Asset Management and the Importance of Brand Building in a COVID-19 World
Let’s face it, COVID-19 has thrown us for a loop over the past six months. As if business pressures weren’t enough, firms now have to find ways to navigate employee doldrums, keep their people motivated and ensure that teams stay connected and highly productive in what will likely be a prolonged remote work environment.
However, many of the issues that asset managers faced prior to the pandemic—outperforming industry benchmarks, pressure over management fees, and maintaining a distinct value proposition in what has become an increasingly crowded playing field—are still front and center. My view, is that these issues will intensify as competition remains fierce and allocators become even more stringent with respect to where they deploy capital.
While many asset managers have traditionally relied on their marketing and distribution teams to generate buzz and have long played up their track records of producing profits—which I agree will always be a critical measure of success—the investment management industry has evolved and institutional allocators are increasingly entrusting their capital to managers that have pristine reputations, strong brands, and unique investment ideas.
Our CEO, Jen Prosek, has appropriately referred to the asset management industry over the years as “the emerging market of marketing.” The reality is, that the right type of external visibility coupled with insightful points-of-view are complementary to generating alpha and play a vital role in strategically positioning the firm over the long-term. “How come I’ve never heard of you?” isn’t a question you want to receive from a prospective investor.
Firms that we meet with, that have long maintained a less is more approach to elevating their external profiles, generally believe that taking a more proactive approach to brand building requires a lot of effort. I can tell you first-hand that it’s not as time intensive as you may think. Yes, you will need to devote some thinking to strategy and execution, but with the right team and communications partner, it’s a pretty straightforward process that can be ironed out fairly quickly.
If you’ve reached the point where you’re thinking about going on offense to differentiate your firm and your platform, below is a roadmap I recommend you follow. To start, I strongly suggest organizing a series of internal discussions whereby management can candidly discuss a number of broad questions. For example:
- Which firms do you admire and why?
- How do you want to be perceived in the marketplace?
- What makes you different and what do you want to be known for?
- What are your brand attributes and what do you stand for?
- What are your areas of specialization and where can you stand out in helping to educate investors, so they become smarter and better informed?
- What are your business priorities and how can strategic communications help to support these objectives?
- What are the topics and industry issues where the firm has a license to lead?
Once these types of questions are considered and answered, you can then begin to think about how best to deploy externally through a variety of communications channels, whether it be via media, targeted conferences or events, contributed commentary or authoring research that articulates insightful viewpoints.
The key to successfully activating is to be selective and deliberate with respect to what you’re trying to achieve and who you are seeking to influence. This is not an exercise in trying to be all things to all people. It’s about striking the right balance of raising your profile in a way that moves the needle.
Overall, there is not a one size fits all approach to building your brand. Every firm has different goals and objectives and various concerns about the implications of becoming more proactive. However, with the right planning, strategy and execution, every firm can have a smart, thoughtful and impactful communications program that helps drive your strategic business initiatives. We are seeing more and more asset management firms begin to take the leap. Those that don’t—or at the very least entertain the idea of doing so—are bound to inevitably get lost in the shuffle.