Investment Manager Websites Often Under-Perform..
Who would have thunk that so many investment managers and asset managers under-perform in what any financial industry marketer would argue is the most crucial category: website presentation. According to a recent study published by consulting firm VisibleThread, and cited in a recent article by Richard Baert in buy-side magazine Pensions & Investments, “98% of investment manager websites don’t meet basic readability requirements.” Worse still, the combination of jibber jabber and jargon typical to many investment manager websites lead prospective asset allocators to conclude those sites are “not much more than a waste of white space.”
“As a group, financial services content is poorly written. Even the top-ranked websites don’t meet expected standards,” the report said. “Content clarity is poor industrywide..”
Is it shocking, disappointing or “fake news” that investment managers whose websites flunk the Flesch Reading Ease test skipped the Psychology 101 course, “Primacy Effect for Dummies”? Are you surprised that most folks in the business of asset management still don’t ‘get the joke’ that a prospective asset allocator’s first impression, just like those formed by any other potential client or customer, are formed within the first 60 seconds? One need not be a “quant jock”, a “global macro maestro,” or an “alternative asset class aficionado” to appreciate that the first 60 second interaction with a prospective allocator is not via an onsite meeting, not via a webinar-style conference call and not via a “date-a-thon at an industry conference” where you have 3 minutes to be pitch perfect.
Today, the very first interaction between an asset allocator and a prospective investment fund manager is more likely to occur via an initial, if only cursory visit to the investment managers’ website. If you didn’t get that memo until just now, and unless your firm website has objectively addressed the 10-12 basic best practices of investment firm website presentation, perhaps you shouldn’t include a link to your firm’s website in the signature of your email message—the one you sent to pitch your firm’s capabilities.
“Most managers couldn’t pass Go, no less collect $200 if their website is the first view an asset allocator has of the firm,” according to one FoF consultant.
Because good use of metaphors and analogies fall into the top 10 best practices for corporate messaging, think in terms of how dating today is often initiated via an online dating site. That first picture, along with the self-described “value proposition” displayed in that snapshot make the difference between a quick swipe (away) or a ‘let’s connect’ message—all in less than 60 seconds. And, that’s where the rubber meets the road. But, when it comes to first impressions, too many argue that most investment manager websites are driving with bald tires.
Not surprisingly, the principals of investment manager firms (or their marketing execs) are not much different than anyone else; they put their pants on one leg at a time, they also have rose-colored lenses when it comes to a full-on 360 self-evaluation. If you’re an investment manager, you may be convinced you’ve got a perfectly fine (or even a “great”) website because of how much time and/or money has gone towards building and maintaining it. But, you may not appreciate your firm’s website fails (in the eyes of the beholder) to put forth a distinctive or ‘differentiating’ value proposition in a manner that truly and easily resonates with a first-time visitor.
Of course, most investment managers of a certain age necessarily understand the importance of having a robust website. Wallet permitting, some will opt to spend aggressively on design, features and functionality, if only to keep up with the Jones’s. Others, with constrained marketing budgets might determine low-cost website templates will be enough to “check the box”. For content writing, the free-spending investment manager who enlists an all-purpose web design firm to package the entire presentation is often ‘sold’ on content writing services. But, too often, the content writer at the web design firm is not fluent in the subject matter and merely parses jargon phrases, superlatives and ubiquitous narrative that can be found on most other competing firm websites.The budget-constrained folks will typically designate a “capable enough” staffer to write the content.
Whether the content writer is an external consultant or an internal team member, the most pronounced dilemma is the content writer often overlooks crucial narrative that speaks to the interests of the visitor. Arguably, the very first message that a visitor should see is, “What sets us apart’ and ‘Why you want to engage us.”
Managers often hire branding firms to design and populate their websites that don’t really know anything specific to financial services. “The branding message — ‘a disciplined shot, a strict investment process’ — really? You spend $200,000 to bring a firm in to write generic, vanilla stuff like this?”
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Asset manager Putnam Investments seems to earn the highest grades for its website, albeit not without dedicating actual thought and resources. In 2017, the manager hired a full-time writer with a journalism background to produce global markets stories for its institutional clients, backed by a content strategy director, an editorial review manager and an account manager who “provides business strategy input dedicated exclusively to the institutional business.”
None of this comes as a big surprise to financial industry veteran Jay Berkman, the senior principal of The JLC Group, a corporate branding boutique established in 2002. In view of Berkman’s legacy, which includes “more than 15 minutes” in senior sell-side roles, the firm’s first clients represented a cross-section of boutique investment banks, institutional brokerages, hedge fund managers as well as select fintech firms.
Berkman is the first to point out that a first look at many asset manager websites, those of many hedge funds, as well as many sell-side firm websites can lead a well-trained and objective marketing professional to lament that too many financial firms’ websites do not speak to site visitors in a way that prompts an immediate call-to-action on the part of the visitor. He points out, “Financial firm websites are pretty much self-serving megaphones for the firm, yet many of those firms couldn’t even Pass Go, no less collect $200 if their websites depended on it.”
This is not to suggest that corporate messaging best practices can’t be introduced and implemented within an investment manager website within the confines of reasonable budget. According to Lisa Delaney, co-founder of bespoke web design firm Power Design, “It takes a trusted practitioner who is intimately familiar with the client’s business model, where that firm resides within the competitive landscape, and the skills at framing a value proposition that conforms with website best practices.”
For firms that appreciate the need to update, refresh, rebrand or do a complete make-over, investment manager website decision makers are often well-counseled to look outside for that skill set. The reason being, most financial services firms are long on traders, brokers, risk managers, software programmers, back-office and compliance people, and short of internal talent who are fluent in contemporary marketing, branding and smart positioning techniques.
The JLC Group’s domain expertise in corporate brand positioning and messaging is powered by the firm’s founder, who spent ‘more than 15 minutes’ on the sell-side and nearly as much time working with hedge fund managers. Berkman has framed and advanced value proposition messages, including website design for 7 boutique institutional brokerages, two global banks, three hedge fund managers and four fintech companies. A third generation trader, Berkman was a “trading floor specialist” on both the NYSE and American Stock Exchange before he co-founded and served as head of sales/marketing and business development for a startup corporate bond electronic trading platform. Thereafter, he was recruited to be one of three global marketing executives for online brokerage behemoth Interactive Brokers (NASDAQ:IBKR) a $25billion company whose corporate slogan “The Professional’s Gateway to the World’s Markets” was created by Berkman.