Don’t be a bore
‘But enough about me, what do you think about me?’
Most writers feel (or actually are) compelled to write only about their own company and their own individual, department or business interests. This happens in personal conversation too. Everyone sometimes has to force themselves to put others at the centre of the conversation, rather than getting carried away talking about themselves. Likewise, when writing, you have to force yourself, and your firm, to focus on client interests and not be rude, boorish and talk about yourself all the time.
It’s a matter of trust
While you’re busy not talking about yourself, you should also never say ‘trust us’. I attended a fascinating series of focus groups as part of an investment branding exercise, where the firm wanted to engender ‘trust’ in its key market. But all iterations of the brand that declared, or asked, the audience to give its trust, had the opposite effect. The focus group members all reacted the same way regardless of social or economic grouping. “If you have to say ‘trust me’, you probably are not worthy of trust.” Asking your reader to make a leap of faith never works.
Focus on benefits and perceived effort
One way to think about client-focused writing is by using Wilbur Schramm’s ‘Fraction of Selection’ formula. This simply means that you will have more readers who will read more of your text if you increase their perceived reward while lowering their perceived effort.
Schramm, a pioneering researcher in communication theory, saw dramatic increases in readership when text was structured and written to maximise perceived benefits while making it as easy as possible for readers to read and digest the information. His work heavily influenced the modern ‘Uses and Gratification‘ theory of communication.
The central message? Don’t blame readers if they don’t read your text (letter, email, brochure, tweet, blog etc.), blame yourself and fix it by increasing the perceived reward and decreasing the amount of effort it takes to read it.
The rest of this book focuses on concrete steps you can take to increase perceived reward and decrease perceived effort in your investment writing.
Let’s get personal
When you read something in which the author uses the first (I, me) and second person (you, yours etc), you gain a sense that they are talking directly to you. You feel engaged and involved in the message. It generates more interest and keeps your attention longer.
Some people falsely believe that writing in the personal style is somehow unprofessional. This perception resulted from an early 20th century scientific and academic belief that the individual had no place in academic and scientific writing.
At schools and universities, well-meaning educators indoctrinate us into the ‘academic style’ of writing: a ‘logically’ organised, plodding structure, often using grandiloquent language and elongated sentences.
But we’re not academics. Writing like an academic holds back your brand, your career and your business. You’re not writing for stuffy old professors anymore, you’re writing for clients and colleagues, to win them over and keep them on your side.
You should seek to convince, persuade and ultimately sell your investment funds and services. Clients come first and you need to care about their perceptions of you.
“Our competitors don’t do that”
People regularly tell me ‘none of our competitors write like this’.
First, that’s simply not true. Many do write this way, those with successful, well-informed marketing programmes that are not under the thumb of the front office.
Second, so what? The assertion sounds like an argument in favour of writing in the direct style, not against. It provides you with an opportunity to differentiate your firm from the competition with the use of language.
You’re not a lemming. Have the conviction to strike out on your own, follow the research and write in a client-focused way. Don’t follow the herd, especially when the herd is headed for a cliff.
 See: Schramm, Wilbur. ‘The science of human communication’. New York: Basic Books, 1963.