This year’s branding must-haves?

By Alan Fender, Fin International

Over a number of recent brand definition projects it became clear clients were defining their brand in an unusual way. Not only by how they do what they do, but also aligning their brand to those peers’ brands who had come out of the recent crises with their reputation intact. And with an antithesis of their brand definition to those peers whose reputation had been damaged.

This approach made us think if recent wider events in financials services had in any way caused a ripple effect to how asset managers are defining their brand values for 2015.

We researched how the top 50 global asset managers articulate their brand values and the results show, perhaps, a tactical approach to their brand projection.

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UK watchdog releases guidance on social media

By Aime Williams, Financial Times

The UK regulator has released long-awaited final guidance on the use of social media by financial companies, setting out principles of compliance on Twitter. The Financial Conduct Authority has offered clarity on when a tweet constitutes financial promotion and who holds responsibility for retweets or reposted messages.

The regulator says that each tweet must be considered individually for the purposes of compliance and reminds firms that risk warnings must be given regardless of the media.

Asset managers must also make sure that their original communication remains “fair, clear and not misleading”, even if it ends up in front of a “non-intended recipient”, adding that firms should use “software” to direct their tweets to an appropriate audience.

As long as the original tweet is compliant, the compliance of any retweets is not the responsibility of the firm, adds the FCA.

Financial companies must also have “an adequate system in place to sign off digital media communications” and “this sign-off should be by a person of appropriate competence and seniority within the organisation”.

In response to feedback to an industry consultation the regulator has dropped the requirement for firms to signpost promotional tweets with the hashtag #ad.

Bridget Greenwood, director of consultancy Financial Social Media, says the FCA has “worked hard” to clarify questions raised during the consultation period, with the withdrawal of the #ad requirement demonstrating that it has listened to industry concerns.

Although the regulator says it recognises that social media are “powerful channels” that are of “significant value to firms”, it questions whether “character-limited media” are appropriate for promoting complex products.

Ms Greenwood adds that social media could be a useful way for asset management firms to market themselves without attempting to sell products in a direct way.

She says: “Social media should be used to educate, connect and influence.”

Toby Finden-Crofts, founding director of Research in Finance, believes social media is not necessarily the best medium for the asset management industry to market funds.

“Firms are often selling complicated products,” says Mr Finden-Crofts.

“They won’t really market anything in fewer than 140 characters, they’re more interested in talking about insight or market knowledge.”

Mr Finden-Crofts adds that although an audience might respond well to the insights of a fund manager on Twitter, the views might end up being “sanitised” by the surrounding compliance.

Alex Blondin, of financial services branding and communications agency Fin International, says the regulator’s guidance is a good first step, but it does not address what firms should do to respond to questions directed at it on social media.

“Social media is really about listening, whereas the FCA guidance treats it as if it is about firms broadcasting their opinions,” says Mr Blondin.

The FCA is the second European regulator to publish guidance on the use of social media following strong interest in these networks from asset managers.

Last year the French regulator, the Autorité des Marchés Financiers, issued guidelines aimed at all listed companies it regulates.

The French rules cover areas such as the authentication of social media accounts, the format of social media messages and anti-hacking measures.


Marketing budgets to jump in 2015

By Attracta Mooney

Asset managers’ marketing budgets are set to increase this year on the back of a strong 2014, rising demand for information from investors and growing competition in the funds market, experts say.

Justin Mould, managing director of branding agency Fin International, says marketing budgets at asset managers jumped by around 10 per cent to 15 per cent in 2014, with a similar story set to play out in 2015.

“In 2015 the budgets [at asset management firms] are moving north, or they are static. Asset managers aren’t cutting their budgets,” he says.

Mr Mould believes strong results over the last few years are driving asset managers to invest more in marketing.

“There is more money [to spend on marketing] because asset under management are growing, because of three years of pretty good performance in the markets,” he says.

Certain large asset managers have already ramped up their marketing efforts, such as Aviva Investors.

Once some firms have started bulking up their marketing efforts, others will follow suit in order to maintain their market share, Mr Mould adds.

“They have to up the ante to get the same airtime they got the previous year. That is a very strong force for driving up the marketing budget,” he says.

Angelos Gousios, a Cerulli senior analyst, says: “With increased competition in all regions, brand awareness is the key to gaining an edge in this game.”

A recent survey by Cerulli Associates found that more than three-quarters of asset managers in Europe planned to allocate more to marketing in 2014.

“We believe this strong trend will continue into 2015,” says Barbara Wall, Europe research director at Cerulli.

"The recovering market and increased competition between managers merit allocating more to marketing and sales strategies. And overwhelmingly managers globally share this view.”

Diana Mackay, chief executive of research firm Mackay Williams, says another factor pushing up marketing budgets is that fund selectors are demanding more information that they can provide to clients.

“There is more and more demand from, and expectation of, fund managers in the marketing area from distributors,” she says.

Consumers are increasingly turning to funds because of low interest rates, which are making savings accounts unattractive, she adds.

In response asset managers have to develop new and different marketing information, which is simple to understand and free of industry jargon.

This is proving difficult for many asset managers, which are used to business-to-business marketing, Ms Mackay says.

“There is demand from distributors for information that can easily be disseminated to the end client,” she says.

Research by Fund Buyer Focus found that information provision and brand were both core factors when it came to fund selectors choosing a product.

Distributors want asset managers to “drive the business through the door with above the line spend” that helps build brand awareness, says Ms Mackay.

“Then the next aspect is ongoing communication, which is becoming increasingly burdensome for distributors,” she adds.

Steven de Vries, head of European retail sales at Henderson Global Investors, says he expects the fund firm to maintain a “similar marketing focus to what we have been doing”.

“We are diligent about not overspending on advertising, but we do plan to spend money on marketing,” he adds.

Mr de Vries says Henderson will continue to target fund selectors, particularly through events and digital marketing.

A Fin International survey of financial services firms, of which more than two-thirds were from the asset management industry, found that more than half had a marketing budget of at least £500,000 (€638,350) in 2014.

About 25 per cent of marketing budgets are allocated to awareness generation activities, according to Fin.

A fifth goes on product and service sales activities, while 14 per cent is spent on content and 13 per cent goes on brand.

Firms that spent more than £500,000 on marketing believe that events and seminars, followed by media relations and PR, offer the best return on investment in terms of money spent.

The Fin International survey shows that just 61 per cent of firms have their budgets set before the start of the year.


Woodford gets innovative with promoted tweets

By Attracta Mooney | FT.com

Neil Woodford’s new asset management business is advertising on Twitter for the first time in a move social media experts have described as innovative.

Over the last few days, Woodford Investment Management has been using promoted tweets – a paid-for service where ordinary tweets are purchased by advertisers in order to reach a wider group of users, or to increase the likeliness that they will feature on the timelines of existing Twitter followers.

A promoted tweet last week featured a picture of Mr Woodford and a link to Woodford Funds’ Twitter page, with the words “Follow us for latest views & updates from Neil Woodford and the Woodford investment team”.

Promoted tweets look like a regular tweet but feature the words “promoted tweet” underneath them.

Social media experts say that while companies in other sectors use promoted tweets, Woodford Funds is among the first to do so in the asset management industry.

“In the more conservative financial services sphere, particularly in Europe, Woodford looks to be at the forefront of leveraging this marketing channel,” says William Yates, client services director at Novacom, a digital marketing agency.

“There has certainly been a recent shift in Europe to using social media overall but use of promoted social media appears to still be in its infancy among European [asset management] firms.”

Justin Mould, managing director at branding and communications firm Fin International, says: “Within the context of asset management marketing, [Mr Woodford] is one of the early adopters.”

Robeco, which is the Europe's most popular asset manager on Twitter, also uses promoted tweets, while BNP Paribas Investment Partners has used them once to promote a blog.

A spokesperson for BNP Paribas says: "We don’t use promoted tweets as part of our core digital strategy. Indeed, we think this approach can be irritating for followers, especially if this is for product push."

However, experts say promoted tweets offer a good opportunity for advertising, pushing a firm's content and message further up timelines and into other groups.

“They’re undoubtedly a good way of growing a business’s visibility beyond its existing audience because companies can place their message directly into a user’s timeline, targeting them based on their demographics and interests,” he says.

Social media offer some of the best platforms for targeted advertising, because networks such as Twitter are able to collect “so much data on each user”, says Mr Yates.

This means that understanding what “will be relevant to that user, and therefore what they are likely to engage with, is much easier than with other advertising channels”, he adds.

According to Twitter, a study carried out on the effectiveness of promoted tweets found that they “drove a 22 per cent average increase in message association compared with users not exposed to” the tweets. It also found that multiple exposure to a promoted tweet campaign led to 10 per cent increase in brand favourability compared with users that were exposed to the campaign only once.

The Woodford Funds Twitter account was launched in May and has since gathered 3,832 followers as of November 11.

Invesco Perpetual, where Mr Woodford ran the Perpetual High Income Fund until April, has attracted 1,454 followers since joining in July 2012.

Mr Mould says Woodford Funds benefits from Mr Woodford’s fame as a star manager, adding that he is one of the few fund industry personalities with the “allure or charisma” to be able to gather Twitter followers.

“With [Mr] Woodford going down a route like this, using Twitter as a communication channel, he is breaking some of the conventional formality of the sector,” he adds.

A spokesperson for Woodford says: “Social media is integral to Woodford Investment Management.

“Transparency is vital and social media allows us to inform, assist and, importantly, engage with our clients. We want to encourage conversations and debate.”

Woodford Investment Management also unveiled a blog as part of its website earlier this year, which features articles on events and trends in global financial markets.

Last year a study by Cerulli found that few European asset managers include social media as part of their marketing strategy.

A recent survey of financial services firms by Fin International shows that more than 75 per cent do not believe that social media provide better value for money than traditional media. About two-thirds of respondents were asset managers.

However, Mr Mould says Twitter is “here to stay”, adding that firms are beginning to make a more concerted effort to use social media.

Robeco, M&G, Franklin Templeton and BNP Paribas are the most popular asset managers on Twitter in Europe, figures compiled by Ignites Europe show.

Robeco had 26,600 followers at the end of October, rising to 27,600 by November 11.

Woodford Investment Management was the best-selling fund house in the UK during the third quarter of 2014, according to the Pridham Report.


Experts predict 2014 to be year of content marketing

By Judith Evans

Fund groups are expected to devote more money to interactive and attention-grabbing digital material in 2014 to boost their content marketing efforts, experts say...

"The overall feeling is that budgets are up in marketing. Asset managers are bullish about 2014," says Justin Mould, managing director at Fin International, a London branding and communications agency specialising in asset management.

"There will be more content marketing and less digital advertising. People are hiring more writers," he adds.

"But given the amount of content that’s coming onto the market, it’ll be the real cream that gets seen."

Content marketing – which seeks to inform people about a general topic or philosophy rather than plugging specific products – is a tactic that fund firms have long used by creating educational material on investment strategies, economics or fund types.

But the fast-developing online environment means companies are now moving beyond the traditional white paper or talking-head videos and are using digital content to reach both intermediaries and end investors.

“Education and discovery will be key next year as more digital marketers are hired in our industry,” says Mash Patel, executive chairman of the marketing firm Kurtosys.

Scottish investment house Baillie Gifford this year created a film in super-slow motion about its philosophy of long-term investment, which found its way onto Facebook via posts from people unconnected with the company.

Meanwhile, Franklin Templeton has scored more than 20,000 YouTube views for two videos in the US explaining behavioural finance using quirky animation.

"It was once very expensive to make videos and put them online but now with YouTube, Dailymotion and Vimeo, asset management companies can make their own videos – even using an iPhone,” says Antoine Roger, a partner at the French digital agency Sand Media, which specialises in asset managers.

Julian Samways, managing director of marketing and PR agency JPES Partners, says asset managers could produce much more video content and “there is always room to strengthen the production quality to ensure that it is genuinely engaging".

Social media can prove crucial in disseminating such material, but fund houses are still in a cautiously experimental phase.

"The big surprise next year is going to be what financial actors do on social networks," adds Mr Roger, citing the example of Carmignac, which this year began posting pictures of its events on Instagram.

French firms have also embraced the new picture function on Twitter, in which images appear within users’ feeds, says Mr Roger.

David Hamilton, owner of communications agency Dog Digital, says: "Infographics are the area where we’ve seen the biggest uptake."

JPMorgan in the UK, for example, has produced graphics on different asset classes, posted online for advisers to use with clients; its US arm has published economic infographics that were picked up by websites such as Business Insider.

Expert blogs run by fund companies themselves, like M&G’s Bond Vigilantes, are another fruitful area, marketers say.

Companies need to ensure they distribute well-made content through the right channels, says Mr Mould.

"A lot of digital marketing campaigns are great but they sometimes end up on a corporate website that is three years out of date and not really relevant to the campaign," he says.

Mr Hamilton says: "It’s not about quantity, it’s about getting through to the right people and if there’s one way you can do that it’s through social media rather than by throwing out a press release.”

The thinking to avoid, he says, is: “Let’s paint a Picasso and stick it in a cupboard somewhere.”

Achieving this is partly about co-ordinating departments within a firm.

“Sometimes firms do websites and they do social networks but it’s not put together,” says Mr Roger. “There’s a lack of global communications strategy.”

Mr Mould says: “It’s a slightly lazy way of looking at the traditional budget to say ‘this much goes into advertising, this much into PR’ and so on. People understand that these old silo disciplines don’t really stack up now.”

Companies have started to become more “digitally mature”, says Mr Hamilton, with shared skills across departments.

This will become all the more important as asset managers start to target end investors again, after decades of focusing their efforts on intermediaries.

Marketing consultant Lucian Camp says, “Pretty much everybody in the funds industry agrees that the end investor is more important than they have been for a generation.”

The UK Retail Distribution Review, which bans inducements to advisers, is a key factor and looks set to start a trend across Europe.

“Companies will use content marketing to pull demand through the intermediary channel but also, post-RDR, to educate and engage with the end investor,” says Mr Hamilton.

Mr Mould notes that investors now tend to research funds and firms online before approaching advisers or platforms, meaning that “50 per cent of the decision has been made by the time you engage the provider, through their own research channels”.

This means fund houses must understand that their online content will be viewed by potential investors, he says.

Regulatory restrictions on promoting financial products limit what firms can do online, however, and push them towards content marketing rather than directly promoting their funds.


"Content Marketing" gives competitive edge to Investment Managers

By Attracta Mooney | Ignites Europe | FT.com

Pioneer Investments is to launch a new marketing campaign with a focus on providing "quality content" across various platforms – a move experts say could prove "very powerful" if done right

The fund unit of UniCredit, Italy's largest bank, will continue to do "a bit of advertising" but its main marketing efforts will now be focused on the production and dissemination of investment content. Marcello Calabrò, head of corporate and strategic marketing at Pioneer, says the firm's strategy is to build brand awareness and, more importantly, position the brand.

Mr Calabrò says: "[The content] has to fit with our capabilities and how we want to be perceived by our clients. "There will be overall messages – we don't want to be opinion leaders or makers on everything." A strong emphasis will be placed on providing "engaging and interactive" content, such as video, e-zines, blogs and animated presentations, on digital platforms as well as in traditional media. According to Fund Buyer Focus, Pioneer has seen its brand value take a knocking over the past year, dropping three places to 27th in a list of Europe's top 50 asset management brands.

Last year, Pioneer also fell three places to 23rd in a table of Europe's largest groups, with €80bn of assets, according to Lipper. "The challenge we face is that we need to work on the positioning of our company," says Mr Calabrò.

Justin Mould, managing director of marketing agency Fin International, says it will take "a lot of creativity and joined-up infrastructure" to make the strategy work. Not only does the content have to be compelling, it also needs to be attractively packaged and placed on the right medium, he adds. A big challenge is taking content, such as a white paper, and "digesting it" so it is fit for each different channel and device. "A white paper dropped on to Twitter is not necessarily going to have any impact," Mr Mould says. Instead, Pioneer will need to "take what is quite a heavy document and repurpose [the information] for the [targeted] medium" by using infographics, video or similar, Mr Mould adds. However, if done successfully, Mr Mould says content strategies can pay off handsomely and help reach an audience not just of advisers but "institutions and intelligent investors". He says: "Many asset management firms pride themselves on their content but it is making the right use of [the content] and having it on the right channels that are the real difficulties. "If [Pioneer] gets it right it will be very powerful. It's a pull rather than push." A content-heavy strategy is "not that common" within the asset management industry, according to Mr Mould, who says Pioneer's efforts err on "the side of innovation". He says: "[Pioneer's] peer group have been spending quite a lot of money on advertising, shouting around in that space. But [the content approach] is very different from saying 'we have a great bond fund' and sticking [an advertisement] on some London taxis."

Diana Mackay, chief executive of research firm MackayWilliams, also believes the move could help Pioneer stand out from its competitors. She says: "Competition in the market is huge and for fund managers to build recognition they have to have an identity that operates above and beyond the performance of individual products. "Differentiation is the name of the game, so any unique action that Pioneer can take to raise awareness of their skill set will help the group stand out of the crowd." Mr Mould adds: "What [Pioneer is] trying to do is embrace the new media. Rather than doing digital advertising, it's going one step up the food chain to where the big thinking happens."

Brand consultant Lucian Camp says disseminating content is an emerging trend in the industry, with a shift taking place in how asset managers market themselves. This is because the traditional method of targeting trade press is now less attractive because of changes to how funds are selected. "There is a more sophisticated audience that firms need to reach in different ways," he says. As a result, there has been growing interest among asset managers in content marketing, although many are finding it very hard to find staff and external agencies with the skills and detailed knowledge of the industry that is needed. "There are firms that would like to move further down this route but can't find the people," he says.


Same Old Content Marketing Doesn't Work

By Attracta Mooney | Ignites Europe | FT.com

Now that fund managers can publish their "thinking" through so many more media channels it is putting pressure on the marketing departments to be packaging it in relevant and engaging formats with a joined up strategy. How do you go about doing this and what are the tips for success?... read more