Despite Challenges, Asset Managers Beginning to Embrace Content Marketing

May 11, 2016

- Bill Haynes, Boston

In case there were any lingering doubts remaining around the ability of companies and corporations to dis-intermediate traditional publishers, consider for a moment that the top four magazines by circulation are currently produced by AARP, a non-profit organization, and retailers Costco Worldwide and GameStop. (AARP, for the under 65 crowd, actually produces the No. 1 and No. 2 publications, AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin, respectively.) Meanwhile, Time Magazine, a living room staple in most eras, today trails far behind Costco Connection with fewer than half as many readers.

“82% of those polled view content marketing as an opportunity to engage new customers, and roughly half recognize that a content strategy can also raise brand awareness (50%) and ultimately grow their business (46%).”

While these titles may hold little sway among fund managers, their prominence illustrates the power of content marketing today. It also reflects what is possible when organizations embrace a strategic approach to developing content that both informs and entertains readers and puts companies in control of their own narrative.

Indeed, a quick tour of the websites of the largest asset managers reveals that many today more closely resemble what users, five years ago, would expect from a traditional publisher of financial news. Moreover, a number of fund managers have gone so far as to build internal teams of editors and writers to continually feed the beast and ensure content is timely and relevant.

This budding recognition around the value of content was reflected in a recent survey conducted by BackBay Communications and the Mutual Fund Education Alliance (MFEA), as 82% of those polled view content marketing as an opportunity to engage new customers, and roughly half recognize that a content strategy can also raise brand awareness (50%) and ultimately grow their business (46%).

An example of a firm that truly gets content and is doing it right would be Royce Funds. The firm’s website features a careful balance of video and articles, and supports these pieces with blogs, recaps around media mentions, an events calendar, and educational material. Information on specific funds is graphically represented – think USA Today – and content can be curated to focus on only those specific funds that matter to each individual. Not only is their content relevant and dynamic, there is something for all users, regardless of their preferences around medium or distribution methods.

Of course, all of this may look easy, but capturing portfolio manager views, drafting the content, pushing it through compliance, and finally publishing thought pieces, can be akin to corralling cats. Most fund managers put in 60- to 70-hour weeks, and these initiatives can very easily get pushed down on the priority scale. In fact, more often than not, without an advocate and jockey continually pushing a content strategy through these channels, either from outside the organization or within, these efforts will often die on the vine.

The BackBay-MFEA survey actually identified that the biggest challenges facing fund managers largely revolve around developing a content strategy (64%) and producing enough content on a consistent and regular basis (41%). As well, more than a third (36%), cited leveraging content to maximum effect as another challenge. These struggles, in part, may reflect that many fund managers don’t recognize the resources that are available to them. Fewer than one in five (18%) cited that they use external agencies or freelancers, and just 23% have built dedicated content-creation teams in house.

We addressed all of these issues at the recent MFEA Joint Product & Marketing Summit at the Charles Schwab campus in Lone Tree, Colorado, where I had the pleasure of co-moderating the content marketing panel.

The well-organized and informative event drew the heads of marketing and product development from some of the largest and most respected asset management firms including Aberdeen Asset Management, AMG Funds, Columbia Threadneedle, Denver Investments, Fidelity, Janus, Legg Mason, OppenheimerFunds, Principal Funds and Royce Funds, among others.

As it relates to the opportunity for those exploring content marketing, MFEA Marketing Council Chair Bill Finnegan, Chief Marketing Officer, AMG Funds, described that while content remains a largely nascent strategy among most asset managers today, the research points to “a huge opportunity for firms who can define and execute a content strategy.” He cited that beyond contributing to a dynamic website and helping the sales team articulate the firm’s narrative, content, done right, can “increase brand perception, lead generation, loyalty and measurable ROI.”

As BackBay Communications has been helping financial services firms develop their content strategies for years now, a few of the best practices identified by the content marketing panel really struck home. I’ve highlighted some of the main points, below, which are just a sampling from the panel:

  • The necessity of having a strategic plan: These are team endeavors. Everyone, from the investment teams to compliance, needs to focus efforts to ensure the content marketing has maximum impact.
  • The efficiency and efficacy of integrated content marketing: Content can be leveraged in numerous ways through multiple mediums. The effort that goes into one white paper, for instance, can be leveraged through creating accompanying videos, blogs and emails, while social media and the traditional business press can greatly augment the number of eyeballs reached.
  • The need to have a strong point of view: Otherwise you get lost in a sea of information. We wouldn’t necessarily espouse the Buzzfeed approach of utilizing clickbait, but think of the impact Blackstone’s Byron Wien’s 10 Surprises has when it is unveiled each year. Most readers will likely forget that he predicted the Nikkei would reach 22,000; they’ll remember, however, that he has views worth listening to.
  • The value of data: Leverage the analytical muscle within your firm to build content around stats and research. This is a great way to highlight the value of a firm’s strategy and to do so in a way that is not transparently promotional.
  • The importance of presenting your perspective through your brand/product lens: Content marketing is a terrific tool to underscore brand differentiation through thought leadership. If you’re a value fund, make that comes alive through your content; if you’re focused on growth, share with your audience why you think a particular company or sector is poised to outperform.
  • The benefits of clear, crisp writing: Write to the point and share stories and lessons. This is why it behooves asset managers to lean on professional writers. Storytelling is an art, and spell check won’t cover up content that comes from those who merely dabble in it.
  • The hook of a strong subject line: Grab them from the start. Investing and economic perspectives can be complex, and attention spans for most readers are only shrinking. Readers need to be assured very early in an article or video that their time will be well spent and that they will be rewarded by engaging with the content.
  • The power of design: We are all increasingly visual. Use photos, infographics and videos to aesthetically grab the reader’s attention. There is a sea of competing content. If design can better attract readers, support a firm’s narrative, and make content easy on the eyes and simpler to understand, it’s a wasted opportunity to not take that extra step.
  • The goal of tying marketing initiatives to success in the sales process: It’s hard to do, but it’s a needed step to implement a team process for sales and marketing to measure success and refine the content strategy as needed. Moreover, as we focus on the financial services space, we’ve found that measurement can help facilitate buy-in throughout the organization and quantify that the time and money spent on marketing is well spent.

To be sure, this isn’t easy work. Most asset managers are relying largely on marketing team members to conduct economic research, interview portfolio managers and CIOs, draft articles, shepherd them through the approval process and then distribute them to their constituencies. Content can appear subjective, which only makes it that much harder to gain consensus across the organization and clear each of the aforementioned hurdles. When it’s done right, however, all constituencies can objectively recognize the value of the effort, and the process becomes that much easier as success is achieved and trust is instilled.

As nearly three in five of asset managers polled (59%) plan to dedicate more resources to content marketing in the next 12 months, it’s critical that they focus on developing an integrated strategy, implementing a sustainable process, and utilizing the right resources to see these initiatives through. This is how the content marketing opportunity translates into material results.