By: Michelle Gerber PAICR Member, PAICR Research Committee member
Automation, in all its forms, has left few occupations undisrupted, and marketing is no different. Like the transition from horses to cars, typewriters to computers and newspapers to digital screens, the production of marketing collateral continues to evolve toward an increased use of intelligent machines. This transition is an ongoing focus for many investment management firms.
There is no single way to determine the route a firm should take to collateral automation, but as your firm works to advance the efficiency and effectiveness of its marketing program, forethought and expectation setting can go a long way. Experience suggests there are principles to keep in mind as you work to refine your process and see it through to a successful outcome; here are 5 to consider as you navigate toward an automated collateral production system:
Know your network and grow your network. Share knowledge and experiences and listen to the challenges and achievements of those around you. Keep an ear to the ground for new trends, tools and tips; they can save you time and bridge information gaps. Look for insights far and wide, from colleagues to vendors, across departments and throughout industries. Know who to turn to when you need an extra hand or three.
Define big picture goals upfront and key milestones along the way. Dedicate time to review these at regular intervals, and keep an open and flexible mind to the possibility of altering tactics to achieve your end goals.
Be thorough in vetting potential automation platforms. Compare the needs of your marketing department to the strengths and weaknesses of the various service providers that will be competing to win your business. Involve your IT department, as well as your sales staff, data managers, and compliance officers so that you understand the priorities of each and make a best faith effort to accommodate all stakeholders. Their support is vital to the success of the project.
Identify risks at every step and create safeguards to minimize their potential impact. Keep your compliance department informed of changes, and document the processes to maintain transparency and to build a solid institutional knowledge base within your firm. Anticipate the necessity to add resources at various and potentially unexpected points.
Build an infrastructure that provides for flexibility and continuous optimization. Marketing is a living process, so expect targets to move. Don’t build a system that is so inflexible that it needs to be disassembled and rebuilt in order to accommodate unforeseeable shifts in data sources, product strategies, messaging and branding.
Reaching the goal of a reliable, flexible, and scalable collateral automation system is a big win, so give yourself a pat on the back if you are there already. But don’t get too comfortable. Having raised your marketing department’s capabilities to put your firm ahead of the curve, it’s time to look ahead to the next curve. By learning to anticipate and identify industry trends and the shifting needs of your clients, your firm can capitalize on the opportunities that exist within. The intrepid marketer should use the achievement of collateral automation as a launch point to explore the next revolution.
The oldest Millennials are in their mid-thirties and this could seriously impact how asset managers communicate with clients.
Why it Matters:
Older Millennials are in decision-making positions at institutions, at consultancies, and at wealth management firms.
They are a larger age cohort than Baby-Boomers
They consume information differently than both Boomers and Generation X’ers
Be Smart: Asset management firms who can balance modern linguistic styles with their brand identity will be more likely to reach more potential clients in an era of peak content.
But, but, but: This doesn’t mean brands should forgo their traditional identity altogether. Instead they must fuse their brand with an emerging style.
The Times They Are a-Changin
Okay, so if you happen to read the daily briefs from Axios, the above format will look familiar. That format is a buttoned-up version of changes in how we receive and digest information.
Sure, any number of industry reports will tell you that advisors want more digital engagement, but few—if any—explain what that means or looks like beyond polling what percentage of advisors look to email, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, etc.
To really see how our style is changing, here are a few examples pulled from various newsletters, most of which are retail-oriented. It’s no grand statement to observe that the asset management industry is notoriously slow to change. It took how long for FINRA to advise on Twitter or LinkedIn? The point is that if you want to see what’s coming or how to communicate, look towards direct retail communications.
A Brave New World (of Style)
$he $pends is a website and newsletter whose motto is: “giving you actionable tools to tackle the wage, investing and board seat gaps.” With such ambitious goals, they use punchy, bold, and humorous language to convey their message.
The title alone jumps out at you. Hardly something we advise sending to consultants, but important to consider that this level of informality resonates with their readers. Additionally, note how the headlines are both amusing and referential: “more experience, more problems,” clearly riffs off The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Mo money, Mo problems.”
Don’t doubt for a second the importance of millennial references from the ‘90s. Think of how many shows Millennials grew up with that are returning to TV: Rosanne, Will and Grace, Gilmore Girls, Twin Peaks, and Netflix added more episodes of Arrested Development and turned Wet Hot American Summer into a series. And of course, there’s this segment from Saturday Night Live. The reference to Biggie Smalls is more than just fun, it communicates identity and affirms that the sender of the content doesn’t just “get it,” but more importantly, they “get you.”
Let’s look at another newsletter. The Penny Hoarder is a personal financial website and was named the fastest-growing private media company in North America by INC 5000. Headline emails like the example below probably help. It’s filled with millennial laid-back tones and super-fun jargon.
Can you believe it? Two amazingly fun and casual references in the first three words? That’s 66.67% of fun words before getting into the meat of the headline! You can often find “Friyay” references on the web with beer or wine next to them, or the play on Friday with Bae, a fading but still prevalent term of affection for one’s “significant other.” The point remains, this casual and approachable language is more welcoming than most quarterly letters.
The fight for attention is a big fight, and readers want something informative and fun. Being fun matters in the world of attention getting. With everyone worrying about content saturation, standing out and being fun and approachable matters. Consider this article from The Penny Hoarder:
To capture the reader, The Penny Hoarder blatantly states their aim is to make it fun. As a reader, that’s far more appealing than not being fun.
No discussion of modern/millennial style would be complete without a discussion of theSkimm, a daily newsletter founded by two former news producers targeting female Millennials. There’s money behind building their audience. Google Ventures and others just raised $12 million in a recent round of funding. They deliver news in a compelling way to an eyewatering demographic. As they stated via ReCode:
“We have revolutionized the delivery of news and information to the most coveted demographic and, as we look to grow our membership by expanding our products and services, GV’s expertise and data-driven mindset makes them the ideal partner to aid in our expansion.”
What are they doing so differently that traditional outlets are not? Why are Google Ventures and others pouring so much into theSkimm? Because their style, their approach, and their delivery creates a lasting audience by speaking to their readers as humans.
So, what does a newsletter valued at $55 million dollars look like?
The news is serious, the tone is lighthearted.
Cool. But how does that affect asset management—at all?! Good questions, we’re getting there. Three, two, one, and, go.
Putting the Fun in Fund!
So, is any of this happening in the asset management space? Yes. Is it as loose and casual as retail? No, but that’s OK. Bill Gross did a fine job of keeping bond discussions approachable, and Warren Buffett is the master of sounding folksy. Smead Capital often uses movies in their missives, and I’ve seen references to Game of Thrones at some firms. Longboard recently went so far as to invoke Star Wars as a means to discuss alternative Investments. Here’s an example from one of their newsletters:
I particularly appreciate the use of imagery and the use of Star Wars lingo in their bullet points, not because of my love for Star Wars (which is large), but because of the consistency and commitment it brings to their approach. It’s a full commitment to rethink the discussion of dry topics into something far more interesting.
I recently came across another younger firm, Newfound Research. They write about traditionally dry items, but their relaxed and humorous tone provides the reader access to more obscure subjects.
This is a fine example of brand building using a more approachable tone. It’s definitely not institutional in tone, but that’s okay because as Millennials age we’re going to be less focused on proving we sound smart, and more focused on proving we’re relatable—the title alone suggests that the firm “gets you” and less focused on the fact that they can talk about Monte Carlo simulations. That resonates with readers.
As Millennials take over more senior positions at all levels across the industry, it will be more important than ever to think beyond millennial jargon and re-think your firm’s communications style. Certainly, social media will matter, but it remains to be seen how much. Not to mention the effect compliance plays in permitting its use.
The notion that a campaign, an ad, a missive, or an email should reflect something authentic or personal — something beyond just what the S&P did versus your benchmark — will be the difference between building an audience and directing traffic. The former provides value, the latter drives away.
Finally, since we’re about distilling information and communications down to digestible pieces these days, here are some key takeaways to bear in mind as you develop your firm’s communications.
Speak like a human—authenticity matters
Speak casually—no one wants to hear how smart you are; they want to hear what you think
Informal is the new formal—it’s obvious when you try too hard
By: Deb Well PAICR Board of Directors member and 2017 Annual Conference Co-chair PAICR Member since 2006
“I don’t want to scare you all, but….” Lee Kowarski, DST Systems – PAICR Annual Conference Opening Keynote Speaker
We are being disrupted. And we will continue to be disrupted at an increasingly faster pace. And we need to embrace change, or else risk getting swept away or being made redundant or irrelevant.
That was just one of the very important messages delivered to the attendees of the PAICR Annual Conference in New York on November 13-14th.
Opening keynote speaker Lee Kowarski discussed industry consolidation, new competitive and disruptive entrants, technology adaptation, regulatory pressure, and changing advisor business models as just some of the catalysts of change reshaping the competitive landscape for asset managers. And he laid out the dramatic changes we all need to be thinking about to meet these challenges.
The distributor landscape is shrinking, asset managers are rationalizing their product lineups, and the future belongs to managers at opposing ends of the spectrum: those with broad product suites or specialized/niche players.
However, for the room full of asset management marketing professionals, there was an important piece of upbeat news – marketing is more important than ever before, and distribution teams are relying on them and becoming better partners than in the past.
All About Agile
Along with disruption, many of our conference sessions zeroed in on the concept of agile marketing – with both a big “A” and a little “a”.
Keynote speaker Andrea Fryrear of Agile Sherpas took on the big “A” Agile Marketing. One of her key takeaways was about starting small – both in terms of implementing Agile once you return from the conference, but also in terms of creating an Agile marketing plan. Build. Measure. Learn. Repeat. Start small and build up to scale. Most firms now plan big, with the risk of failing big. Starting small allows for learning from small failures with less risk and building small successes to bigger successes based on the knowledge gained from what you have measured and learnt.
Keynote speaker Robert Rose introduced another disruptive concept – what if you killed marketing as it is practiced today? He told the audience stories of several firms who have changed things up to look at marketing as a business model, rather than a functional cost center. They’ve re-invented their marketing as the function that invests in building audiences. Robert is the Chief Content Adviser for the Content Marketing Institute. Content Marketing has been THE buzzword in asset management over the last few years, so Robert’s talk was very timely, as well as the article on content marketing he contributed to our PAICR Blog before the conference.
Learn. Connect. Succeed
PAICR’s Annual conference has always stood as a great place for all attendees to learn about best practices in our industry for marketing and communication professionals and what they need to keep/make their firm more efficient and stay competitive. It is also a great way to connect with old contacts and meet new people, all of whom make up our incredibly supportive PAICR network that we can call on as a resource when needed. In taking this time to come together at the PAICR Annual Conference, we all walk away with the keys to help our firms succeed, and to be ready for the many changes that face us as asset management marketers as we go forward into 2018.
Marketing is often built around factors that are hard to control – technology, shifting tastes, competition. Many of those factors are topics at this week’s PAICR Annual Conference. But there’s one aspect of marketing that firms can control – their message. How effectively – and consistently – does your firm communicate its most important messages?
When we say messages, we mean the information and ideas that are central to how your company invests, or otherwise tries to meet investor goals. They typically include:
Product and service information
Investor suitability and benefits
Market point of view and outlook
In our experience, there are two areas of this “core” content that investment firms struggle with most.
The first is maintaining and refreshing it. Perspectives and points of view will evolve with the market environment, and engaging with investment staff or other time-pressed senior executives on a regular basis can be frustrating on both ends.
The second challenge is incorporating these messages consistently across all investor touchpoints. If you pull together every communication about a particular investment product – including RFPs and call center scripts – they sometimes don’t sound like the same product.
Building the Messages on Which Everything Else Is Built
There are 3 steps you can take to enhance your control over your firm’s messages.
Document — Core messages often exist only in materials that have since been produced and archived, such as annual reports, marketing collateral, or RFPs. We advise clients to gather and document core messages separately from the production of any one collateral piece. That way, your interactions with investment staff are focused on getting the most important input in the most efficient way.
Update — Re-engage with your company’s subject matter experts on a regular basis by asking for updated input in a structured way. That way the process remains the same for your SMEs even when marketing strategies change.
Distribute — Make your core content an input to any communication process you have.
Constructing your messages around this core content builds consistency and credibility in your communications, while also making your communication processes simpler and more efficient.
Contact: Derek Napoli, Director of Business Development – (240) 452-5200