A Tailor-Made vs. Template Website: Why Quality Matters Most for Private Equity Websites

By MVP Marketing + Design | October 9, 2018

Earlier this year, a principal of a prominent private equity firm that manages several billion in funds and with whom we were engaged in active discussions about a new and responsive website threw us an interesting curve just prior to concluding our discussions: “While we’re confident that you guys are the firm to go with, our CFO thinks a private equity websites should cost us no more than $10,000.” Because they had set their sights on the likes of custom websites we’ve designed for such firms as Mason Wells (Milwaukee), Keystone Capital (Chicago) and Cortec Group (New York), I took a deep breath, looked at my Digital Creative Director, Clement, who responded by saying to our Client “so what exactly do you have in mind?” Our prospect’s reply was not exactly what we expected: “Look, I want to have a site similar to the firms we like and those you identified in your competitive review; you guys do great work but if it’s going to cost us at least twice as much as what my CFO is expecting is there any way you can help me justify it?”

While MVP lives and breathes branding and design, we recognize that the benefits of a professionally designed custom website might not be self-evident to some internal stakeholders who may view a website as a more of a marketing expense than a prudent investment in their private equity firm’s (or in the case of their portfolio companies’) future valuation.

Putting on our thinking caps and true to our own “Most Valuable Partner” brand positioning, we replied “We’re on it and will get back to you by your board meeting”—and so we did.

We began by asking ourselves “What’s the one question that we’ve heard most often when discussing the website and brand marketing objectives of the private equity, M&A and Mezzanine capital providers we worked with over the last few years?” Turns out that for the subset of principals we’ve interviewed (among the more than 1,700 other North American Middle Market private equity firms that Pitchbook accounts for), the response we’ve heard most often was to “be different.”

That said, many of our clients recognize that given today’s highly competitive private equity marketplace, it’s not just about being different, it’s about making a difference. How could we justify asking clients to a pay premium for a high-quality custom designed and developed website when a template alternative might just make the grade in the minds of some of our more frugal firms.

Looking within, we recalled the oft-quoted Louis Sullivan maxim that “form follows function.” As (web) architects ourselves, we recognized that when PE firms strive to connect with management teams, intermediaries and limited partners, and differentiate themselves from others, compromising on content, user flow and functionality to satisfy predetermined template requirements is hardly the fulfillment of that time-tested paradigm.

Likewise, to dismiss the often-heard argument that most private investment firm sites are not lead engines, we’d posit that just because you’ve haven’t generated well-qualified leads in the past, doesn’t imply that it can’t happen in the future. Moreover, your website is the first impression a client will have of your firm and the old adage “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” couldn’t be more apt. Simply stated, after you’ve left the boardroom, your site should remain a potent visual and verbal reminder of what your firm stands for and why it exists.

What’s the rationale for a tailor-made, content management system (CMS), responsive website in comparison to an off-the-shelf, low-cost, template alternative? We think the question can be addressed from two perspectives: The first, which gets to the heart of business valuation, views the website as an investment in or proxy for your brand and not just a marketing expenditure. The second, which elaborates on the value of perfecting user experience, addresses the pros and cons of customized website design and development vs. template alternatives. While the choice in ultimately yours, we believe the following evidence will help you make the right decision in favor of your Private Equity, M&A or Leveraged Finance firm.


From a Brand Investment Perspective

Your private equity brand is unique to your firm and all communication assets should reflect its core identity, mission, vision and values. If properly conceived and articulated, your website, effectively the personification of your brand, should work 24 x 7 every day of the year to inform internal and external stakeholders about your value proposition and guide users to follow your online queues and calls-to-action. Simply stated, in the battle between branding and budget, we feel the former is worth fighting for—and here’s why.

Many of our private equity firm clients have told us that when the competition is close, and they’re down to the wire, their website, as an extension of their brand, can often act as either a deal-maker or a deal-breaker when management teams are comparing two well-qualified firms and comparable offers. Thus, when making your pitch to prospective portfolio company management teams, how can they trust that you’d be a good steward of their brand, if you do not invest in yours?

Here at MVP, we believe that Branding is Invaluable℠ and walk the talk in our marketing strategy, brand design and technology efforts. For those needing to make the case for a more professional and aspirational site in tune with company values, we’re confident that the following references will assist you in justifying such expenditure as an investment in your brand—an intangible. And as recent research in the Forbes Marketing Accountability Study (2017) indicates, intangibles can account for as much as 10% of Enterprise Value (EV) in B2B businesses.

We invite you to draw on the following links when pitching your team on the better branded website argument:

  • Marketing Week states that successful B2B Marketing is more about emotive than rational or cognitive messaging. Learn how you might convince more thrifty team members to better appreciate the value of a distinctive, custom crafted site over a more generic approach even if it means investing a few more dollars.
  • The following B2B Brand Statistics can also help you make the case for M&A, Private Capital or Private Equity websites that are more in tune with your brand even if it takes more budget:
    1. It takes an average of 5-7 brand impressions before someone will remember your brand. (Action Card)
    2. 64% of customers cite shared values as the main reason they have a relationship with a brand. (Harvard Business Review)
    3. B2B brands that connect with their buyers on an emotional level earn twice the impact over marketers that are still trying to sell business or functional value. (LinkedIn)
    4. Versus traditional messaging, “professional, social, and emotional benefits,” marketing generates a 42.6% lift in perceived brand benefits, as research from the Corporate Executive Board Company and its affiliate (CEB) in cooperation with Google reports
    5. B2B decision makers consider the brand a central (rather than marginal) element of a supplier’s value proposition. (Forbes)
    6. B2B customers are more than twice as likely to consider a brand that shows personal value over business value, because they perceive little difference in the business value between suppliers. (Marketing Week)
  • And consider what your fellow B2B marketers are saying about the value of branding:
    1. 84% of B2B marketers said brand awareness is their top goal. (CMI)
    2. Only 54% of businesses have a B2B brand program in place for measuring brand perceptions. (B2B International)
    3. 77% of B2B marketing leaders say branding is critical to growth. (Circle Research)
    4. Color (and strong branding) increases brand recognition by up to 80%. (University of Loyola)

From a Website Design and Development Perspective

Assuming you’ve got the partners sold on the value of making your intangible brand tangible, it’s time to consider the ways in which a tailor-made website can make a difference in your marketing efforts. Presenting your brand image, content and calls-to-action in a fast, fluid and engaging manner can truly justify the added investment over lower-cost generic alternatives provided you know the back-story.

Accordingly, take two steps back and ask yourselves what marketing goals and objectives you want your website to achieve. The answer will likely be threefold: First, from a marketing perspective to better inform prospects of your business and brand positioning. Second, to design a site that is visually engaging and verbally differentiated from the myriad of others in the market. And third, to employ the best user experience and technology techniques available to better engage audiences in the most compelling and efficient manner possible.

Therefore, when choosing between tailor-made and template based alternatives, we offer the following guideposts, recognizing that the choice is yours.


Template-Based, Open Source Websites: Affordable but caution is advised 

  • Typically employed by smaller website design firm and PR agencies that outsource design to third party web designers and overseas development shops, such sites whether built on either the Open Source WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla! platforms, not to mention Cloud-based solutions from such vendors as SquareSpace, Wix and Weebly, employ predefined themed templates, which are sold as professional designs when, in fact, only color or content (copy, photography and videography) change while site features are limited to predetermined forms and functionality. For example, imagine that of the three template solutions proposed to you by your agency, you like one best, but prefer that its call-to-action buttons or content frame edges be rounded rather than rectangular. However, under template restrictions this is usually not possible so understanding design limitations in advance of your project is advised.
  • The Backend administrative area, which is typically premised on a “what you see is what you get” approach is either limited to predetermined “out of the box” functionality or requires prior knowledge of HTML coding incorporating the “Page Builder” plug-in. Needless to say, that it would be very easy to “break” your site.
  • While highly affordable, the use of extensive plug-ins, such as those used for portfolio, team and news features, and which operate by making calls to the web, mean slower load times and also pose additional security risks if not maintained properly and regularly at added expense.
  • Finally, template designed sites have limited flexibility to make future design and functionality changes, which are often costly, e.g., increasing the number of dropdown menu items or adding CRM functionality are but a few examples:


.NET CMS Websites: Secure, Slow to Load and Best Suited for Related Applications

  • While generally more secure due to their Microsoft provenance, these sites are also slow to load (sometimes two to three seconds) due to their heavier .NET code footprint. Such slower load times are not to be minimized when it comes to impatient dealmakers of whom we’ve know more than a few, not to mention the load-time penalties that Google imposes on such laggards, i.e., slow-load sites rank lower than high-performing “MVPs,” pardon the expression
  • Using a .NET framework means that these sites are best suited to support the integration of related Microsoft apps hosted on the same server. Thus, unless your private equity, M&A, or Mezzanine Capital firm is devoted to using a .NET CRM system such as Microsoft Dynamics, there is little need to employ this code framework, especially with the advent of DealCloud, which integrates with Open Source as well as .NET websites.
  • Due to their coding complexity, .NET sites typically offer end-users predetermined templates with limited design and functionality restrictions that have been addressed above.
  • To reduce implementation costs, website design firms that specialize in such sites offer industry-specific lower cost prepackaged solutions with limited flexibility; however, should you choose to “break” or even modify the design template, such alterations are either not possible or costly to implement
  • Finally, most .NET sites are sold on the basis of monthly retainer fees. Thus, the client “rents” but does not own their site. As a result, such sites have a longer lifetime cost of ownership than would an Open Source website whether template or custom.


Tailor-made Open Source Websites, Designed with Your Brand and Business in Mind

  • Unlike Open Source or .NET template sites, there are a number of website design firms capable of offering tailor-made sites that can be customized according to your business, marketing and branding objectives. We at MVP are very fond of the custom-tailored WordPress approach as opposed to Drupal, because of its flexibility, support, and end user ease of use, however, either Open Source Content Management System (CMS) software can be applied, assuming a competent and well-trained design and website development team.
  • Tailor-made sites are those whose site architecture is built upon unique content and do not require cutting copy and compressing content into predetermined forms. Further, to maximize desktop, mobile and cross browser/device compatibility, tailor-made sites not only outperform templates, but offer you and your marketing team a better means of focusing on and catering to the needs of your firm’s key personas, e.g., management teams, intermediaries, and investment bankers.
  • Sites that are customized also make it easier to integrate complex content changes, such as adding or deleting menu items as well as pages, copy, images, videos, etc., with no prior knowledge of HTML programming required by your internal support staff.
  • Tailor-made sites offer faster browser load times than templates employing plug-ins. For example, at MVP we typically incorporate three to five key plugins versus the 35 to 50 or more we’ve seen from most templates. Reducing plug-in count not only reduces site load times to under a second from the typical two to three second template times we’ve observed but minimize security risks in the event that web extensions are not maintained.
  • Last, distinctive tailor-made sites like the ones we craft at MVP do not utilize “out of the box” and vulnerable back end site administration tools, but those designed for administrative ease of use (an MVP specialty); in fact, we rarely if ever hear from our clients when it comes to technical support for this very reason. So be alert and ask to “look under the hood” when your agency or design firm shows you their website portfolio.

MVP expects our holistic brand-to-web approach to serve as a useful example of why tailor-made websites are superior to template themed alternatives for M&A, sub-debt and private equity websites. Through our own three-pillar MVP TeamMate℠ methodology, which synthesizes Branding, UX/Design/Development and SEO best practices and our 20 years of related private capital marketing and communications experience, we’re confident that we should be on your short list when it comes to crafting a distinctive, tailor-made site that functions as well as it looks.

And in the end, our prospective PE firm partner succeeded in convincing his cost-conscious CFO to make us their “most valuable partner.” It seems that for this firm, in the debate between a tailor-made vs. template-driven website, quality really did matter most.

By Dick Weinrib with contributions from Clement Vaccaro and Jeff Leslie.

For more information, please contact us at, or visit our contact page.


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