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.