Inbound marketing for investment managers is an established and highly effective strategy for building a consistent, strong pipeline of qualified leads.
While it is a seductive strategy, without proper education and (if necessary) assistance, inbound contains numerous pitfalls that can easily sabotage the strategy, leaving marketing executives and management teams alike frustrated and ultimately disinclined to pursue inbound marketing further.
In Part I, I created a fictional asset management firm, DQ Capital, and traced their journey through what was ultimately an unsuccessful content marketing campaign. Despite good instincts and a reasonable effort, their asset management content marketing campaign was doomed for a number of reasons, none of which DQ Capital could have been expected to foresee on their own.
What could our little asset management firm have done to start things off on the right foot and ultimately be successful?
DQ Capital is an institutional asset management firm with 3 portfolio managers, (one of whom doubles as the sales and marketing director), one sales and marketing associate, 2 investment analysts, a trader, and a compliance / office manager. They have a 10-year track record, 10 institutional clients, and $2.5 billion in AUM…. Their performance has been in the top quartile in 8 of the past 12 quarters, and top decile 6 times. The fund has generated positive returns since inception…
In terms of its size and resources, DQ Capital has more than enough to successfully undertake and succeed with an inbound marketing campaign, but often portfolio managers fall into the trap of believing that their performance is enough to win them new business; in essence, believing that performance is the most important thing.
It is not.
Inarguably, solid long-term performance, all else being equal, makes it easier to sell prospects on your value proposition. However, the key here is all else being equal. Every manager I’ve ever spoken with can point to a firm with worse numbers but better business performance. So there must be something else that rivals performance in importance.
In my view, it is the sales and marketing effort.
The partners all agree that their current AUM does not reflect the fund’s long-term performance…The firm’s sales & marketing team has been studiously performing all of the marketing tasks that are standard for the investment management industry…
Investment management is a brutally competitive business, which makes differentiation an absolutely vital key to long-term success. However, I do appreciate the business value in doing what everybody else is doing when navigating conservative industries, such as investment management. Simply put, it offers a measure of reassurance to skeptical clients and prospects that a firm knows what it's doing and is in step with industry standards.
But doing nothing more than keeping up with the Joneses makes it impossible for an investment management firm to set itself apart from the competition.
... [I]t is becoming clear that letting their performance speak for itself hasn’t yielded the results it should. It is also obvious that their existing marketing effort has barely moved the needle over the past few years…
Most firms reach a similar conclusion at some point. What often follows, unfortunately, is the pursuit of a strategy that forward-thinking firms have been exploiting for years:
They one day get a call from a writer who makes a convincing case for a new website and revamped messaging. Four months later, the new site is up, the new messaging intact. After another three months, the needle remains stuck, as the number of visitors to the site is small, and none have converted to actual sales leads, that they know of.
A modern, professional website is no longer a point of differentiation – it is a basic cost of doing business, no more interesting than printing up business cards or having a pitch book. A new website will typically receive a bump in traffic upon launch (assuming the firm promotes it).
However, without the consistent addition of useful content, visitors have no reason to return. It gets old fast.
Importantly, the firm should have undertaken a full-scale marketing review, in which the messaging, sales, and marketing distribution strategy were reevaluated. Hiring a marketing firm to offer an impartial, objective analysis of the overall sales and marketing effort would have been a thoughtful, confident move at this juncture.
Wondering how they can better leverage their website as a marketing tool, they do some online research and become intrigued by the idea of blogging…
Many firms start with an acknowledgement that creating content makes sense, and that blogging seems like it could be a good way to do so regularly. The team at DQ Capital has the right instincts here – they are open-minded enough to give their marketing team an opportunity to see how much they can effect meaningful change in the firm’s AUM.
So the firm hires their old website developer to add a blogging module to their site, and the portfolio managers alternate writing weekly blog posts about the market, investing generally, current events affecting the portfolio, long-form discussions of their investment philosophy and process…
Again, their instincts are right here, but there are several additional steps the PMs at DQ Capital neglected:
- When they initially launched their new site, their marketing review should have uncovered the blogging issue. And even if it didn’t, the writer and/or website design firm should have recommended that a blog module, even if inactive, should have been added for future need. This highlights the importance of vendor screening and ensuring vendors understand your industry sufficiently well to offer the right advice and strategy.
- They did not put together buyer personas to guide their blogging efforts. Had they done so, they would have understood that their blogs were firm-centric, rather than persona-centric. In essence, they were writing about themselves and their business, not about ways their clients and prospects can solve their most pressing issues, roadblocks, and problems. Inbound marketing for investment managers is mostly about being helpful, not promotional.
- At least initially, one post a week may not have been enough. When the question of, “How often should I blog,” comes up, the best answer is, “As often as you want to be found.” An aggressive ramp-up in the early stages of an inbound marketing strategy may require committing to a post-a-day, or a post-every-other-day strategy.
They check their analytics and see that each post is only getting 3-4 hits, if any at all. And after 6 weeks or so, quarter end rolls around and the PMs become preoccupied with [quarter-end tasks]... Unsurprisingly, the blogging effort loses its momentum... because they just aren’t seeing the ROI for the time invested.
This is the root of the fear most investment managers have about inbound marketing specifically, and content marketing more generally: what if we throw our party and nobody shows up?
Sticking with the party metaphor: Would you throw a party without sending invitations?
DQ Capital did not promote its blog on social media (LinkedIn, Google+, Twitter…even Facebook); in fact, the firm has no presence on social media at all, which would have been revealed in the marketing review.
They also neglected to utilize their email list, either at the outset (to inform their clients and prospects about the new initiative) or on an ongoing basis (to provide alerts about new postings).
This is the most common reason why 90% of all business blogs fail: infrequent updates and unilaterally terminating the discussion. DQ Capital blogged once a week for 6 weeks, had zero promotion, and expected meaningful ROI? That’s a fundamentally flawed understanding of how content marketing actually works. It is a long game.
So for another three months the blog lies dormant. Hoping to jump start their effort, the firm hires the freelance writer who consulted on their new website content and messaging a while back. But after a month or two, the principals decide his work simply didn’t ring true and wasn’t reflective of the firm’s thinking. They terminate the relationship.
Because DQ Capital tired of the content creation effort, they tried to farm it out to their freelance writer. It is a strategy that can work quite well, provided that the relationship is less “vendor-client” and more of a partnership. The writer isn’t sitting in portfolio meetings or strategy sessions. His desk isn't around the corner from the PMs. He simply doesn’t have his finger on the pulse of the firm, which means that the writing will (initially, at least) lack some of the pointed insight that may be required.
Taking what the writer composed, then working through it in a collaborative fashion would have been a much thoughtful strategy, and very likely would have met with success, rather than with frustration.
Not to be overlooked, what if over the course of those 6 weeks one of their few regular readers was a consultant with whom they wanted to do business? What if this person really enjoyed what they had to say? DQ Capital, by virtue of their soft commitment and/or poor understanding of what constitutes a successful inbound marketing strategy, simply stopped writing and alienated one of their few fans. This person's trust has now been lost forever, and DQ Capital damaged their professional reputation in the process.
So now, more than a year has passed and all of DQ Capital’s investments in their new marketing strategy seem to have been an utter failure. So they abandon the blog, the routine website updates (figuring nobody’s looking anyway), and go back to “what’s worked for them in the past.”
And what’s “worked for them in the past” hasn’t worked all that well.
If you are interested in learning more about what constitutes a professional inbound marketing effort, click below: