Your “Story” is the Key to an Effective Marketing Presentation
This article recently appeared in Opalesque New Managers (Issue 65, September 2017) – an online news publication focusing on the global emerging hedge fund manager.
Premise: The best way for a fund manager to create an effective marketing pitch is to tell a compelling story.
I’ll clarify what I mean by “story” in the context of hedge funds, but first let’s consider the efficacy of story-based marketing in general.
There’s a growing body of evidence pointing to storytelling as an effective marketing tool. You can read all about this in articles on the web, but here’s the essence:
- It seems that human brains tend to understand and retain the information embedded in stories much better than they do isolated facts and data.
- In fact, neuro-scientists have discovered that when we’re told a story or read one, key regions of our brain experience the story as if it were a real-life experience.
- Furthermore, researchers have found that when consumers make buying decisions, they rely on personal feelings and experience far more than product facts and features.
The key takeaways are: Stories engage, make ideas stick, and engender feelings that can influence buying decisions.
Applying storytelling to hedge funds
Clearly, there’s a compelling case for using stories in marketing and advertising. But there’s a catch: marketing abstract investment concepts is very different from promoting retail products like toothpaste, beer, automobiles, or even banking services. Accordingly, many techniques used in TV commercials, like humorous consumer vignettes, won’t cut it in the alternative investment marketplace.
The good news is that effective stories for marketing investments can be created with some of the same basic building blocks as the stories found in novels and movies. Two of the most relevant of these building blocks are theme and plotline. Perhaps not “boy meets girl,” but something more like “asset manager finds market anomaly.”
Your story’s theme
In a movie, the theme might be a lofty topic such as justice, loyalty or romance. In an investment presentation, the theme should be relevant to your fund and potential investors. For example, it might concern issues such as: the needs of particular types of investors (whether institutional or high-net-worth); the genesis of your fund; a provocative contrarian philosophy of investing; or some other topic that can help differentiate you and your fund from others and maybe also establish you as a “thinker.”
This is probably the most important—and most neglected—aspect of creating an effective marketing story: Your storyline should unfold in a linear, connected fashion from one point to the next just like in a traditional novel or movie script. For example:
- A page in a pitch book talks about a particular need that many investors have (such as earning absolute rather than relative returns, or needing returns that match potential liabilities, etc.)…
- Then the next page reveals that the fund manager has uncovered a structural advantage in a certain market that presents an opportunity to meet that particular investor need…
- And that’s followed by a succession of pages telling more and more about the method of investing the manager has developed to capitalize on that opportunity, and so on.
You get the idea. Each successive point in the presentation picks up and continues the story from the previous point The key drivers here are connection and forward progress. All of this may sound obvious, and yet…
Too many presentations are information-driven
Most of the pitch books I see don’t tell any kind of a linear story. I’m sure you’ve seen these books, too. Rather than move the previous topic forward, they jump around to discuss different discrete topics from page to page. And each page typically contains a succession of bullet points that also jump around and often overlap bullet points on some of the other pages. Instead of telling a story, these books are merely presenting information.
Information doesn’t typically make much of an impression or “engage” the way a good story does. To the contrary, it makes the reader work hard trying to connect all the key points in some sort of organized way. (Not the job you want to burden your prospect with.) Nor does it tend to “stick” in the reader’s memory very long.
That’s not to say that pure information can’t be useful—but only when your prospect is already intrigued by your story. So, let’s say you finish your core story in about 10 to 15 pages. You can follow it with pages of information that investors (particularly institutional investors) want to see, such as performance analytics, infrastructure, service providers, performance, and so on.
The right information can add credibility to your story, but it’s no substitute.
One size does not fit all
The form your story takes should be organic to your fund. Even so, many managers base their presentation on a general template (you know: “pedigree, philosophy, process,” etc.) because a template makes creating a presentation or pitch book easier and less time-consuming. But templates invariably result in discrete pages of information-based content that can’t compete with the impact of a good yarn.