The investment management industry is undoubtedly one of the worst offenders in terms of failing to speak to their clients clearly and concisely. As communicators for the industry, marketers are not innocent in this regard.
How have we come to this?
Quite often, market commentators believe that the use of complex terminology conveys the writer's (perceived) intelligence. There is the notion that technical jargon and legalese would give investors more comfort that their assets are being managed by someone who can regurgitate pages from an investment handbook - and present it as portfolio insights.
Of course, other than writers' fear of sounding simplistic, we have to acknowledge that the industry has its fair number of challenges which have aided and abetted the art of communication obfuscation. Increasingly onerous regulatory requirements have driven communication pieces ever longer, with disclaimers claiming pages of their own.
And, to be fair to the investment industry: the inability to use clear language is a seemingly terminal weakness of the entire corporate world. The former Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway has devoted reams of newspaper columns to fighting the growth of - what she elegantly termed - 'corporate guff'.
This is the phenomenon of using needless jargon and made-up business terms to describe something that there is already a perfectly straightforward term for. (Sadly, she also detailed how she lost her 25-year old battle in this arena: https://www.ft.com/content/86ab5c9c-2498-48d1-aba3-b554d0f0dbec)
Can we do better?
As marketers, we need to set better standards for communicating with our client base. Far from talking down to people, we need to focus on speaking in plain language, explaining a story clearly, without clouding it in technical terms to make it sound more intelligent.
Contrary to what investment professionals believe, research* has shown that the use of complex language does not contribute to conveying someone's intelligence - it does the opposite, in fact.
While it may appear to be a legitimate reason, we should also stop using compliance and legal requirements as a handy scapegoat for using investment jargon. It is possible to write in plain language - even about technical investments and performance - while staying within the compliance parameters.
How can we do it?
Here are some practical pointers for improving the way we communicate as marketeers.
Know the audience
An important starting point to communicating more effectively is to know the audience you are speaking to - whether it be institutional, retail or consumers. However, this should only inform your understanding of the audience's expected level of knowledge on the subject - it is still no excuse to pepper an institutionally focused white paper with jargon.
Know the subject
This is arguably easier said than done, but this does not mean you need to complete three CFA levels. Learning about your business' products, as well as keeping yourself informed of the basic market and industry information, already go some way towards helping you tell a better story - devoid of jargon - about what you are aiming to promote.
Good relations with the investment and sales teams is crucial for marketing campaigns with the most impact on the relevant audience. This helps with briefing processes, and it is useful when other stakeholders understand your world and priorities. E.g. the compliance team might be able to help you in terms of content when they know why social media is a priority for the marketing team, and what you need for this purpose.
Ask the questions
Don't be afraid to ask questions - about a brief or strategy - when you don't understand. If information is not clear to you, there is a good chance that other people will have questions about it too. It is possible to improve the language in your organisation, though we appreciate that this will not happen overnight. It is up to marketers to continuously question the efficacy of language for the relevant audience, bearing in mind that our marketing is only effective if our audience engages with our materials in a meaningful way, that should lead to increased sales.