Words that Sell

10 steps managers can take to create effective marketing and client materials

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10 tips for a well-defined and well-executed project that will move clients and prospects to action.

Whether you’re refreshing your sales presentations or crafting the next quarterly letter, it IS possible to keep your dignity and still be persuasive. Here’s how.

Before you do anything, identify what you want to achieve through this communication project by asking your team these questions:

  • What is the project’s objective?
  • What client/prospect action will result?
  • How will we evaluate success?

If they can’t answer all of them, then STOP. They need to go back to the whiteboard because the project won’t be effective without them.

If they can, congratulations. You’ve got a well-defined project to complete. And if you make these 10 tips your ongoing mantra, it will be a well-defined and well-executed project that moves clients and prospects to action. Here they are:

1. To whom am I speaking, please?

Who’s your target audience? What problems do they have? What do they need? Why are they reading your stuff? How can you help them?

While you’re busy explaining who you are and what you do, your reader has just two things on their mind:

    • So what?


  • What’s in it for me?

Answer those questions and you just found your next client.

Ignore them and you’re wasting their time and your precious marketing dollars.

So look at every sentence and bullet point from that perspective, then revise, revise, revise until you have it just right.

2. It’s all about THEM

Let me say that again: It’s all about THEM. Not I, not us, not we, and certainly not the “company,” the “firm” or the “product.”

Compare and contrast:

“We provide global funds-of-funds that generate superior risk-adjusted

returns for institutional investors.”


“Your participants deserve the best funds the world has to offer.”

Which statement gets your attention and makes you want to hear more?

Speak to your target audience. Show them you understand who they are and what they want. Endowments, foundations, corporations, public funds and Taft-Hartley plans all have different constituencies, needs and hot buttons. Don’t just talk about partnership and collaboration, demonstrate it.

If you would like some concrete tools to help with this, see The Assette Report’s last post, Chasing the You.

3. What’s in it for THEM anyway?

Ah, the million dollar question. If you’ve done your market research, you know the answer. Then why is it so hard to communicate it?

Because most of us can’t see their forest for our trees. We’re so excited about our products and services that we just assume the benefits are obvious.

Well, they’re not. Your product’s features are NOT benefits. They provide benefits, but your reader won’t see that unless you help them. Every time you see “We do XYZ,” think “What’s in it for THEM?” and include it, as in:

Your feature Their benefit
Risk control Security
Disciplined processes Confidence
Diversification Prudence
High alpha Reward for risk
Performance attribution Information

See, it’s easy.

Just remember: Features tell. Benefits sell. Which brings us to our 4th point.

Most of us can't see their forest for our trees. We're so excited about our products and services that we just assume the benefits are obvious. They're not.4. Emotional Intelligence: You want them to want you

Telling talks to the head. Selling speaks to the heart. Good marketing copy does a little of both. You’ve got to tell enough to give your audience a picture of who you are and what you offer. And you have to sell enough to make them want what you’ve got.

Why? Because as any behavioral finance guru will tell you, decision-making is not a rational process. Our emotions move us to take action a whole lot faster than our thoughts do. And action is what you’re after, right?

5. KISS: Keep it super simple

Short sentences. Short paragraphs. Bullet points. Kill all adverbs — they greatly dilute your message and are inherently annoying. Headlines are great, but eight words or less, please.

The KISS principle is more important than ever. Consider the following, and adjust your messaging to speak to today’s reader:

  • The average reading level of college grads: 9th grade.[i]
  • Internet’s effect on reading style: More superficial, less sequential.[ii]
  • The average attention span today: 5 minutes. Ten years ago: 12 minutes.[iii]

6. Simple does not mean stupid

Avoid cliches (like the plague). Ditto for here-today-gone-tomorrow buzzwords, as in “We operate in the small-cap space.” I mean, would you trust your fund to a manager operating in space? Nothing screams “old school” louder than last year’s catchphrase.

Industry jargon might seem like savvy shorthand, but do your readers understand what these words mean? Use common synonyms where you can. Your message will be clear, and your audience won’t feel undereducated. For example:

  • Mitigate: Reduce, lessen
  • Algorithm: Formula, rule, set of instructions
  • Alpha: Value added over a benchmark

Not sure if your pet phrase is jargon? Check it out at MBA Jargon Watch. If it is on the list, it shouldn’t be in your client/prospect communications.

7. Put some muscle in your message

Your English teacher said it 1,000 times: Avoid the passive voice.

Here’s why:

“XYZ Service puts us in the 99th percentile of all active managers.”


“We outperformed 99% of all active managers.”

The first statement makes my eyes glaze over. You’re not talking about me, and you’re not even doing anything in the sentence. You have been conferred upon. Big deal.

The second statement wakes me right up. You’re doing something spectacular. Your firm seized their rightful place in the investment world. I think I want to get to know you better.

The moral: Passive copy gets walked on. Literally.

8. Be positive

Telling talks to the head. Selling speaks to the heart. Good marketing copy does a little of both.Positive sells. And here is where many investment managers get hung up: Emphasizing the positive is not the moral equivalent of lying. It’s OK to cast good things in a bright light as long as you don’t stuff the bad things in the vault. Are you enthusiastic about your investment approach? Do you feel confident that you’re the right firm for the job? Of course! Then you have no reason to be shy about saying so.

  • Be honest about bad news and upbeat about the future.
  • Avoid negative marketing. Like comedy, it’s hard to do well and easy to look foolish. Plus, nobody likes a grumpy-pants.

9. To thine own self be true

There is NO reason on earth why every investment manager letter, report and presentation must sound like all other investment management letters, reports and presentations. NONE.

No matter what your firm’s investment style or culture is, you can stand out by being yourself.

  • Don’t be afraid of being quirky or folksy if it is authentic.
  • Find a voice that reflects your firm’s culture and stick with it.
  • Show that you are as unique as you say you are.

People want to do business with real people, not Mad Men. Be yourself, and the business will follow. Just ask Warren Buffett.

10. Lights, camera, ACTION!

PLEASE don’t communicate without knowing what you want your audience to do once they’ve received/seen it. The call to action is the most important part of your effort. Take full advantage of the opportunity to convert a prospect into a potential buyer—or turn a client into an evangelist for your firm’s approach—by asking them to do something.

An effective call to action has three elements:

    • It’s direct.Don’t pussyfoot around. It’s OK to tell your audience you want something from them. Make your request clear and concise.
    • It’s specific.Your audience expects you to tell them what you want them to do. Whether it’s hiring you to manage their assets or calling their client relationship manager, give them the information they need to follow through.
    • It’s time-sensitive.Help your audience turn desire to action by creating a sense of urgency. People are more apt to act when given a deadline or timeframe.


11. The Proof is in the Proof

Now that you’ve created a fabulous client report or marketing piece, make sure it conveys a polished professional image. Just one typo or minor grammatical slip-up can subvert your entire message. Go the extra mile and have your work edited and proofread by someone with fresh eyes—either colleagues who haven’t been involved with the project or a professional copyeditor.

And here’s our call to action:

If you’ve found this useful, please use the tweet/post/email widgets to share this with your colleagues and co-workers today. And leave us a comment before you go!

Join us in welcoming guest blogger Deb Mackey, CEO and founder of Open E Communications, to The Assette Report. Deb is an investment writer and marketing consultant to the financial services industry. Prior to starting her own business, Deb spent over 20 years as a sales and marketing executive with institutional investment management firms. She can be reached at dmackey@openecommunications.com.


[i] National Center for Education Statistics. 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy. http://nces.ed.gov/naal/index.asp

[ii] Loan, Fayaz Ahmad (2012). “Impact of the Internet surfing on reading practices and choices.” Webology, 9(1), Article 94. Available at: http://www.webology.org/2012/v9n1/a94.html

[iii] Lloyds TSB Insurance. “‘Five-minute-memory’ costs Brits £1.6billion.” http://www.insurance.lloydstsb.com/personal/general/mediacentre/homehazards_pr.asp.

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