Content. It’s the lifeblood of investment management marketing - only most in the industry don’t fully appreciate it yet.
The reason why content is so important is because it is the best way for managers, particularly emerging managers who are looking to break through, to establish clear differentiation. Traditionally, asset management firms look to their experience, investment process, and philosophy to serve as their main points of differentiation.
However, there are important reasons why these are no longer effective.
1. The Millennial Factor
Millennials expect content. They want information on demand. They want to conduct their own research without the interference or participation of gatekeepers. And they want relationships, not just business transactions.
All these point to the importance of content, especially given that millennials will be in positions of authority and part of the decision-making process much sooner rather than later.
A note on millennials (I wrote a longer post on the subject here):
I know that a lot of folks are tired of hearing about how much millennials are changing the workplace.
But to use a hackneyed metaphor, I'm sure buggy whip manufacturers were tired of hearing about "horseless carriages" in the late 19th century.
Here's the reality: if a portfolio manager walked into the office of a CEO of a company in which they were considering an investment, and the following conversation took place, the PM would walk out of the office, laughing:
PM: "So, what are you doing to remain competitive with your peers over the next 10 years?"
CEO: "Well, we've been pretty successful doing what we've always done, so I think we'll just stay the course."
What I'm saying here is that millennials are soon to be the largest cohort in the workforce. Ignoring their expectations and assuming they will conform, rather than transform, is foolish.
Everything we know, everything we learn about millennials tell us that they are going to radically transform many of the ways in which business is transacted in U.S. (See this really informative report on the subject from Deloitte)
If a firm is looking 10-20 years down the line (more on that in a moment), developing a long-term, thoughtful content marketing strategy is absolutely vital.
Trying to play catch up at the last minute with crappy "insta-content" won't cut it. Quality matters.
2. Experience is a poor differentiator.
Everyone has an MBA and/or CFA. Everyone worked at a large institution where they managed billions in assets. Everyone has “more than 20 years’ experience…”
These are less points of differentiation than the commonly-understood qualifications the industry demands.
3. You say it's unique. But is it really?
The process/philosophy angle is a difficult one to pull off as well. The problem here is that, at this stage of the game, there’s very little under the sun that’s truly new. By and large, everything is a variation on, or some combination of, tried-and-true methods.
OK, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that YOUR investment process and/or philosophy ARE truly different. If this is the case, it makes having a strong investment management marketing strategy and a clear, creative, repetitive articulation of your value proposition all that much more important.
Educating your audience about the revolutionary greatness of your approach is essential.
After all, investment management is an extremely conservative industry that fears change – it’s the job of your content to explain why, rather than scary, you’re visionary.
4. Where to start?
The first question managers need to ask themselves is: are we extroverted or introverted? Extroverted firms are more interested in engaging their audience, promoting their brand and sharing those things which make their approach unique.
Introverted firms are happy to conduct financial analysis, pick stocks, tweak the models, and manage the portfolio, with little intrinsic need for self-promotion.
Extrovert, introvert, a bit of both - the answer is important because it informs, really, how hard a firm wants to work to establish its content marketing for long-term success. Without a thoughtful, well-planned marketing and sales effort, an investment manager is placing a hard cap on its ability to grow.
5. Knowing Your Business Goals
Based on these conclusions, a manager should have an easy answer to the question: Where do you want to take this thing?
It’s an important question that begs two others:
- Is the firm intended to be generational, focused on AUM growth and providing its founders with a tangible legacy by which they will be remembered long after they pass from the scene? Or...
- Is it a “lifestyle business,” where the principals merely want to enjoy the flexibility of working for themselves and whose only real long-term goal is to make a couple of bucks then cash out?
If it’s the former, then firms should be exploring how to establish a position of thought leadership in the industry, and then using that position as a core component of its marketing strategy.
Establishing thought leadership entails any combination of the following:
- establishing and monitoring social media accounts
- creating eBooks and white papers
- writing regular guest columns for industry publications
- shooting videos for the website
- recording podcasts, and
- speaking at industry events.
These are the elements of a full-scale, professional, aggressive content marketing strategy, and they are essential for any business looking 5-, 10-, or 20-years down the road.
If it all seems like a lot of work and isn’t particularly attractive, then yours is likely intended to be more of a lifestyle business, regardless of what you may think you think.
In this case, a more modest content strategy centering on client service would be most appropriate. For these firms, keeping existing clients in the fold is prioritized over finding new ones, so that’s where the resources should be allocated.
In either case, managers must establish a content strategy that allows for the consistent and predictable creation of content that differentiates the firm’s operations and operators, as well as clearly articulate the benefits of the relationship.
6. Establishing Consistency with the 4 “Fs”
An investment management firm's content strategy execution should account for the “4 Fs”:
- Form – In what ways will a manager be communicating (email, blog, etc.) Knowing the forms in which content will primarily be shared allows for a manager to focus their efforts on perfecting their chosen approach.
- Function – Managers must know what the content is designed to accomplish. Drive website traffic? Lead nurturing? Client retention? Whatever the intent, the content’s form should reflect the intent.
- Frequency – Firms looking to aggressively grow assets should be creating content as often as they would like to be found; in other words, every day. Those investment managers with more modest growth aspirations can be less rigorous in their content creation efforts, though they should never be out of touch for more than a month.
- Formulation – How will each message be crafted, in terms of its tone and voice? Remember, communications should be representative of the firm, not an individual. As such, there should be a consistency in the overall tone, grammar, spelling, and word choice.
A common question is "how long do we have to do this?" The answer is: forever. It’s just something a firm does, like running screens, picking stocks or bonds, taking client calls, and compliance.
Perhaps the most under-appreciated truth about content marketing is this: all content strategies rely on consistency and longevity.
If content creation is erratic or unpredictable in its frequency, it can actually harm a firm’s reputation for professionalism. But the rewards are certainly worth the risks.
Establishing a content strategy as a core business system helps to define an investment manager’s reputation for professionalism and assertive client service, and is an important step in establishing true differentiation from one’s peers.