are dominated by emojis, GIFs, hashtags, and abbreviated phrases, your firm should probably start using them, too, right? Not so fast. One of the traps that asset managers can fall into when trying to adapt their voices is thinking that they need to be trendy and hip. It’s more important to focus on being authentic to your brand and communicating to your audience in a way that is relevant to them. The line between being authentic and being trendy can be a blurry one, so here is a simple litmus test: If you want to use a GIF (or some other trendy communication element) in your marketing because you think it’s the best way to convey your idea, you are being authentic. But if you want to use a GIF because someone on your team said “we should start using GIFs,” you are trying to be trendy.
  • Empower individual voices: One of the best ways to foster a more human, conversational voice is to look for more ways to have messages come from individuals within your firm rather than from the “corporate mothership.” On your blog, rather than having the posts authored by an anonymous corporate voice, encourage specific thought leaders in your firm be the author (even if you need to use a ghostwriter to capture the thought leader’s ideas). In your marketing videos, rather than using a faceless narrator, have your people on camera talking directly to the audience. The marketing team, working in conjunction with the portfolio managers and other thought leaders, needs to establish the corporate brand voice and educate the rest of the company about how to write or talk within the parameters of the brand. Then, the marketing team needs to empower the thought leaders to convey their individual voices, within those parameters.
  • Understand the constraints and opportunities of different mediums: Some channels are much more conducive to edgier, funnier, or more conversational tones than others. For example, sarcasm doesn’t translate well across written communications; there is a huge risk that the reader won’t pick up on that fact that your message was written tongue-in-cheek. On videos or podcasts, however, it’s easier to convey sarcasm and humor because the audience actually hears the tone of your voice. Within social media, there are differences, as well. A friendlier, warmer tone plays better on Facebook than it does on LinkedIn.
  • Make sure the design evolves to match the copy: If you are a traditional brand and you are looking to adopt a more engaging, conversational voice in your writing, the changes to the copy shouldn’t happen in a vacuum. The visual design should evolve along with the copy. If all of a sudden the written voice changes but everything else about the content stays the same, this can create some confusion for the audience. It’s important to think about the comprehensive effect—copy and visuals—that the copy is having on the audiences. These two pieces should be moving in concert.

Getting Out of Your Rut

One of the most difficult aspects of evolving your brand’s voice is the fact that your team’s copywriters and marketing professionals have been trained to speak in your firm’s traditional voice. They have developed muscle memory, which is a good thing when it comes to writing consistent copy that “stays on message,” but it’s a major obstacle when it comes to evolving that voice to meet the needs of today’s media landscape.

One of the most effective ways for marketing managers to help their teammates evolve is by forcing them to get outside of their comfort zones by doing some role-playing. One effective exercise is to find several brands from outside of financial services that you admire, and show your team examples of those brands’ marketing materials. Then ask everyone on your team to rewrite your firm’s homepage or an email campaign as if they worked, not for an asset manager, but for Nike, Red Bull, SurveyMonkey, or whatever non-financial brand they choose.

Another way that firms can get out of their ruts is by bringing in an outside writer to help develop the new voice. I have several clients that are large asset management firms and have full staffs of in-house writers. But when they want to write content that moves beyond the existing voice, they like to bring in an outside writer, like myself, because these companies understand how valuable the fresh perspective is for evolving the voice.

As your firm thinks about whether your voice needs to evolve along with the changing media landscape, resist the temptation to follow the herd and latch on to whatever phrases or communication elements seem to be trending today. Remember, the goal of your marketing materials is to articulate your firm’s differentiation, and you can’t do that by trying to mirror what everyone else is doing. You don’t need to be trendy and hip. Being authentic and relevant will work just fine.

About the Author

Scott_Headshot2.1.jpgScott Wentworth is the founder and head financial writer at Wentworth Financial CommunicationsScott and the team of writers and editors at WFC help professionals across the financial services industry build their brands by creating investment-grade white papers, bylined articles, newsletters, blogs, social media posts, and other forms of content marketing.

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