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Two longstanding perceptions haunt the world of marketing:

  1. It’s almost impossible to meaningfully differentiate commoditised products.
  2. In heavily regulated industries, you can’t be truly distinctive or creative.

But how true are they?

EXHIBIT 1: Apple

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Among a vast swathe of the world’s population, a single glance at this logo will trigger a raft of emotions and perceptions. Indeed, so distinctive is Apple, it’s very easy to forget that it operates in the highly commoditised markets of PCs and smartphones, which are increasingly difficult to differentiate in terms of function.

EXHIBIT 2: This Guy

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OK, you may not like this fellow. You may even hate him. But almost anyone in the UK will know who he is and the company he represents, even though Compare the Market operates in a sector that is both very tightly regulated and highly commoditised.

But let’s return to Apple for a moment…

As iPhone or Macbook owners would doubtless attest, Apple can still differentiate through its products. But in the face of relentless, cut-throat competition, sustaining the market share it has requires something else. That something else, the thing that really sets Apple apart, is its values.

Most of us would have some innate sense of the values Apple espouses: innovation, for instance, or obsession with design. But equally important is that even now, as it threatens to become the world’s first trillion-dollar company, Apple still manages to convey an air of being an outsider, if no longer quite counter-cultural.

The point here is not to suggest that everyone should slavishly copy Apple. The point is that in highly commoditised markets, companies can set themselves apart – through values.

But in finance, it’s extremely tough to come up with unique values – after all, certain ideals would be embraced by practically all investment companies. What investment houses can do instead, however, is set themselves apart in the way they convey their values.

This is why content marketing can be such a crucial tool for differentiating finance brands. Instead of telling your customers – through ads, marketing campaigns or product pushes – how trustworthy and insightful your company is, you can show them, through content that is incisive, highly targeted, and extremely valuable to your audience.

Below are three key values that asset managers look to embody – and six cases where finance companies showed how central those values are to them.

(Full disclosure: Woodford and BNY Mellon Investment Management are Copylab clients.)

VALUE 1: Trust

For obvious reasons, every investment company wants to place this value at the centre of its identity. When considering what might convey trustworthiness, traits such as openness, transparency and candour would come near the top of the list. Fortunately, used judiciously, content marketing provides an ideal means to show these values, as these examples demonstrate:

Woodford

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Through its blog and insights section, Woodford provides a series of timely and candid takes on current economic developments. While this is certainly not unique, Woodford’s writers frequently come from the most senior levels of the company, write in an accessible manner, and encourage and respond to questions. This is all consistent with the company’s professed central value: that investments belong to investors, not money managers, so managers are obliged to be as transparent as possible.

Crucially, Woodford doesn’t just hold to this approach when times are good. In late 2016, with some of its positions in early-stage biotech companies facing major challenges, Woodford posted a candid, thorough review of its investments, openly addressing their underperformance. What’s more, the company left its blog open to comments, drawing some uncomfortable questions that Woodford staff patiently answered using their own names. As usual, the site didn’t erect any firewalls around this content, meaning it was just as visible to an end investor in the US as it was to an intermediary in the UK.

If transparency is indeed a measure of trust, it’s hard to imagine an approach that could be more effective in showing clients that Woodford is a trustworthy brand.

M&G

Now, you might think, this is all very well for a company like Woodford, which has a relatively small number of staff and such a recognisable figure at its helm. But how can a big corporation project a similarly authentic and trustworthy voice?

Consider M&G. In its tone-of-voice document, the investment giant adopted the idea of being an “Independent Spirit”:

Our independent spirit is what sets us apart from other ‘heavyweight’ investors. We are not bound by a single ‘house’ fund management style which means we can afford to be bold in our statements.

Easily said, but not so easily done. However, with its Bond Vigilantes blog, M&G embodies its aim.

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Yes, the posts are timely and expertly written by top managers on M&G’s fixed income team. Even more importantly, however, each writer has a distinct, outspoken voice, which can sometimes lead to differences of opinion. It is the “independent spirit” writ large.

VALUE 2: Customer-centric

As buzzwords in the world of investment marketing go, this is near the top of the list. Especially since the financial crisis, investment companies have been hugely keen to portray themselves as operating solely and dispassionately in the interests of their clients.

Their marketing content, however, can tell a different story.

Heavy on corporate-speak, product push and generic market commentaries, it’s little wonder that much material fails to engage customers. Content marketing, however, represents the ideal medium to create content that is focused and extremely valuable.

Putnam Investments: Advisor Tech Tips

Financial advisors are among asset managers’ most important clients. But like any customer, advisors can be sceptical of advice they receive from asset managers, believing it (often justifiably) to be more interested in promoting the manager’s products than providing useful, impartial information.

Looking to counter this notion, Putnam Investments launched its Advisor Tech Tips site, which provides information on tech and social media aimed squarely at financial advisors. Recent pieces included tips on LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator and how to use text messaging to reach clients.

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By providing such targeted, niche, practical information, Putnam doesn’t need to tell the world that it understands the needs of intermediaries; Advisor Tech Tips shows that it does.

American Express OPEN Forum

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Like Bond Vigilantes, OPEN Forum began almost 10 years ago, showing that however modish the term “content marketing” may be, the principles underlying it have been around – and powerful – for a long time.

OPEN Forum offers a wide range of valuable advice for small-business owners. With much of its content written not by American Express staffers, but by independent experts, OPEN Forum has genuine credibility and a distinctive voice.

This is not an altruistic exercise. American Express clearly wants to bring these small businesses on-board as customers, and figures that a good way to do that would be to help them make money. And what could be more customer-centric than that?


VALUE 3: Insight

Whether it’s called expertise, judgement or thought leadership, insight is a value that all investment companies want to convey. As well they should: the sector sits on mountains of data, and employs some of the smartest people you could ever meet.

For all that, frequently, asset managers will produce content that is too dense, or insufficiently distinctive to cause much of a ripple beyond their immediate circle of investors. To show insight, some forward-looking investment houses have breathed new life into their formidable expertise through the use of punchier language, innovative formats and journalistic rigour.

BNY Mellon

Over the last few years, BNY Mellon Investment Management has transformed its attitude to marketing. (See here for our interview with Anne-Marie McConnon, the company’s head of marketing EMEA.)

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Recognising the need to create highly insightful content, BNY changed its writing team into a “newsroom”, employing experienced financial journalists to ensure output is timely, newsworthy, and keenly focused on what will interest readers. In close collaboration with fund managers, BNY has also created a blog based entirely on infographics, providing an accessible and shareable platform to disseminate its managers’ rich expertise.

Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs is rightly renowned for employing some of the brightest minds in the investment industry. In recent years, they have also become increasingly adept at showing this, using in-house expertise to create exceptionally insightful content.

in the Technology Driving Innovation section of its website, Goldman Sachs managers and analysts tackle topics ranging from drones to how streaming has reinvigorated the music industry. Exchanges at Goldman Sachs, meanwhile, offers in-depth discussions on major investment issues – low carbon investment in Asia, manufacturing in the digital age, investments in outer space – in the highly accessible format of podcasts.

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Rather than just cranking out PDFs or quarterly newsletters from managers, Goldman Sachs shows its insight extends from industry-leading expertise to an ability to understand what content its clients and prospects will actually consume.


Content Marketing in Asset Management: Key Takeaways

To return to our initial questions, marketing in commoditised, highly regulated industries unquestionably generates problems that other sectors don’t face. But constraints can force an industry to be unusually creative and disciplined. When executed well, content marketing forces asset managers not just to talk about themselves, but to more fully understand what value they can provide to the very people on whom their business depends – their clients.

In sum:

  1. In a commoditised, highly regulated market, asset managers can differentiate through their values.
  2. When values are common to many competitors, asset managers can differentiate by how they show these values.
  3. By rejecting product push and self-promotion in favour of genuinely trustworthy, customer-centric and insightful content, asset managers don’t need to tell clients they embrace these values – because their content will show they do.

Should you want to discuss your needs around content marketing in asset management, please drop us a line.

Niels Footman

Niels Footman

Londoner by birth, Scot by accent, Niels manages our London team and Copylab's marketing.
Niels Footman