In a digitally wired world, having a website that is attractive, dynamic and compelling is essential. After all, it is the hub of a firm’s online presence where as much as 80 percent of the marketing and sales cycle takes place. In an industry that controls trillions of dollars in investor assets, there is no place for a sub-par website. Unfortunately, boutique asset managers are often at a competitive disadvantage compared to bigger firms with massive resources. Many say, “Let’s get it done quickly so it’s functional by launch.” It’s often like a glorified online brochure, with little ability to support an effective sales process.
Fortunately, it doesn’t require massive resources to create a high-quality website that will attract advisers and investors and move them through the sales funnel. Ultimus’ Marketing Director, Lora Lindquist, sat down and spoke with Dan Sondhelm, CEO of Sondhelm Partners, for his insight on key website features that can enhance visitors’ experience to support attracting and retaining investors. They also discuss the most cost-effective ways firms can increase the value of their websites as resources for their clients and lead generators for their firms.
Lora: You mentioned that firms need to focus on certain key website features that will improve user engagement. What are they and which are most important?
Dan: Well, the key features can be prioritized so that resources and effort can be applied incrementally if need be. It starts with the website’s home page, which is the gateway into the firm. The look and feel of the home page is the basis of impressions formed within milliseconds and it can be the determining factor whether a visitor stays or leaves. Within seconds, your visitors should be able to learn how you, as an asset manager and investment adviser, can solve their problem and how you are different than other firms. To that end, it should be customized to reflect a firm’s unique culture and style with a professional overtone. But, if it takes more than eight seconds to get that across, visitors will leave.
The key to home page design today is simplicity and elegance with a focus on branding and functionality. Home pages that appear cluttered and text-heavy have little appeal, making it difficult for users to find what they need.
Lora: I definitely agree that less text and easier navigation will help visitors find the information they need. What else can asset managers do on the home page to achieve this?
Dan: Yes, the home page is critical for enabling visitors to quickly access the information they need to conduct their due diligence. Minimal text framed by callout boxes can more quickly guide users to the resources firms want to highlight, such as their funds, market commentaries, educational insights, whitepapers and news coverage. There should be links to downloadable fact sheets, shareholder reports and thought leadership pieces written by the portfolio managers.
The bottom line is your home page navigation should make it easier for users to get the full story.
Lora: What key aspects of the story should firms highlight on their website?
Dan: While advisers and institutional investors are most interested in your products, they also want to know how your investment process is different than the others, so it is important to have a compelling investment story to tell. Separating the “Investment Process” section can make a great impact. The section should show how the process is disciplined and repeatable, how your research and analysis is unique and more effective than your competition, and what unique expertise your portfolio managers bring to the process.
Lora: You also mentioned the significance of highlighting timely content such as commentaries, insights, whitepapers and news coverage. That sounds challenging for time-strapped firms. Why is that important for them?
Dan: The only thing that distinguishes a great website from a static, digital brochure is fresh, compelling content. That’s the primary reason people go to websites and, each time they visit, they want to see and learn something new.
A high quality website should be dynamic. Your home page should highlight new content with rotating background images or text crawlers that point to new Insights, blog posts, whitepapers or media coverage of your firm. It’s what keeps users on your website and keeps them coming back.
It is a commitment for a firm to produce timely content internally but you can also outsource someone to help. You can start off small. Start by writing one insight article per quarter then increase the frequency to monthly. Try to place some of those articles in a news publication read by financial advisers. Post the articles in the appropriate pages on your website for fresh content your visitors can see. Content can also be used as fodder for email marketing to drive advisers and investors to your website. But that’s another story.
Lora: Aside from the home page, having a compelling story to tell, and a commitment to timely content, what additional feature would you say is essential?
Dan: An attractive website with compelling content attracts visitors and keeps them coming back; but if you don’t know who they are or what they’re doing when they visit your site, it’s of very little value to you.
Digital marketing tools today enable you to harness data analytics that provide a 360-degree view into your website, social media sites and email marketing efforts, so you know who is visiting, how they are engaging with you, and their level of interest. This information can be used to send targeted email campaigns and other advanced digital strategies, and wholesaler follow-up with information tailored to visitor interests. Salespeople will possess more information about visitors and will have good indicators when a prospect is ready to buy.
On the flip side, data analytics can tell you when your existing clients are disengaging from your content, which could be a sign they are ready to move on. Having that kind of insight enables firms to be more proactive in their client retention efforts.
Lora: In your experience, what kind of investment should firms expect to make to enhance the value of their websites?
Dan: This can vary widely, depending on the skill set of the person or firm you hire. You can have your nephew build your website for a few hundred dollars or a neighbor for a few thousand. While these lower cost options will allow you to check off the box so you have a functional website at launch, it probably won’t do much to add to your ability to attract and retain investors and support your sales team. I suggest selecting a firm that understands the financial services industry, is up-to-date on best practices for functionality and is familiar with ’40 Act regulations. This type of expertise will cost more but is worth it to have a site that reflects your firm’s quality and helps you attract new investors.
Considering how fierce the competition is among asset managers, it is absolutely vital for boutique firms to be able to showcase their value and communicate their story in the digital realm. While creating a dynamic, content-rich website is not a small investment, it is still the most cost-effective way to accomplish that. And, by adding the data analytics component, firms can increase their ROI substantially.
Dan Sondhelm is CEO of Sondhelm Partners, a holistic financial marketing and distribution firm dedicated to helping asset managers grow and retain a greater share of assets. To learn more about Sondhelm Partners and how they help asset managers with integrating their distribution, marketing and public relations efforts, please visit their website at https://sondhelmpartners.com/.
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