In a world of information overload, our panel tells us which asset-manager marketing campaigns they feel have won attention, before a broader discussion about marketing strategy.
Alan Chalmers (publisher, Funds Europe)
Caroline Espinal (head of marketing, Emea (ex-UK), Aberdeen Standard Investments)
Simon Hildrey (chief marketing officer, Liontrust)
Adam Laird (head of ETF strategy for northern Europe, Lyxor)
Diana Mackay (managing director of global distribution solutions, Broadridge Analytics Solutions Ltd)
Ben Mott (director and founder, Future Kings Limited)
Funds Europe – Which recent marketing successes by asset managers or broader financial services firms stand out to you?
Alan Chalmers, Funds Europe – There was a fantastic marketing campaign a couple of years ago by M&G Investments on the ski slopes of Europe. It was very successful in terms of brand awareness and was good because it targeted parents and younger people. M&G entered for the Funds Europe Marketing Campaign of the Year award, and virtually every asset manager that was involved in the judging said they had thought the campaign very successful and that it was an illustration of clever, slightly left-of-field thinking designed for very high impact.
Diana Mackay, Broadridge – M&G Investments has been trying to build consumer recognition, which clearly that campaign did. Some of the discretionary portfolio managers in Switzerland rather pooh-poohed it because they didn’t think it was appropriate to see asset management names on the side of trams and ski slopes, but what M&G were trying to do was absolutely right, and it worked from that point of view. It didn’t appeal to everybody, but that is inevitable.
The other one I would point to is Robeco. That firm has done some amazing campaigns recently. They have a ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ type of approach in their advertising and with all the collateral that goes with that. It matches very much with the style of products they’ve got and comes across as very authentic, appealing to a more sophisticated community of fund buyers.
One more to mention is Sycamore, a small French company now owned by Generali. They have quickly built amazing recognition and brand reputation, not just in France but elsewhere.
Caroline Espinal, Aberdeen Standard – With marketing there is always a question of budget and, therefore, who you target. With this in mind, some really successful campaigns I’ve seen included BNP Paribas Asset Management on social media and LinkedIn, where they promoted thought leadership. I doubt it cost much, but it was very efficient because it spoke with the right content to the right people.
Adam Laird, Lyxor – There are a lot more campaigns now around the theme of ESG. Some of the most interesting campaigns I have seen recently have focused on social engagement within the investment world. But there is a question over success with this theme, because although the industry is in a position where ESG is getting a lot of attention, ethical investing is still pretty small and has not been growing a great deal. It’s really difficult to equate assets with the amount of marketing spend that’s going into this.
Simon Hildrey, Liontrust – Sustainable investing is a very strong growth story. We acquired a sustainable investment team just over two years ago and we’ve seen a huge amount of traction. Since we’ve gone to market with it, the momentum has got behind sustainable investing. There is still more education to be done among intermediaries and there is a job for asset managers to differentiate themselves as more firms are starting to promote ESG.
Mackay – In our research among distributors, the one firm that always comes to the top of our question on unprompted advertising awareness is Artemis. The Artemis ‘profit hunter’ campaign is just so memorable to people, at least in the UK. It is a long-term campaign. For years and years, they’ve built this ‘profit hunter’ story and it resonates with people because it is so different from anything else that other firms are doing.
Ben Mott, Future Kings – Artemis is a name that has cropped up in our office when we talk about good campaigns, too. ‘Profit hunter’ is memorable and its prime quality is consistency: they say the same thing over and over again and it always links back to what the brand is about. The campaign is not just a creative idea for the sake of it, which is what a lot of companies do with their marketing.
Hildrey – On one level, a campaign is about creating awareness, but it goes further and is also about association and engagement. It is key for people to engage with you and understand what you’re trying to get across.
Mott – And with this, you have to ask the question: Is there is enough of a story to tell?
Hildrey – I agree about the success of having a distinct and consistent brand. We are striving for differentiation – especially as asset managers do not have tangible products – and having strong awareness and for people to understand what we are good at and what we stand for. The brand and messages will evolve but feel consistent to our clients and investors.
Mott – Absolutely. If you’re smart enough and you’ve got enough depth, you can tweak the message, tweak the creative elements, but still be consistent with your story.
Chalmers – It also depends on size and skills base. What we’ve seen is a change in the skills base in asset managers as they’ve become much bigger. About four or five years ago, Aberdeen had a fantastic campaign. It was a picture of a fish and they said, “If it doesn’t smell right, we won’t invest in it.” This theme carried through the whole campaign about who Aberdeen was.
But of course, the market changes. Today you will find factor investing and multi-asset investing that hinge around ‘solutions’. Marketing has become more about solutions than pure generic brand. Now, in some cases, you’re selling capability. It’s fine if you’ve got a single message – ESG is a good capability that you can market – but where you’ve got a broad church of products, it can be difficult balancing the brand with one the particular capability.
Espinal – Which is why values are important. We’re talking about companies, but it’s the same as with people: you want to know who the people are in front of you, you want to know who the company is.
Funds Europe – What are the most common mistakes made by asset managers in their marketing campaigns and overall communications?
Hildrey – There’s a big focus on content and engagement, getting people to really buy into what you are offering as a firm and into what you’re saying. People have to trust you and that trust will not come with just one advert. There’s so much more to marketing.
The challenge for us is how to target people when their attention span is so much shorter and they are being inundated with information. How do we target people with the information they want in the way that they want it? There are so many more routes now in which to get content to people. Is it PR or is it email? Is it social media posts, podcasts or video? Is it through advertising or paid-for content? There are so many more options for marketing, and these present great opportunities and challenges.
Mackay – Firms have to decide if they should focus the marketing budget on the company’s brand and particular skills, or on individual products.
Hildrey – You can do both. For example, you may choose to send emails to clients to get across specific fund messages, while using advertising to promote the brand.
Mott – Much depends on which door you are opening through which to attract people into the organisation. Brand is generally a door for people, such as corporate partners, who are looking for a long-term relationship. Whereas products may be something that piques interest, you’re not building relationships with them.
There’s a need for a clear segmentation of who exactly it is that you are talking to and taking the relevant bits of your story to them. That’s the classic approach. If that brand story is deep and powerful enough you’ve got more than enough to play with. But it’s about who you are talking to.
Espinal – Exactly, and there can be mistakes made in terms of targeting content at the right people. For example, take advertising investment performance. This used to happen more than it does now and it’s not something I like. Past performance is not a guide to future performance, so why would a firm use it when, by the time you build your campaign, that performance may have gone wrong. That would be a huge mistake.
Mott – We spent seven years building Legal & General’s brand with the idea of ‘Every Day Matters’, which is what drives the whole organisation. Every single time we created an ad for them, whether it was online or offline, the information they wanted to put in that ad was just mind-boggling.
Because of the complexity of your business, the temptation is to say everything that you can possibly try and say. That’s what was good about the M&G example, it was one word, one picture and just a tiny little sign-off.
Mackay – Asset managers have always traditionally spoken to intermediaries who are sophisticated and share a common investment language. But that world has now gone. This language is not suitable for engaging end consumers. Intermediaries actually want fund groups to focus more on end-consumer messaging because it drives business towards them. But there are still so many companies that don’t get it.
Mott – So if people know that, why aren’t they doing it? Do you think this is habitual? Is this behavioural?
Mackay – No. I may be totally wrong here, but in any business, it is easier to convert somebody who knows you and has bought from you before than it is to create a new customer. What asset managers really don’t want to do is spend enormous amounts of money educating the mass public. They have to spend their dollars carefully.
Mott – We have all agreed that one type of marketing mistake is a failure to stick to your guns and say the same thing. Yet this is something that I have seen across every sector that we work in. The person that you’re trying to target sees it once in the middle of a million other messages. We try and encourage our clients to say the same thing over and over and over again. Not literally the same thing; when it becomes a bit dry you can tweak it. But never underestimate the power of saying the same thing.
Mackay – How often do we think a business should rebrand?
Hildrey – I believe the focus and preference should be on evolving the brand rather than rebranding every few years. This comes back to the point we made about the success of brand consistency.
Mott – A business is people-driven more than it is business-driven. A business has been built on an idea or a product, never on the story behind it or the reason for why it exists.
What we’ll often do is go and tell that story. That story may mean the brand has to change more fundamentally, or to transform, but most of the time it’s about evolution and reflecting where a business has moved to over time. That can be every three years, or five or ten years. In our opinion it should never stop, branding never stops.
That scares most clients when we say that to them. You always get asked, “How long will this take and how much will it cost?” The honest answer to that is: “It never ends and it needs investment.’”
Laird – The number of big businesses which have totally changed their strategy and what they stand for in the last five years has really shocked me – the number of big companies out there who have shut down one way of business, who have pivoted, who have taken on technology, who have fired staff and really tried to keep up-to-date with the stuff that’s going on at the moment. These are exactly the sorts of times when people need to be out there and saying, “Is the small firm focused on two big faces, is that really what we are these days?”
Mott – There’s always a risk of cannibalising or losing existing customers if you take it too far. Even if a business pivots, it will still have a client base, it will still have some equity in the brand that it has used to get to this point. A responsible brand-development person would take a nod to that equity that’s been built and leverage it and use it in what it then does. The word ‘rebrand’ is slightly misleading. We hate the word ‘brand’ full stop, because it means so many things to different people. Rebrand suggests you’re throwing everything out and starting something new, whereas it is about evolving, refreshing, updating and modernising.
Espinal – It’s about refreshing. In mergers or acquisitions, you want to keep the elements that you have in common with each other as businesses. You don’t change everything. You keep what is strong.
Funds Europe – Is there a reticence by asset managers to use Facebook as a social marketing channel? If so, is this justified? More broadly, how important is social media for asset managers and what are the considerations for firms when establishing a social media strategy?
Hildrey – Social media is one distribution channel. Whether you’re going to use it and how you’re going to use it depends on who you’re trying to reach and the message you’re trying to get across to them.
For me, LinkedIn is very much B2B, so the tone will be different from what we do on Twitter and Facebook. The content we are distributing and how we are using it may vary between LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and client emails.
The strength of any channel now is about understanding who you’re reaching, what you’re trying to reach them with and what impact you want to achieve. I see social media as very important but it’s just one channel. It is about using all the marketing tools, including the traditional ones like advertising and PR.
Mott – And because they don’t understand it. We don’t think anyone truly understands that phrase ‘social media’, what it is and what it means. I would say you can’t compare Facebook to LinkedIn, you can’t compare Facebook to Twitter, you can’t compare Facebook to Instagram.
Hildrey – A number of asset managers like Liontrust are using both investment and non-financial content on social media. The approach we take, therefore, is different between the two. The non-financial content includes our community engagement, partnerships and sponsorship. The objective of this is to increase brand awareness, engagement and association with our partners and sponsorships. It comes back to the first point about there being so many different ways in which to market, you have to understand what you’re trying to achieve to know if you are being successful.
Laird – I agree with you, but I also don’t use Facebook. I don’t think that it works for us and I don’t think that for the majority of financial firms it’s right, because of the way that people are using it.
Espinal – All social media channels are a bit different. We can even talk about YouTube, where very often people are against it but if you do use it, then it’s with Google, and then you get better rankings on SEO.
Mott – That’s so true, with social media especially. Once you start a conversation, it doesn’t stop and making a commitment to that is a huge step. For those here who do use social channels, how have you set yourselves up internally for that?
Espinal – We have a social media team of around five people and additionally all of our local channel marketing managers have access to local channels and manage them. LinkedIn is a group channel, but with Twitter you have local channels that allow you to do different things.
It is very important to get the buy-in from distribution teams and from senior management, because they have the network, they have the trust, it’s not just the brand pushing on social media when it’s shared information that is commented on by senior people.
Hildrey – We’re different. Two out of the 12 people in our marketing team are focused on digital and a sub-team decides how content is distributed. We take an integrated approach where social media and PR are two important distribution channels but are part of our overall content strategy.
Laird – We do quite a lot on LinkedIn and we have some Twitter presence. We are also experimenting with content on YouTube at the moment, but we are keeping these channels separate and dealing with them in very different ways. We believe that when people are viewing video content, they’re doing it for a very different reason than whenever they’re thumbing through Twitter on the way home on the train.
Funds Europe – Does regulation inhibit asset management marketing campaigns and, if it does, how should firms manage that?
Laird – In some places it is very much so. In the UK and northern Europe, we don’t find regulation is too much of a problem, but there are a lot of other markets which require pre-approval for a lot of activities and things really don’t get through.
Espinal – It depends on the country. For example, in Belgium with the FSMA, you need to send everything to the regulator – even for your website. You can’t have a webpage approved without the regulator checking every single sentence. In some countries this is not the case, so you really need to know each local regulatory environment.
Mott – Regulation should be viewed as an aid, not a hindrance. We had a lot of it with Legal & General through those years. It strips away what you can and can’t do. It also forces you to be more organised in terms of your plan, from initial strategy and concept through to execution, because you know you’ve got to go through those regulatory gates at those certain points, it makes you much more process-led, and sometimes that can be good depending on the organisation and how organised and well-structured it is.
Mackay – Despite all the regulatory documents that asset managers have to produce, such as market prospectuses and the ‘key investor document’ (KID), the one document that fund selectors absolutely have to have and talk about all the time are fact sheets, which effectively are not regulated in the same way as KIDs.
If you look at fact sheets, some asset managers have been quite canny about how they limit the amount of regulatory wording on them. Fact sheets are the documents that most fund selectors go to and look for first and foremost. These are the critical documents from a marketing point of view.
Hildrey – If you look at the recent FCA study on communication, there’s a real desire from the FCA for us to communicate clearly with the end customer. There is a move towards supplying appropriate and tailored content for different audiences, and this is for me one of the most important developments for marketing in asset management.
Funds Europe – Does it make sense for asset managers to have sub-brands for distinct asset classes, for example in the case of active managers launching passive businesses?
Espinal – Yes and no. Yes, it makes sense to have two brands when you have different funds with different fees, because it can kill your other business. No, if you think about the story that lies behind another product. If you want to launch something new that is going to be there for the longer term, you want to benefit from your brand.
Laird – Lyxor is an asset manager with two parts to the business: an alternative investment side and an ETF business. So we have one brand but two distinctive parts to it.
Our imagery is slightly different, our campaigns are run differently and there are distinct links between the two, but we do keep them separate in some ways.
The fact that we’ve got two different ends of a barbell as a part of our company strategy, it doesn’t negatively impact us to have some differentiation between what people are getting from Lyxor as a brand. It’s about managing people’s understanding and expectations.
Mackay – BlackRock and iShares are an example of this, too, and there are groups like Amundi where there are two sides very neatly combined together. They are probably the two most similar organisations.
In the case of BlackRock and iShares, there is no doubt that iShares is cannibalising BlackRock’s active management business.
Hildrey – We have eight fund management teams, each with their own investment processes, and our sustainable investment team has its own particular approach. They’re looking for themes that are changing the world and then looking for companies to invest in that are benefiting from these transformational developments. They don’t take a negative screen-only approach, it’s a much more positive approach to do with picking companies that they think will drive and prosper from major trends that benefit society. We give the managers the environment to manage funds according to their processes within the umbrella of the business.
Laird – I think that relates to a real challenge that a lot of companies are facing at the moment where, for a long time, some made a point of saying they have the ability to invest wherever they like, but now that ESG has increased in importance they’re having to say they don’t buy gas stocks, for example, or firms with sweatshops in their supply chains.
It is something that could make it very difficult for a lot of companies to maintain their sense of identity when there are parts of a business operating differently.
Mott – Sub-brands are more relevant outside of asset management. If you go broader into financial services and look at the portfolio of brands under, for example, Aviva plc, they own brands that no one even knows are owned by Aviva. That for me is a traditional use of a sub-brand.
Sub-brand is also confusing because sub-brand suggests a direct connection to the parent brand, whereas actually you might be talking about a complete standalone.
Chalmers – In the wine trade, Hardy’s was a reasonably good Australian brand and had a glut of wine, tens of millions of bottles, that it sold on special offer in Tesco. The brand perception of Hardy’s moved from being a £7.99 brand, to a £4.99 brand. Suddenly it was perceived as a cheap, value brand just because it had put its wine on special offer. The firm took five years to build margin back in again.
The point is, we’ve seen this in the funds industry. MiFID II is an example. Firms in Europe have swallowed the cost of securities research, and so their clients in the US have said they’ll be damned if they’re going to pay for it when it’s free in Europe. So, the difficulty with your brand strategies is you need to be careful that introducing lower fees doesn’t actually damage the whole brand. Brand contagion and brand damage can happen so easily just by changing price points.
Funds Europe – How are marketing and sales demands currently affecting recruitment at asset management firms, and what kind of resources do firms need in their marketing departments?
Espinal – Distribution 2.0, which I recommend to everyone, is really interesting. It’s about data and technology, and now marketing and sales are working more and more together because marketing can finally bring something to the discussion with sales people, such as figures/data. We need those people and we need these technologies to have better CRM.
Laird – We have to be out there recruiting hipsters from coffee shops to run digital! In our business, we’re getting close to 20 people now and probably a third of us are from asset management and investment backgrounds and a third of us are from finance, but not necessarily investment. But another third are from more diverse areas – some who have done retail consumer marketing, some who have been in the tech sector beforehand.
Hildrey – Marketing departments are structured in different ways in different firms. At Liontrust, we are responsible for marketing and communications within our team, including PR, content and social media, so it is all integrated and we do not buy in services from elsewhere in the company. We’ve enhanced our content, digital and data resources in particular. We’ve also now got a studio so we can record videos and podcasts in-house. This enables us to increase the speed and extent of our communications to clients and investors.
Mott – The building of in-house teams is something happening in every sector we work across. It’s becoming more and more common. It’s probably about cost saving, it’s probably partly about control and consistency, there are probably a number of reasons why people do this and it probably varies across different teams.
We work a lot with start-up firms, in particular fintech start-ups, and I’d be worried about them stealing talent, because they have a very different way of attracting talent to the bigger, more established firms – and they are managing to do it.
Funds Europe – Looking forward, do you see the marketing of investment funds changing as new generations create or inherit wealth?
Espinal – It needs to be more digital, but millennials still want trustworthiness as part of a brand, and good values, which now seem even more important than ever. Millennials do not only look at performance and making money, they want a partner and they want to make a difference.
Hildrey – Marketing has been evolving and it will continue to evolve. Part of this is technology-driven and this has a number of effects. I believe it is too simplistic to talk about generations as homogeneous groups. People within any one generation are at different stages of wealth, of understanding and of engagement with savings and investment.
Mackay – If you’re looking at pensions – which is very complex and involves lifetime savings – then you’re going to want to talk to somebody and you’re going to want detailed advice. If you’re looking just to save for the next holiday, then you’ll open a robo-account and do it digitally.
Laird – Our products are used a lot more by younger investors, and passive investments are generally building blocks, so they tend to be intermediated. We’re probably a lot further down the road than a lot of the traditional passive managers have been.
At the end of the day, most people’s wants and needs from their money are the same.
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