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    Clear Language and Marketing

August 9th, 2018

We analyzed the top 100 asset management firm websites for readability. Among the 80+ websites that we scanned, we came away with some interesting findings.

Overhead image of a female novelist, blogger, freelancer or a photographer, typing on the laptop keyboard in her living room in the beautiful bright apartment in Paris city center, in Montmartre district. She has a nice wooden retro table and a matching, vintage wooden floor. Retro processed with vibrant colors. Fashionable blogger, freelancer, work from home concepts in a laid back, cozy atmosphere in Paris, France.

In the mid-1990s, I stumbled upon a career as a financial editor. After starting at an investor relations consulting firm, I eventually went to work with Standard & Poor’s. I still remember my first high-level meeting (which, in retrospect, might not have been that high profile). This was an opportunity to rub elbows with the movers and shakers.

One of the managing directors ran the meeting. He and I always exchanged pleasantries—and I looked forward to seeing him in action. Was I impressed? Befuddled, perhaps. Confused, absolutely. He was speaking in English and I understood each word in isolation. But the way he structured his sentences left me bewildered. Words like synergy, integrated, leverage, etc. all have vague meanings, and were even more vague on that fateful day.

Over time, it became apparent that this wasn’t an isolated incident. Rather, there seemed to be an unspoken rule in the financial services industry that complex language makes you sound smart. For example, who could forget (or even understand) Alan Greenspan’s 1996 “irrational exuberance” quote:

“But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade?”

The above requires you to read at a grade level of 17.6. In other words, he was speaking to someone in his or her last semester of getting a master’s degree.

Even though this unfortunate trend of using complex syntax continues today, the reality is that rather than impressing people, it has the opposite effect. Just ask Daniel M. Oppenheimer. He’s a former Princeton University professor who won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature for his ironically titled paper “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity.” Among other things, he discovered that needless complexity in language creates a negative impression among your audience rather than a favorable one.

Fast forward to 2018. With the massive shift toward mobile technology and digital advertising, many asset management firms are revolutionizing how they engage with their clients. In our report, we’ve explored how effectively the asset management industry is using language as part of its marketing efforts. Using Clarity Grader, a proprietary tool created by Visible Thread, we’ve scanned the websites of the world’s largest asset management firms. We then created the Visible Thread/LOQUATIO asset management index based on characteristics such as readability, passive language, sentence length and complexity. The findings are interesting—and also instructive for asset management firms that want to strengthen their brands and gain the public’s trust through clear language.

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