How your brain sees type

Ever notice that the tops of capital Os are often slightly higher than other capital letters? Or that the bottom points of Vs are usually lower?

Typographers have known all along what research psychologists have begun revealing about our minds—that the brain has its own idea of what’s correct, despite what sound math, statistics, or geometry might say otherwise.

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For example, if an “O” is drawn to the same height as other capital letters, we think it’s too small. So type designers incorporate “overshoot” into letters with rounded shapes, to appeal to the brain’s sense of proportion.

It’s all in the first installment of a blog series on typeface mechanics by Tobias Frere-Jones, designer of Gotham and many other typefaces.

The truth about podcasts

Are podcasts still a thing?

This cheap and easy communications channel was suddenly hot again last year, but it never really took off among asset managers.

The podcast hype has since cooled, but that doesn’t mean that podcasts are over—or that marketers should ignore them. The New York Times’s Farhad Manjoo is still bullish on podcasts:

“Don’t call podcasting a bubble or a bust. Instead, it is that rarest thing in the technology industry: a slow, steady and unrelentingly persistent digital tortoise that could eventually — but who really knows? — slay the analog behemoths in its path.”

We're bullish too, for the right firm and in the right situation.

Unlike videos, podcasts can be produced quickly, with free technology, inexpensive equipment, and little fanfare. For example, it’s not an unreasonable goal to publish a market commentary podcast on the last day of the quarter—something wholesalers and internals we talk to would love to have.

Podcasts fill a niche no other communications channel can occupy. The human voice is personal and revealing in a way that videos are not. And it excels at stories. For some storytelling experts, it’s better than text.

Brands matter, even for asset managers

Yes, even in wealth advisory, it pays to have a well-defined brand.

That’s the conclusion of Five Keys to Consistent Success in Wealth Management, a study based on data from over 200 global wealth advisory firms by The Boston Consulting Group. “A Differentiated Advisory Offering” was one of just five attributes separating winners from also-rans.

As the study’s co-author Bruce Holley said in a follow-up interview with Financial Planning, “”It is increasingly more difficult [for clients] to differentiate between a trust, a bank and a brokerage firm… You want them to make a decision [to work with you], to enjoy the experience of working with you and then to recommend you to others. That’s the economic power of a brand.”

Instead, BCG finds that most wealth advisories are focused on brand awareness–not on creating a differentiated brand, and then living up to that brand promise.

How much money is at stake? BCG found that wealth managers with differentiated brands–its top performers–enjoy nearly 50% market share of all advisory assets under management.

Reaching the wealthy Under-50s

While working on business practice management program we’re creating for a NYC-based asset manager, we rediscovered this year-old study by Cisco IBSG. Money quote:

Wealthy Under-50s have different needs and interaction preferences due to their higher use of—and comfort with—technology. And among all customer segments, they are the most interested in the kinds of new services that will drive the next generation of wealth management.

It attracted little notice in the blogosphere except for a contrarian post from Bob Clark, who’s also a columnist for Investment Advisor. Ignore this demanding, restless segment, says Clark, and focus on clients over age 50—they’re calmer, more likely to listen to you, less likely to leave you.

One container holds PCs. The rest are smartphones.

One container holds PCs. The rest are smartphones.

And it may be that the this generation of high- and ultra-high-net-worth clients, once it turns 50, will suddenly become docile, unquestioning, and otherwise well-behaved. But it’s a separate question whether they’ll change their habits and preferences for communicating.

There’s lots of reason to believe they won’t. The Cisco study is just a droplet in the encroaching tide of evidence that we’re undergoing huge changes in how we interact. Anyone still doubting where world is headed just needs to absorb one fact: In 2011, for the first time, more smartphones shipped than PCs.

The devices on which we access the Internet will only get more portable and more embedded in our day-to-day lives. Which means that social apps, video calling, and other web and IP-enabled communications will also become more embedded in our lives. Including the way we communicate with investment managers and advisors.

Bringing us back to the $9.8 trillion (as of June 2010) sitting with the Wealthy Under-50s in North America. With every passing month, the money you manage will increasingly be held by people who want to communicate with you differently from how you’re doing it today. As Wayne Gretzky said, are you skating to where the puck is now, or where it's going to be?