1 Big Thing: Your Communications Style is Outdated

By: Tucker Slosburg
President, Lyceus Group
http://www.lyceusgroup.com/
PAICR Secretary and Board of Directors member

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The oldest Millennials are in their mid-thirties and this could seriously impact how asset managers communicate with clients.

Why it Matters:

  • Older Millennials are in decision-making positions at institutions, at consultancies, and at wealth management firms.
  • They are a larger age cohort than Baby-Boomers
  • They consume information differently than both Boomers and Generation X’ers

Be Smart: Asset management firms who can balance modern linguistic styles with their brand identity will be more likely to reach more potential clients in an era of peak content.

But, but, but: This doesn’t mean brands should forgo their traditional identity altogether. Instead they must fuse their brand with an emerging style.

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The Times They Are a-Changin

Okay, so if you happen to read the daily briefs from Axios, the above format will look familiar. That format is a buttoned-up version of changes in how we receive and digest information.

Sure, any number of industry reports will tell you that advisors want more digital engagement, but few—if any—explain what that means or looks like beyond polling what percentage of advisors look to email, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, etc.

To really see how our style is changing, here are a few examples pulled from various newsletters, most of which are retail-oriented. It’s no grand statement to observe that the asset management industry is notoriously slow to change. It took how long for FINRA to advise on Twitter or LinkedIn? The point is that if you want to see what’s coming or how to communicate, look towards direct retail communications.

A Brave New World (of Style)

$he $pends is a website and newsletter whose motto is: “giving you actionable tools to tackle the wage, investing and board seat gaps.” With such ambitious goals, they use punchy, bold, and humorous language to convey their message.

Here’s how they summarize the weekly news. Take note of the headline and subject lines.

WTF

The title alone jumps out at you. Hardly something we advise sending to consultants, but important to consider that this level of informality resonates with their readers. Additionally, note how the headlines are both amusing and referential: “more experience, more problems,” clearly riffs off The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo money, Mo problems.”

Don’t doubt for a second the importance of millennial references from the ‘90s. Think of how many shows Millennials grew up with that are returning to TV: Rosanne, Will and Grace, Gilmore Girls, Twin Peaks, and Netflix added more episodes of Arrested Development and turned Wet Hot American Summer into a series. And of course, there’s this segment from Saturday Night Live. The reference to Biggie Smalls is more than just fun, it communicates identity and affirms that the sender of the content doesn’t just “get it,” but more importantly, they “get you.”

Let’s look at another newsletter. The Penny Hoarder is a personal financial website and was named the fastest-growing private media company in North America by INC 5000. Headline emails like the example below probably help. It’s filled with millennial laid-back tones and super-fun jargon.

Penny

Can you believe it? Two amazingly fun and casual references in the first three words? That’s 66.67% of fun words before getting into the meat of the headline! You can often find “Friyay” references on the web with beer or wine next to them, or the play on Friday with Bae, a fading but still prevalent term of affection for one’s “significant other.” The point remains, this casual and approachable language is more welcoming than most quarterly letters.

The fight for attention is a big fight, and readers want something informative and fun. Being fun matters in the world of attention getting. With everyone worrying about content saturation, standing out and being fun and approachable matters. Consider this article from The Penny Hoarder:

McKinnon
Kate McKinnon talks money with kids

To capture the reader, The Penny Hoarder blatantly states their aim is to make it fun. As a reader, that’s far more appealing than not being fun.

No discussion of modern/millennial style would be complete without a discussion of theSkimm, a daily newsletter founded by two former news producers targeting female Millennials. There’s money behind building their audience. Google Ventures and others just raised $12 million in a recent round of funding. They deliver news in a compelling way to an eyewatering demographic. As they stated via ReCode:

“We have revolutionized the delivery of news and information to the most coveted demographic and, as we look to grow our membership by expanding our products and services, GV’s expertise and data-driven mindset makes them the ideal partner to aid in our expansion.”

What are they doing so differently that traditional outlets are not? Why are Google Ventures and others pouring so much into theSkimm? Because their style, their approach, and their delivery creates a lasting audience by speaking to their readers as humans.

So, what does a newsletter valued at $55 million dollars look like?

Skimm

The news is serious, the tone is lighthearted.

Cool. But how does that affect asset management—at all?!  Good questions, we’re getting there. Three, two, one, and, go.

Putting the Fun in Fund!

So, is any of this happening in the asset management space? Yes. Is it as loose and casual as retail? No, but that’s OK. Bill Gross did a fine job of keeping bond discussions approachable, and Warren Buffett is the master of sounding folksy. Smead Capital often uses movies in their missives, and I’ve seen references to Game of Thrones at some firms. Longboard recently went so far as to invoke Star Wars as a means to discuss alternative Investments. Here’s an example from one of their newsletters:

Longboard

I particularly appreciate the use of imagery and the use of Star Wars lingo in their bullet points, not because of my love for Star Wars (which is large), but because of the consistency and commitment it brings to their approach. It’s a full commitment to rethink the discussion of dry topics into something far more interesting.

I recently came across another younger firm, Newfound Research. They write about traditionally dry items, but their relaxed and humorous tone provides the reader access to more obscure subjects.

They make Monte-Carlo Simulations fun.

MonteCarlo

This is a fine example of brand building using a more approachable tone. It’s definitely not institutional in tone, but that’s okay because as Millennials age we’re going to be less focused on proving we sound smart, and more focused on proving we’re relatable—the title alone suggests that the firm “gets you” and less focused on the fact that they can talk about Monte Carlo simulations. That resonates with readers.

As Millennials take over more senior positions at all levels across the industry, it will be more important than ever to think beyond millennial jargon and re-think your firm’s communications style. Certainly, social media will matter, but it remains to be seen how much. Not to mention the effect compliance plays in permitting its use.

The notion that a campaign, an ad, a missive, or an email should reflect something authentic or personal — something beyond just what the S&P did versus your benchmark — will be the difference between building an audience and directing traffic. The former provides value, the latter drives away.

Finally, since we’re about distilling information and communications down to digestible pieces these days, here are some key takeaways to bear in mind as you develop your firm’s communications.

  • Speak like a human—authenticity matters
  • Speak casually—no one wants to hear how smart you are; they want to hear what you think
  • Informal is the new formal—it’s obvious when you try too hard

 

Constructing the Messages at the Heart of Your Marketing

By: Kyle Purcell
President of Purcell Communications
PAICR Gold Sponsor
www.purcellcom.com/

Marketing is often built around factors that are hard to control – technology, shifting tastes, competition. Many of those factors are topics at this week’s PAICR Annual Conference. But there’s one aspect of marketing that firms can control – their message. How effectively – and consistently – does your firm communicate its most important messages?

When we say messages, we mean the information and ideas that are central to how your company invests, or otherwise tries to meet investor goals. They typically include:

  • Product and service information
  • Investment strategies
  • Investor suitability and benefits
  • Performance perspectives
  • Market point of view and outlook

In our experience, there are two areas of this “core” content that investment firms struggle with most.

The first is maintaining and refreshing it. Perspectives and points of view will evolve with the market environment, and engaging with investment staff or other time-pressed senior executives on a regular basis can be frustrating on both ends.

The second challenge is incorporating these messages consistently across all investor touchpoints. If you pull together every communication about a particular investment product – including RFPs and call center scripts – they sometimes don’t sound like the same product.

Building the Messages on Which Everything Else Is Built

There are 3 steps you can take to enhance your control over your firm’s messages.

  • Document ­— Core messages often exist only in materials that have since been produced and archived, such as annual reports, marketing collateral, or RFPs. We advise clients to gather and document core messages separately from the production of any one collateral piece. That way, your interactions with investment staff are focused on getting the most important input in the most efficient way.
  • Update — Re-engage with your company’s subject matter experts on a regular basis by asking for updated input in a structured way. That way the process remains the same for your SMEs even when marketing strategies change.
  • Distribute Make your core content an input to any communication process you have.

Constructing your messages around this core content builds consistency and credibility in your communications, while also making your communication processes simpler and more efficient.

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Contact:  Derek Napoli, Director of Business Development – (240) 452-5200

Lead, like a boss!

By: Steven King
PAICR Board of Directors member
Speaker at the 2017 PAICR Annual Conference

I’ve had a lot of managers through the years, but only a few I would consider leaders. However, I’ve tried to take the best from all of them. It is with that experience and knowledge that I’ve built a leadership framework of success that you can use to establish yourself as more than just a manager.

From Rookie to All-Star – Every Team Member Matters

EVERY member of the team is important. The opinions, efforts, and contributions from your most junior employee to your most senior veteran matter. Every member should feel valued and know how their efforts contribute to the success of the team. We all have an all-star employee, but you need every member playing their part to win the game.

One Playbook – Everyone Should Know the Game Winning Strategy

You absolutely need to be clear about where the team is headed. What are you trying to accomplish this year? How does this align with the corporate goals? I’ve found that most people are problem solvers. As such, if they know at a high level what the team needs to accomplish for the year – and how this aligns with the firm’s goals – they’ll figure out a way to do it.  Your team wants to show you, and the firm, the value they provide. Your job is to point them in the right direction.

Once a Player, Now a Coach – Share Your Knowledge and Experience

There are two parts of this statement. The first is sharing the knowledge and experience that you’ve accumulated through the years. I know some managers are afraid to share what they know. They believe that keeping information to themselves makes them more valuable and indispensable to the firm. However, sharing this knowledge is not only respected, but it will only make your team stronger. And leading a strong team, with a foundation of knowledge and experience, often produces remarkable work.

The second part of this statement is the importance of transparency. You must be transparent with your agenda, inner conversations, conflicts, and concerns. There are some topics that require discretion, but overall your team is far more effective if they have all the information.  Plus, if you model transparency you are on the fast track to building trust.

Create Chemistry – Every Great Team Revolves Around Trust

Believe it or not, you don’t know it all.  Remember why you hired each person on the team. Your team members have talents, knowledge, and opinions that are different from yours. Embrace it! This is part of what makes a great team. Spend time listening to them. Learn from them. Often you will find that where trust is earned it is also given. Having a foundation of trust will foster an environment of open communication which is invaluable. If you can’t trust your team or they don’t feel like they can trust you, you’ve got some work to do.

Game Time – Now It’s Time to Let Them Shine

Now it’s game time and your job is to let your team shine. I cannot say this strongly enough, do NOT skip this step. If you skip this step, you will find that all your previous hard work was in vain. Why? Because I personally don’t know many people that like to do all the work and never get the credit. As a leader, you must get comfortable letting your team take center stage. And I believe that a team built on transparency, trust, and respect will be a team that wants to celebrate their leader.

This approach has served me well over the years. I don’t have to manage the day-to-day activities of my team as they know what they need to do.  I trust them to work toward the vision of the team and the firm. They trust me to set them up for success. So how do I know that this makes me a manager and a leader? Because I know my team would tackle any problem we face without hesitation –not because I told them to, but simply because it needed to be done.

Registration is now open for the PAICR Annual Conference November 13-14th in New York City.  Register Now.

Fish food for thought: Your target audience has the attention span of a goldfish

By: Megan Schreck
PAICR Communications Committee member
PAICR Member since 2016

Welcome to 2017, a year when the power of social media and digital marketing has never been more pronounced. Not convinced? Just ask United Airlines, President Trump, or the young man who received a year’s worth of Wendy’s chicken nuggets for beating a retweet record. I bet they would be able to tell you a story or two about the ugly, the bad, and the good of a society that is constantly connected. The point is we live in an age when information is constantly flooding our newsfeeds, home screens, and inboxes. And the ability to obtain information has never been greater or more instantaneous.

In a recent Microsoft study, which focused on analyzing our attention spans as a result of the increasingly prevalent digital lifestyle, the research revealed that as end users we are adapting to a culture of connectivity. This should be good news for marketers, right? Well, yes and no.

The good news: As an increasingly tech-savvy end user base, we are able to process and encode information to memory more efficiently. (Whew, dodged a bullet there.)

The bad news: We are competing in an information war zone alongside every other marketer. (Alright, game faces on, marketing staff.)

The ugly news: End user attention spans have decreased to 8 seconds. 8. Seconds. According to the study, that’s less than the attention span of a goldfish. (Pause for a collective and incredulous jaw drop).

But Microsoft’s study shouldn’t frighten any modern day marketing professional. And if we’re honest, the research merely solidified what we intuitively knew. But what the research does is reinforce that the need for marketing resources, and talent capable of cutting through the constant noise, is no longer a nice to have, it is table stakes.

So how do we as marketers engage a user base that is more connected than ever, better equipped than before to process our message, but with an attention span that is less than that of a goldfish? I thought you might ask that.

Here’s some marketing fish food for thought:

  • Tighten up your target audience: Don’t waste valuable marketing resources by casting too wide a net.
  • Keep your call to actions clear, concise, and clutter free: You have eight seconds, make them count. Keep the goal of your marketing simple, actionable, and prominently placed.
  • Develop a healthy dependence on data: Similar to the movie Finding Nemo, develop the mantra that fish are friends, not food. Invest in the ability to research and understand the demographic and behavioral patterns of your target audience with the goal of creating user-focused content.
  • Use the creative collective to curate content: We as marketing professionals all want to believe that our idea is the next best thing since sliced bread. But the really good marketing teams know that the best ideas and innovative solutions come when everyone is at the table. Keep your eyes and ears open for innovative ideas – they can come from anywhere or anyone.
  • Don’t tighten the noose with typos: Remember, eight seconds. Don’t ruin your chances with a typo. Develop an editorial process within your marketing team that requires multiple sets of eyes to ensure all your hard work doesn’t go to waist (please note: pun intended).

Oh, and a final note, mainly on a personal pet peeve level, but absolutely spell check first names when doing personalized messages. Because candidly speaking, nothing causes me to delete an email faster than one that begins “Dear Meghan.” And I venture to guess that I’m not alone.

Now, what about you? What marketing “fish food for thought” would you add to this list?

Technology Isn’t Process: How to Make Expensive Systems Work

By: Kyle Purcell
President of Purcell Communications
PAICR Gold Sponsor
www.purcellcom.com/

We see it all the time: clients battling the technologies that were meant to solve day-to-day communications headaches.

At the recent PAICR RFP conference, I shared a panel with Kent Jones, Director of Process Excellence at a Fortune 500 company. His insight was simple yet powerful. For better results, focus first on your work process—the human activities that drive the work.

“Process involves people, and people involve behaviors,” Kent says. “If you haven’t addressed behaviors that result in waste or duplication, then you may just be automating waste and duplication by adding technology.”

I couldn’t agree with this more. Coordinating automations and content management systems is a big part of our client engagements and in almost all cases, success or failure depends entirely on the people involved.

Kent had 3 great tips for people looking at implementing a new technology.

  • Your challenges are unique: Understand what works in your culture and solve for what doesn’t. Don’t assume an expensive or flashy new system will help.
  • Process starts with people: Clarify roles, set clear and measurable outcomes for each person at every level, and foster greater inter- and intra-team communication.
  • Seek good ideas from all levels: The knowledge you need already resides in the minds of your team. Having a good process can unlock that experience in a way that a costly technology may not be able to.

We share Kent’s belief that technology isn’t always the answer, and we have our own ideas on how to implement it. Technology doesn’t make a broken process function any better, whereas good process will always make a technology more effective. A well-defined, consistent process with buy-in from everyone is the first and last step in producing good work outcomes.

Purcell logo

Contact:  Derek Napoli, Director of Business Development – (240) 452-5200

Getting the Most Out of a Conference

By: Tom Mulligan
PAICR Vice President, PAICR Board of Directors member
PAICR Member since 2010

You’re on your way to the conference! That’s great. But how can you ensure you get the most out of it? In my experience, it is important to network and to participate. Although some of these ideas may seem a bit uncomfortable at first, getting out of your comfort zone a bit is often when the magic happens.

  1. Network

Even when the sessions at a conference are great, sometimes you get more out of the networking than you do out of the programming. Conferences are great places to meet and connect with peers, to share experiences and best practices.

First, look at the attendee list early and often. Do you see anyone you know? If so, try to contact them in advance and arrange to meet for coffee or lunch one day. You can do the same with someone you don’t know. Maybe it’s someone at another firm in your city, or someone in the same role as yours at another firm that you really admire. Whatever the reason, attending the conference provides a great opportunity to introduce yourself and make a connection.

Second, work on your in-person networking skills in advance. Be assertive in introducing yourself to new people. Have a list of questions in your mind ready to ask someone you meet—conversation-inducing, but without getting too heavy. Some possibilities are:

  • “What did you think of the speaker this morning/afternoon?”
  • “How did you hear about this conference?”
  • “How often do you visit (the conference host city)?”

You don’t want to overstay your welcome. You can excuse yourself by making a call, going to the restroom or getting a drink. Sometimes it can be a great move to introduce your new contact to someone else you know who is nearby. That helps both of them expand their network, AND gives you an opportunity to exit stage left without leaving someone alone.

Third, take LOTS of business cards. Most conferences have social/meet-and-greet activities and “introduce yourself to three people around you”–type competitions. Even in this era of social media, the good old-fashioned business card still gets a lot of use.

Finally, be sure to follow up with everyone you meet at the conference. A short “It was nice to meet you” note, and possibly an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, will help you remain in better contact with all of your new connections.

  1. Participate

Lots of people are afraid to ask questions. They don’t want to appear ignorant in front of their peers. And the bigger the audience, the more afraid they are. But asking questions helps you learn, so you shouldn’t hold back. To help you get comfortable with asking that question, here are a few potential ways you can pose it:

  • “A colleague and I were just talking about this yesterday; he was wondering about (topic of your question)—what would you recommend?”
  • “I’m familiar with (one part of the speaker’s topic), but am not as knowledgeable about (another part of the speaker’s topic, which is related to the topic of your question)—can you please explain (your question)?”
  • “I’ve been focusing on a project in (area NOT related to the topic of discussion) for a while, and haven’t kept up on (area RELATED to the topic of discussion) recently—can you please remind me (topic of your question)?”

Also, be willing to share your experiences that relate to the topic. People attend conferences not only to hear and learn from speakers, but to hear and learn from peers as well. In fact, many of the speakers in the smaller breakout settings are counting on audience participation.

Your willingness to share will often make others feel more comfortable sharing as well, making the session more valuable for all involved. In addition, you might be surprised to find how many people have experienced challenges similar to yours, and you can gain some new insights from initiating the conversation.

In my opinion, the more you network and participate at a conference, the more you will get out of the conference experience. So go ahead and step out of your comfort zone!

Financial Services Stories are Emotional Stories

By: Stu Siegal
Executive Producer/Creative Director, VLCreative
PAICR Gold Sponsor – Videolink
www.vlcreativegroup.com

It’s safe to assume that we’ve all seen, liked, and shared a funny ad or an online tearjerker video produced by a brand.  At first glance, the popularity and success of emotion-driven videos may not seem like a natural fit for financial services videos.  Within the industry, there’s a frequent perception that financial services videos should focus on performance, numbers, or value.  And while these are often components of finserv videos, recognize that there’s always a core emotional component just beneath the surface that can make the difference between a good video and a great one.

Trust within the Financial Services industry is at an all-time low; the industry generally ranks just below oil companies in terms of trustworthiness and favorability.  Trust and confidence are powerful emotions, as are empathy and passion.  Video is a medium ideally suited to communicate nonverbal concepts. Consumers want to watch videos that they can emotionally connect to, and opportunities abound for brands that use video to drive trust and confidence.

This concept extends beyond B2C video to Thought Leadership, a staple of B2B finserv video.  During a recent PAICR webinar I hosted with Gail Graham, who until recently was with United Capital, Gail noted that for execs on camera, “It’s really important to relax and be human. (At United Capital) we have a saying, we’re not B2C, we’re not B2B, we are human to human. So, the relaxation, the communication, the eye contact, and the smiling; really matters when you are dealing with your customers” … “Produce short, animated, 30 to 60-second videos that tell people what you should expect or what you’ll get by working with your firm. Those are just two areas that we are looking to push, and again give people that sense of understanding beyond the formality, the formal exterior that they see so much.”

Customers are tired of seeing the ‘engine room’, as Gail calls it, and expect a higher level of intimacy than in years past. Columbia Threadneedle Investments, the asset management division of Ameriprise, is taking the same approach.  Andrew Most, VP of Creative and Content Strategy at Columbia Threadneedle noted “We are presenting a level of intimacy in the format of thought leadership, so our customers understand the people and the thinking behind these products are real power-houses in the industry. We want to make sure they have that same level of confidence in their advisor who is selling our product”.

Confidence and trust are powerful emotions that play key roles in a customer’s overall perception of your brand. Financial Service brands who are committed to content that connects on an emotional level are winning back their customers’ trust and succeeding in the industry. On your next project, think about how going deeper than a story about performance, philosophy, or experience, by directly addressing the emotions beneath these topics, might drive a greater return on your videos.

 

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