Posts

Marketing wealth management to women with Charlotte Beyer

You know that women present an attractive audience for your wealth management or other financial services. “Women with Wallets,” a chapter of Charlotte Beyer’s Wealth Management Unwrapped: Unwrap What You Need to Know & Enjoy the Present, made me think about how you should market to women. Her book targets your potential clients instead of advisors.

1.Don’t treat all women as the same

Beyer points out that women are not all the same. Women who are newly widowed, single and highly successful in their field, married and staying at home with kids, newly divorced, or the beneficiary of a large inheritance will have distinctive needs. She tells women considering a firm to ask themselves if they feel they will be treated as an individual, not a stereotype.

To avoid gender assumptions, here’s what Beyer suggested in an email interview with me, “Look at each woman first as an individual, then discover her goals, her comfort with securities markets, and her hoped-for outcomes, both tangible and intangible.” She also suggests asking questions such as “How much do you know about securities markets?” and “How much time do you want to devote to your finances?”

2. Your employee policies matter, too

Showing respect for women clients and prospects isn’t enough. Your firm’s respect for women should permeate your firm’s culture.

Think about how your firm would fare if potential clients follow these four suggestions by Beyer:

  1. Request that a diverse team be assigned to you. This team should include younger and older, male and female, and ethnic variety as well.
  2. Inquire about the representation of women on the firm’s board and at senior levels, as well as the annual turnover/promotion of women professionals versus men.
  3. Find out how maternity leave policy works at the firm. Ask about flextime, paternity policy, and elder care leave.
  4. Ask what training or educational workshops are offered to women clients. Also ask what professional skills training is offered to women professionals in the organization.

In her email to me, Beyer said, “While many firms may not have answers that will satisfy the client, the willingness to examine current policies and be open to change is appreciated by clients. Cultural change comes slowly, and these questions can speed up the process.”

In addition, she said, “If a firm is proactive and begins to tackle these questions before they are asked, this shows a genuine desire to analyze gender issues. That will be detected quickly by clients and seen as a positive—even as the firm struggles to bring in more women advisors, for example. The turnover of women in financial services is well known. If a culture is not welcoming what women will remain with this firm? Good news: just asking the tough questions internally benefits that firm.

Looking for more book recommendations? Check out “My 2017 reading, with book recommendations for you.

Disclosure:  If you click on an Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I provide links to books only when I believe they have value for my readers.

Early Bird registration for financial blogging class

Learn more about my financial blogging class!

Writing for financial experts

How should you tailor your financial writing for experts like institutional investors or financial professionals? I have many gut feelings about what you should do. But this time I’m drawing on other people’s research. Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) performs great research about how people read on the web. NNG’s Hoa Loranger and Kate Meyer discuss “Writing Digital Copy for Domain Experts” in an article that may apply to financial experts. I say “may apply” because their article only mentions “medical professionals, scientists, and engineers.”

Here are the five main findings or recommendations in Loranger and Meyer’s article:

  1. Provide facts, avoid interpretation.
  2. Citations and supporting evidence are critical.
  3. Experts care about recency.
  4. Shared vocabularies change the rules for plain language.
  5. Grammar and spelling count.

1. Provide facts, avoid interpretation

Loranger and Meyer say that experts care most about the following two types of information, as they are “on a fact-finding mission”:

  1. New information that they haven’t considered or heard of
  2. Contradictory information that is contrary to their existing knowledge or beliefs

“Lead with data and facts. Researchers can see through hype,” say Loranger and Meyer. They stress presenting facts and providing “proof for your statements.” The idea of providing proof squares with what colleagues have told me about their perception of the difference between writing for institutional vs. retail investors.

Although Loranger and Meyer’s heading says to “avoid interpretation,” I think what they really mean is to make your content “free from unnecessary fluff and vague assertions,” as they say elsewhere in this piece.

2. Citations and supporting evidence are critical

Loranger and Meyer say, “Domain experts often scan bylines and citations for name recognition. If the content is written by a well-respected person or entity, readers are more likely to trust the information.”

How might this translate into the world of investment management? It might mean the difference between using asset-class performance data from Standard & Poor’s or Bloomberg Barclays vs. data from a little firm that’s not widely known or—even worse—simply saying, “in our experience, this is how this asset class behaves.”

If possible, make it easy for the experts to access your original sources of information. Of course, that’s not possible if you’re licensing proprietary information from a provider that keeps its data behind a pay wall.

3. Experts care about recency

Experts may leave sites where article dates aren’t shown or the dates are old, according to NNG’s research.

Loranger and Meyer say, “Show dates even for evergreen content that continues to be relevant long past its publication date. Domain experts can decipher between time-sensitive developments and long-lasting concepts and older dates.” (This makes me feel good about the fact that my blog posts on this website show their publication date.)

4. Shared vocabularies change the rules for plain language

It’s OK to use technical language if your audience consists solely of technical experts, according to this article. Although I often rail against technical language, as in “Words to avoid in your investment communications with regular folks,” I’m more flexible when I work on institutional communications.

Explaining concepts that experts know well may work against you, say the authors. Experts may look at your work and decide that it’s meant for the general public. Still, I suggest that you be careful not to overestimate your audience. For example, a so-called institutional investor could be a less sophisticated investment committee member or financial advisor. Read “How to make one quarterly letter fit clients at different levels of sophistication” for my take on how to keep everybody happy.

Loranger and Meyer suggest that you use extra care if your audience includes people new to the field, if you’re discussing less-common concepts or tangential fields, or if your terms have multiple meanings.

5. Grammar and spelling count

You may think that experts care more about the information than how you write about it. Think again.

“…when your target users are highly educated, they may be more likely to catch mistakes in your writing, and they may be more critical,” say Loranger and Meyer.

Useful tips for writing online for experts

This article provided some tips specific to writing online for experts.

You can’t dump too many facts on a web page. You’ll overwhelm your readers. The solution? Loranger and Hoa suggest layering your information, using two techniques:

  1. State the summary at the top. Then provide more detail information down the page progressively.
  2. Include hyperlinks that take readers to supporting details on deeper-level pages. Experts are particularly likely to click on hyperlinks to increase their understanding of a topic.

An A-to-Z index to your content may make sense for experts, while it wouldn’t work for the general public “because users don’t often know the exact name of the topic they want,” say Loranger and Meyer.

Another online writing tip: sign up for the Nielsen Norman Group weekly newsletter. It’s one of the few newsletters I read regularly.

Financial white paper writers who say “yes”

Do you want a financial white paper writer who says “yes” to everything you write or suggest? I say “no.” Financial white paper writers who push back can be the best friends of companies that aren’t familiar with how to write great investment or wealth management white papers.

Don’t get me wrong. Your white paper writer should respect your goals and desires. However, the best financial white paper writers will push you to create the best white paper possible. They will say “no” when your white paper is weak in the areas I discuss below.

Weakness 1. Problem identification and WIIFM

yes noIf your white paper doesn’t identify a problem experienced by your target audience, then it’s not going to attract prospects or convince referral sources to pass along your name. You need to answer the question of “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) for your prospects. You should also understand the WIIFM for your business.

For example, imagine that you pose the topic of “401(k) plan types.” Who cares? That sounds like a dull reference work that could only interest an ERISA attorney or defined contribution recordkeeper. But how about “the 401(k) plan characteristics that boost participation and simplify plan administration”? That’s a winner that will help both participants and the plan sponsor. If your firm helps plan sponsors achieve those characteristics—or if this topic enhances your credibility as a provider of related services or products—then this topic helps you to achieve your business goals.

A good writer will ask the following questions early in their discussions with you:

  • Who is your target audience and what do you want them to do after reading the white paper?
  • What is your topic and why will your target audience care about it?
  • What problem does this topic solve for your readers?

When you and your writer get the answers right, you can attract and retain readers’ attention. Your readers won’t ask “Why the heck are you telling me this?”

Good white papers focus on solving problems, not promoting the firm that publishes them, as I explained in “White paper marketing: Walk a fine line.” If you truly seek a white paper, your writer should say “no” when your draft becomes a brochure.

Weakness 2. Poorly explained concepts

Your experts know what they’re talking about. But sometimes it’s hard for them to explain their ideas in plain English. As a result, your readers won’t appreciate the value of what you write in your white papers.

Take for example, the concepts of “asset allocation” and “diversification.” These are easy for investment professionals to understand. However, they require explanation and perhaps even some examples to make sense to less sophisticated individual investors. A good white paper writer won’t hesitate to push you on this.

Weakness 3. Poor organization and wording

Poor organization and bad wording will confuse your readers. They may even drive them away.

When you give a weak outline to good writers, they’ll fight back. They’ll propose a new, stronger outline that will let your ideas shine. They’ll also polish your wording.

Look for financial white paper writers who say “no”

You need a white paper writer who’ll be responsive to your needs. Sometimes that means saying “no” to the way your ideas are presented. That’s part of the value that good white paper writers bring.

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How to edit your financial firm’s bios

Your employees are one of your financial firm’s greatest assets. But poorly written biographies make it difficult for your audience to understand the breadth and depth of your firm’s expertise. When you streamline and standardize your financial firm’s bios, your bios’ readers will benefit. Happy readers mean happier clients and prospects.

I’m writing this article for financial marketers, whether you’re a member of a marketing department or a member of a small investment, wealth management, or financial planning firm who wears a marketing hat in addition to offering your financial expertise. These are my best suggestions for a process you can follow.

Step 1. Identify why you want to edit your financial firm’s bios

edit financial firm biosYou can edit better when you know the purpose of your work. At one extreme, are you merely proofreading for big errors so you’re not embarrassed by someone’s title being spelled as “manger” instead of “manager” or are you looking to change the tone and content of your bios?

Here’s a list of some other goals you may pursue. You can pick from this list to give better guidance to your editor when you hire someone to work on bios.

  1. Make your bios more focused on clients by describing how clients benefit from the employee’s work, instead of emphasizing the employee’s skills and credentials. This kind of bio draws in clients and prospects because it’s more than a dry recitation of credentials. However, credentials are an important part of establishing credibility.
  2. Shift from last names to first names or vice versa. Today bios tend toward greater informality. If I were a corporate employee, my bio might call me “Susan” instead of “Ms. Weiner.” On a similar note, more bios are written in the first person. When I redid my website in 2015, I changed my biographical references to say “I” instead of “Weiner.”
  3. Add more personality. Bios are changing as “authenticity,” or trying to show that there’s a real person behind the marketing, becomes more important. You’ll find more folksy or quirky language and more mention of the employees’ passions and interests. This is particularly helpful if the employees have good stories about why they chose a career in financial services. However, it can become labored and phony if the stories are weak.
  4. Make your biographical format more consistent. If your bios have been written by different people over time, they may cover different information and use different writing styles. This inconsistency makes it harder for readers to find the information they need or to compare your employees’ roles and backgrounds. For example, some bios may start with how the employees help clients vs. others that emphasize the employees’ credentials vs. others that start with the employees’ prior experience. Others may be written in a flowery style, while some adopt a lean style. Some may consist of a few bullet points vs. others that use long paragraphs. Another form of consistency is to balance personal branding vs. the firm’s marketing goal, as writer and professional service marketer Meg Charendoff reminded me when I discussed this post with her. You want to support and promote your financial professionals, but you also need consistent messaging about people in specific roles and groups.
  5. Fix bad writing. Mistakes sneak into bios. Eliminate typos, bad grammar, and other weaknesses with thorough editing.

Depending on your goals, you may take a more or less radical approach to editing your financial firm’s bios. For example, if you pick goal #1, you’ll need to create new templates for your bios. If goal #5 is your top priority, you’ll edit with a lighter hand.

Step 2. Review a few bios to get a sense of your challenges

The first step for you—or your writer, if you delegate the work of editing your financial firm’s bios—is to review several bios. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What are common components that repeat so you’ll want to standardize how you treat them?

If you outsource this step to a writer, ask the writer for his or her assessment of what needs to be changed.

Step 3. Create templates—or at least a style sheet

If you plan to make major changes to your financial firm’s bios, you’ll benefit from creating templates for each distinct type of position in your firm. Your template will be written like a model bio, specifying what’s included and in what detail.

Although there should be some consistency across all bios, there will be differences. For example, you may go into details about previous positions held by senior executives. Such experience is less relevant or available for entry-level employees.

No matter what approach you take to editing your firm’s bios, you need a style sheet. If your firm already has a style sheet for its communications, you’re ahead of the game. Share your style sheet with your writer, if you outsource.

In addition to matters of grammar, punctuation, and spelling, you should consider what content to include (and omit). Here are some of the issues (in alphabetical order) that you’ll need to decide:

  • Bullet points vs. narrative—when will you use bullet points instead of narrative to break up the flow of information in the bios? For example, when I edited bios that appeared as PowerPoint pages in a client’s pitch books, I converted their educational experience from narrative to bullet points that started with the name of the college or university. This trimmed the word count and made it easy for readers to see if they recognized the name of the employee’s alma mater.
  • Capitalization—when will you capitalize titles and other words? Technically speaking, you should only capitalize titles when they precede the holder’s name. You should write “President Weiner,” but “Weiner, the president.” This rule is broken more often than not in financial services. However, you must draw the line somewhere. Avoid using capitals simply to make a word look important. Don’t write that “We offer Investment Management and Financial Planning.”
  • Commas—will you use the serial comma or not? I’m personally a fan of the serial comma. However, the main thing is to pick a style and stick with it.
  • Details on employeesthere’s a long list of questions you’ll need to answer to make your bios consistent in terms of details. You may not identify all of the issues until you’ve made one pass at editing all of the bios. Where do you draw the line between considering something relevant or not? Will you include any of the items listed below? Remember, there’s a limit to how much your clients, prospects, and referral sources are willing to read.
    • College majors and honors
    • Previous employment—how much detail will you go into? Will it vary according to seniority or relevance to the current job?
    • Outside affiliations, such as board memberships or volunteer work—must they be current to be included? Which organizations are worthy of mention, especially when the employee is not in a leadership role? On the other hand, employees’ outside affiliations give insights into who they are as people.
    • Awards—must they be relevant to the job or to your local community to be included?
    • Publications—what makes the cut for inclusion? Does it have to be a national publication or a publication in your field? Or can a personal blog qualify?
    • Social media profiles—will you link to your employees’ social media profiles? Connecting with clients and prospects, especially on LinkedIn, could pay off.
    • Speeches—speeches can help to establish an employee’s authority.
  • Job descriptions—is it possible to standardize descriptions by title? If so, it will be clear to your readers when two employees perform comparable jobs.
  • Names—will you include nicknames? What about middle initials, which are often important in distinguishing between people who share common names?
  • Non-degree education—certificate programs abound in financial services so you need policies on whether to include them and on how to write about them. I’ve found it particularly hard to figure out how to refer to non-degree programs that no longer exist. Also, employees may not be consistent in what they call the programs in their resumes or bios.
  • Professional designations—which professional designations will you highlight by having them appear after the employee’s name? Which designations will you omit as irrelevant? Will you include designations or licenses that are no longer current or that haven’t been formally awarded? In some cases, the professional organization that awards the designation may have rules against its use if the credential hasn’t been formally awarded.
  • Spelling—how will you spell words that have variants? For example, will you write “financial modeling” or “financial modelling”? Will you show bachelor’s degrees as “BA,” “B.A.,” or “bachelor’s degree”?
  • States—will you spell out the names of states, such as Massachusetts, in full? Or, will you use U.S. post office abbreviations (MA) or traditional abbreviations (Mass.)?
  • Word count limits—you can’t write a book about each employee. Plus, you may have word count limits imposed by the layout of your website, pitch book, or other place where you showcase your employees’ expertise.
  • Years of experience—listing years of experience, such as “five years with XYZ Financial” or “10 years of investment management experience,” means you’ll need to update bios annually. That can be a royal pain. At best, it’s annual busywork. Consider referring to “experience since 2010” or whatever the year might be so your bios will always be current. Another issue: Will you omit years of experience if the number is too low or will you abbreviate to “more than 20 years of experience” if you don’t want your employees to seem too old?

Step 4. Edit a few bios and get them reviewed

You or your writer should edit a few bios and run them by your decision makers. This will allow you to see if you’re on the right track. It’s easier to adjust early in the process than to rewrite many bios later.

Before you begin editing your financial firm’s bios you should figure out who needs to approve their approach and content. If you’re lucky, you won’t have a huge committee with conflicting opinions. The big picture questions about your approach to bios should be decided by a select few.

For tips on managing the review process with a large group, see “7 ways to manage writing by committee.”

Step 5. Refine your templates or style guidelines

Use the information you learned in Step 4 to refine your templates or style guidelines.

Step 6. Finish editing your financial firm’s bios

Use your updated templates or style guidelines to finish editing your financial firm’s bios. Then you can start the approval process.

At a minimum, you should run each employee’s bio by her or him to check for accuracy, before getting a compliance review of the bios. Give employees firm deadlines to avoid procrastinators.

Step 7. Keep bios consistent and up-to-date with a process

Bios should be reviewed annually for accuracy and to reflect changes to your templates.

To keep bios accurate and consistent, it’s best to have one official source where users retrieve them. You’ll also benefit from a well-defined process for making changes when the bio changes between annual reviews. Give employees the name of someone to contact with updates. Give the contact person a process to follow for the review, approval, and implementation of changes. Otherwise, you’ll end up with different versions in different places. For example, an individual’s bio in a pitch book may not be consistent with that person’s bio on the website. Later, in your annual review, you may unwittingly start with a bio that doesn’t reflect the latest information.

It may be necessary to tailor bios for specific purposes, such as a short bio accompanying an article. However, those specialized bios should be drawn from the official bio. If you have multiple “official” bios, you run the risk that someone will use a bio that doesn’t conform with your templates and style guidelines.

As Charendoff says, “The review and revision project is not the end, but the beginning of the process of maintaining effective bios.”

Good luck!

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

3 ways to make your emails mobile-friendly

Mobile-friendly emails are essential. Your clients, prospects, referral sources, and colleagues are increasingly reading emails on their mobile devices. If they don’t like what they see, they may delete or ignore your messages.

Here’s an interesting statistic from a webinar on “Demystifying Brand Journalism,” sponsored by the American Society of Business Press Editors:

80% of people delete an email if it doesn’t look good on their device.

I’m not a mobile guru, but I’ve noticed three things that encourage me to read emails on my phone.

Technique 1: Short subject lines that get to the point

No matter where your recipients read your emails, you’ll benefit from short subject lines that get to the point quickly. Your first two words are key, as I’ve said in “Improve your email subject-line vocabulary with The Hamster Revolution.”

“Short and sweet” is even more important on mobile devices, which may show as few as 15 characters of your subject line vs. 40+ characters on a traditional computer. Wearable devices could make things even tougher, as explained in “What effect could wearables have on email marketing?” by Wynn Zhou on memeburn.

Technique 2: Use mobile-friendly formatting

Traditional emails, especially multi-column e-newsletters, may be too wide to display well on mobile device. Below is an example of an image that’s too big to be mobile-friendly.

I believe that traditional text-only emails will fit well on your mobile device, although you should still do your best to make your email short and easily skimmed.

If you’ve been producing an e-newsletter for a long time, check to see if you can switch to a mobile-friendly or mobile-responsive format. I made the change earlier this year, using a template provided by Constant Contact.

Technique 3: Avoid attachments

Attachments and mobile devices don’t play well together. Attachments are a pain to download and even more of a pain to read on a tiny screen.

Want to share information beyond what’s in your email? Use a link to a mobile-friendly webpage.

YOUR suggestions?

What works to entice you to read emails on your phone? Much of what works on mobile devices also works on traditional computers.

Please share your insights. I enjoy learning from you.

Top posts from the third quarter of 2015

Check out my top posts from the last quarter!

The top post targeted investment commentary writers. The other posts offered a mix of practical tips on writing (#3, 5, 10), blogging (#4, 7, 9), and email (#2, 6, 8).

    1. Are financial predictions too risky for investment commentary writers?—this post sparked lots of discussion. Please join the conversation by leaving a comment or sharing on social media.
    2. The email subject line you should never use
    3. 7 ways to manage writing by committee—read this if you’ve ever struggled with managing input from multiple people
    4. Credit sources fairly in your financial blog posts—this is important if you want to be fair and avoid copyright infringement.
    5. Financial writer’s clinic: fact vs. interpretation
    6. What YOU say about highlighting text in emails
    7. 8 ways blogging is like bicycling
    8. Email lesson from a PayPal co-founder
    9. Use a wacky days list when you run out of blog ideas—I was surprised by this post’s popularity.
    10. Don’t break up your text too much!

Are financial predictions too risky for investment commentary writers?

Is it a bad idea to make predictions in your investment commentary because clients will slam you when you’re wrong? Whenever you make predictions, you run the risk of being wrong. But being wrong isn’t a problem, in my mind, if your prediction reflects good thinking.

Lesson from my winning prediction

Accurate predictions alone don’t make you seem smart. I remember the time I was forced to participate in a betting pool with members of an investment policy committee. I had to guess where a certain number—probably the 10-year Treasury rate—would be one quarter later.

Guess what! I won. However, it wasn’t knowledge of Federal Reserve policy or the economy that inspired my winning bet. It was that I deliberately picked a rate 25 basis points (0.25%) lower than any other committee member’s bet.

Did I respect the losers less after I won my bet? No. They had well thought-out ideas about the factors driving bond yields. As a result, I continued to think highly of them.

The lesson is that smart people can and will be wrong. After all, look at any major investment firm’s quarterly predictions of statistics such as the fed funds rate, gross domestic product (GDP) growth, or the consumer price index. Most of the time they are wrong. Heck, the federal government revises its GDP numbers as new data comes in.

Why you should make predictions

Investment commentary that only reports facts is often boring. Plus, unless you’re pumping out commentary instantaneously, you’re not telling your readers anything they couldn’t already learn online or in The Wall Street Journal. They have no reason to read your factual, unopinionated commentary.

Keeping your clients interested isn’t the only reason to make predictions—or, at a minimum, express opinions. When you support your predictions with carefully reasoned arguments, you give clients insights into your firm’s thought processes. That’s valuable.

Imagine, for example, that you predict that the Federal Open Market Committee will boost its fed funds target later in the year. By itself, that’s not so interesting. What makes it valuable is why you think that’s true and what you recommend based on that prediction.

Unexpected events—war, natural disasters and the like—can sabotage your predictions. However, they may only delay your predictions coming true. Clients will find comfort in the soundness of your thinking.

What if you’re repeatedly wrong?

Repeatedly making big predictions that don’t pan out can bring client criticism and even defections. But sometimes the strength of your convictions means you must stick with them to remain true to your investment philosophy and process, as well as for the good of your clients.

For example, some asset management firms shunned dot-com stocks during their heyday, predicting a price collapse that ultimately occurred. The clients who stuck with them benefited over the long run.

My suggestions for your financial predictions

I have some suggestions for you.

  1. Don’t make flashy predictions simply to attract attention. One day, or even one month, of fame on social media or in the news isn’t worthwhile.
  2. Do make predictions that are grounded in careful analysis. You need to be able to explain predictions.
  3. Explain your predictions. Help your readers to understand why you made your predictions and why the predictions are important for client portfolios.

Whenever possible, relate what you write to its impact on client portfolios. For example, if you foresee a rebound in the Russian ruble, explain how this might affect sectors your portfolios hold or avoid.

  1. Hedge when necessary. To keep the Securities and Exchange Commission happy, you can’t guarantee anything. Use language such as “we believe” to make it clear you’re expressing an opinion.

Hedging language also helps readers grasp that you understand there are factors that can derail the most likely scenario. You’re not pigheaded. You consider the relevant factors.

  1. Use personality if you lack opinions. If you lack provocative opinions, but you want people to read your commentary, use your personality. Writing in a distinctive style and tailoring your content to your clients’ unique needs can help you get attention from your target audience.

What about YOU?

I’m interested in learning from you. How do you balance the benefits of expressing your opinions vs. the risks of being wrong? Please comment.

 

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Our LinkedIn connection isn’t an invitation to spam

I don’t like it when anybody adds me to an ongoing e-newsletter distribution list without asking my permission—or at least warning me that my signing up for their freebie will add me to that list. If you’re doing that, please reconsider.

The newest variation on this may be people who add their new LinkedIn connections to email lists without permission. If you do this, you’re sending me spam. Please stop.

I’m thinking about this because of a recent experience. I felt fine when I received one email communication from a new LinkedIn connection with the subject line, “Thank you for connecting on LinkedIn.” I admired my connection for making the time to follow up. I was impressed that he took the time to create an attractively formatted email, including photographs, using an e-mail newsletter program. I even forwarded the email to a friend whom I thought might learn from how the man promoted his book in his email. This kind of email is fine with me, if it happens one time only. Indeed, I welcome genuine, personalized messages from people with whom I connect.

However, I felt angry when the connection repeated the same email one month later. I realized that he had added me to a newsletter list without my permission. I think this bothered me more than the average involuntary newsletter subscription because the sender reused the email he’d sent one month earlier. A message with new content might have shown more respect for my time.

By the way, if you add me to my newsletter without my permission, I may not unsubscribe, but I will implement an email rule that sends your message to a “Newsletter” folder. Your message never hits my main inbox.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Can YOU simplify investment commentary better than this?

I am not perfect. I don’t have all of the answers for how to best simplify the complex sentences that abound in investment commentary and related publications. However, we would all benefit if the smart investment professionals could communicate more clearly and economically.

To spur conversation, I’m posting some before-and-after versions of sentences inspired by what I’ve read in online and printed investment pieces. Most of my tweaks are minor. They don’t dramatically ratchet up the sentences’ effectiveness. However, their simplicity means that they demonstrate techniques that would be easy for anyone to implement.

If you’re trying to improve your writing skills, I hope you’ll find some inspiration. If you’re a veteran writer or editor, perhaps you can suggest better alternatives.

Investment writing before-and-after examples

Example 1

Before: An important point to make is that rising interest rates do not necessarily have a negative impact for bond investors as often perceived.
After: Contrary to what many think, rising interest rates don’t necessarily hurt bond investors.
Note: “Show, don’t tell” is standard writing advice. Instead of saying that something is important, convey its significance simply and quickly.

Example 2

Before: What are the things that matter most to members of the portfolio management team?
After: What matters most to the portfolio management team?
Note: Deleting unnecessary words makes it easier for readers to grasp your message. The “after” version might be simplified further to “What matters most to the portfolio managers?” or even, depending on context, “What matters most to the portfolio?”

Example 3

Before: The Fed’s statement will be illustrative in highlighting the Fed’s future plans.
After: The Fed’s statement will highlight its plans.
Note: This is one of several examples showing how replacing forms of the verb “to be” strengthens your sentences. Also, “illustrative” and “future” aren’t necessary in this sentence. Readers grasp them from the context.

Example 4

Before: Bank of America has a sound capital position and a management team that is well-regarded.
After: Bank of America has a sound capital position and a well regarded management team.
Note: Converting phrases such as “that is well regarded” into adjectives can streamline your sentences. Just don’t pile up too many adjectives in a row. You’ll overwhelm your readers. Some adjectives are valuable. However, I like what Mark Twain said about them: “When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them—then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are far apart.” 

Example 5

Before: One third of S&P 500 earnings are derived from foreign sales.
After: One-third of S&P 500 earnings come from foreign sales.
Note: This is another example of how you can streamline sentences by eliminating forms of “to be.”

Example 6

Before: Our current expectation is that foreign bond buying will prevent longer-term rates from increasing significantly in 2015.
After: We expect that longer-term rates will not increase significantly in 2015, due to foreign bond buying.
Note:  Using “I” or “we” will enliven “to be” phrases like the “before” version of this sentence. I also suggest that you put the most important part of your sentence in the beginning. I thought the writer’s interest rate expectations were more important than the foreign bond buying.

Example 7

Before: This technique improved returns without a dramatic increase in risk.
After: This technique improved returns without dramatically increasing risk.
Note: Verbs are more powerful than nouns.

Your thoughts?

I welcome your thoughts about how to improve these sample sentences or how to improve investment-related writing in general. Please comment.

Update on July 2, 2015: Oops, I edited the title of this post after realizing that it violated a traditional grammar rule favoring “Can you simplify investment commentary better than I” instead of “than me.” Garner’s American Usage says “I” is the traditional right answer, but “me” is okay for a deliberately relaxed, colloquial tone. After sharing this topic with friends, I changed the title because I realized that passions run high on this issue. By the way, I realized that I’ve been caught on this issue before, as you’ll see if you read “Are you as compulsive as me or I?

Image courtesy of thaikrit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reader question: How to get writers to follow style guidelines?

Marketing and communications professionals at financial firms face a challenge. They understand the importance of well-written content that follows style guidelines to be reader-friendly. However, they often depend on experts outside the marketing department to generate that content. Investment and wealth management professionals may not know or care about style guidelines. When they fail to abide by style guidelines, they create headaches for their readers and their colleagues.

How can marketers get cleaner copy from their colleagues? This is essentially what one reader asked me in the following message:

How can we implement and maintain style guidelines across a company, generating and maintaining buy-in and compliance?

I brainstormed with some colleagues and took inspiration from Switch, a book by Chip and Dan Heath, to suggest steps to improve your colleagues’ compliance with style guidelines.

1. Offer style guide training

Ignorance is bliss. At least, that may be true for your colleagues. They can’t abide by guidelines of which they’re unaware.

Provide training on your style guidelines. A short session focused on the most important guidelines will probably attract the greatest attendance and get the best results.

Consider folding your discussion of guidelines into a broader discussion of how to write better or faster. The topic of style guidelines doesn’t excite most people. However, improving one’s skills as a writer helps to build the student’s ability to influence people and advance his or her career.

Hiring an outsider to deliver training can spare the marketing department from playing a bad guy role as an enforcer. Plus, you can exploit the authority of an outsider who knows your industry. Check out my training options, including my webinar on “How to Write Investment Commentary People Will Read.”

2. Make your style guide easily accessible

Make it easy for employees to find your firm’s style guide. This may mean putting it on a shared drive so everyone can access the most recent version.

If you lack a shared drive, consider regularly circulating the most current version with a note highlighting the guidelines that are most important to your firm.

3. Provide different levels of detail, depending on the audience

Your typical financial professional will not use a long style guide that the marketing department views as an essential tool. It’s too much information. It’s overwhelming.

Instead, give your firm’s financial professionals a short document that highlights your most important style guidelines.

Another possibility is to offer them a checklist for reviewing their work before handing it in. My Financial Blogging book includes a checklist that can be customized to an individual writer’s needs.

4. Provide templates that follow style guidelines

If your colleagues make mistakes on standardized documents, then provide templates for them. For example, let’s say that you want them to use the ® mark on their first reference to the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. Provide a template that includes “Standard & Poor’s® 500 Index” to spare them from thinking about the correct usage. Alternatively, you can ask them to start their new document from a cleaned-up version of the previous document.

5. Start a buddy system

It’s hard for most writers to catch their own mistakes. Consider starting a buddy system, where your financial professionals check one another’s text before submitting it to marketing. Of course, during busy periods, such as quarterly reporting crunches, it may be hard for them to make time for this.

6. Offer “carrots”

Can you offer a reward to employees who improve their writing or meet certain standards? The reward could be something as simple as recognition in your employee newsletter.

7. Explain how style mistakes affect client service and acquisition

Your firm’s financial professionals may not understand how their mistakes affect your firm’s relationships with clients and prospects. Tell them.

First, if you let mistake-riddled work reach clients and prospects, you undermine your firm’s credibility. A firm that doesn’t care about blatant typos may show a similar disregard for the details of their portfolio accounting or financial plans. That worries clients and prospects.

Second, the need for extensive proofreading and copyediting delays the publication of your firm’s content. A relatively clean piece of content from a writer who consistently observes style guidelines can quickly earn the marketing department’s approval. On the other hand, a piece that’s riddled with errors requires more time and possibly multiple reviews, as editors struggle to fix it. This delays content from reaching the firm’s audience.

8. Use techniques from Switch

In Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath, the authors tackle a similar kind of problem, how to get employees to file their expense reports on time. The Heaths note that nagging emails don’t work. They may even reinforce the perception that everyone ignores the style guidelines. However, they have some suggestions. which I gathered from the end of their “Script the Critical Moves” chapter.

Learn from success stories

The Heaths suggest that instead you look at the people who are doing things right. What are they doing differently? In the expense example, “Maybe they’ve handcrafted a set of techniques for logging expenses as they occur, so there’s not a big pile left at the end of the month,” say the Heaths. “Get them to share their system with others.”

Make it easy for people to comply

Another tip: “Script the critical moves” to remove ambiguity that paralyzes people. This can be tough with issues of style. Perhaps it means that the marketing department asks writers to observe some clear rules, while tackling the tough rules itself during the proofreading process. Giving employees a simple checklist might achieve this.

Provide motivation

“Find the feeling,” suggest the Heaths. That could mean trading on your employees’ feelings for their colleagues. In the expense report example, the Heaths suggest telling people how their actions prevent a colleague from meeting her deadlines. “It may be easy to rationalize missing an administrative deadline, but it’s harder to rationalize letting down a co-worker who’s counting on you,” say the Heaths.

With style guidelines, employee lapses may handicap client services and sales personnel, in addition to marketing staff.

Highlight compliance

“Rally the herd,” say the Heaths, because “people are sensitive to social norms.” If you highlight employees’ compliance with guidelines, you’ll encourage others to follow. As they say, “No one likes to hear they’re underperforming their peers.”

9. Be realistic

You can’t achieve 100% compliance with your style guidelines. Your financial professionals have lots of other demands on their time. Also, it’s hard for most people to catch errors in their own work. A smart marketing department will proofread its writers’ work.

However, you can boost the quality of your colleague’s work by applying some of the tips discussed above.

What are YOUR best tips?

If you’ve tackled this challenge, please share your tips. I’m also interested in hearing from financial professionals about how marketers can make it easier for you to create high quality materials.

 

If you’re a marketer, you may also enjoy “Reader question: How can communicators manage difficult portfolio managers?

 Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Disclosure: If you click on the Amazon link in this post and then buy something, I will receive a small commission. I only link to books in which I find some value for my blog’s readers.