8 Strategies for Creating a Compelling Investment Story
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 Beyond the stale look, I often find “marketing symptoms” that point to a much larger malady—an outdated, undifferentiated, or poorly communicated investment story.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.
2. 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 Barronsdescribing the firm’s “three-step-investment process.” A different article in Investor’s Business Dailyportrayedit 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 andpersonnel have changed.
- The story was originally created in a vacuum by senior management and hasnever 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.
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.
- Thedesired results:“Our investment process aims to deliver positive returns under all market conditions
- Thestrategies 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.”
- Thequalifications:“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.
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 fixed 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 companyshould be able 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 facilitatedby 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.
How to Be More Creative, Innovative and Confident
Over the years, I’ve coached senior executives, led workshops for leaders at all levels and most recently ran a leadership program for 5th graders at a local primary school. While the complexity of their lives and responsibilities varied widely, some of the core issues that emerged were common.
Everyone was a little afraid that they were doing “it” wrong and would be caught. Each one held back on how far they’d unleash their creativity. All also desperatelywanted a pat on the back when they did it right and stayed within the known parameters for success.
In one of my early workshop sessions at the primary school, child after child came up to me and asked for a new piece of paper for their notes. They messed up, wrote too big, or drew a diagram that took up too much space. In general, their paper didn’t look the example I held up in front of the classroom.
I told them it looked fine to me and encouraged them to use all the space, write around the edges; make it meaningful to them, not me. They seemed unsure, and some of them sneaked clean sheets when they thought I wasn’t looking.
At the beginning of the next week’s lesson, I started with five words that changed everything.
“You can’t do it wrong.”
I repeated myself and walked around the room.
I looked each child in the eye.
“You can’t do it wrong.”
That lesson, I saw some of the most creative output from the group than I’d seen in weeks.
I’ll bet you feel the weight of doing it wrong. People depend on you, look up to you and need you to be right.
The thing is, when you feel that constant pressure to be right, you start to play small. You can’t take big chances when being right is the goal and the only measure of success.
When you’re creative and innovative, and at your best, there is no wrong. It’s all new, all unexplored and all an adventure. In this place, this mindset, every flop is information, not failure.
When I was an actress, I had auditions where I tried to be the character that I thought the director was looking for, yet didn’t get cast time and time again. When I finally made bold choices that felt uncomfortable and crazy, there were times I still didn’t get cast, but then I finally did time and time again.
Maybe my early auditions were wrong, and I got a pass, but they were also right because they led me to let go. Without those wrong turns, I would never have unleashed all that was within me.
Your turn. Ready to be more creative, innovative and confident? Start here.
Tonight, when you’re alone in the bathroom after you’ve brushed your teeth, look at yourself in the mirror and speak these five words aloud:
“You can’t do it wrong.”
If you want five more, try:
“I know what to do.”
“I can figure it out.”
“I am creative and resourceful.”
“I won’t hold back now.”
Don’t feel silly. You’re the only person in the room. After all, there is no instructor in the front of the room looking you in the eye and telling you what you need to hear.
We all want to be successful, and we all want to get it right. What’s wrong with being wrong? Every wrong turn takes you closer to finding your way to where you’re meant to go.
Break the Frame Action:
If you know someone who needs to hear these five words, tell them. Do it today or tomorrow at the latest. Whatever you do, don’t wait. Maybe they’re on your team, your child or best friend. We can all benefit from someone looking us in the eye to remind us of the lesson too quickly forgotten.
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