Executive Summary

Although the asset management industry is often criticized as being slow to move and evolve, the years since the 2008 financial crisis have been ripe with change. Faced with new regulations and challenges related to business management—plus heightened competition and fee compression—the industry has shifted into a more mature state, where brand and marketing now play a bigger role in distinguishing the winners from the losers.

One of the leading indicators of the industry’s broader evolution has been an increased focus on strategic marketing. Some firms have shifted their mindset about the meaning of marketing from tactical activities to more strategic plans. In other firms, the evolution has been about dedicating resources to the function by increasing staff or budget dollars or, perhaps, allocating dedicated resources against marketing efforts for the first time. Either way, recognizing that marketing activities—a complementary blend of tactical and strategic undertakings—are going to shape the future of the firm and the industry as a whole is an important milestone for any organization striving to survive and thrive in the years ahead.

While the list may vary from firm to firm, Greenwich Associates considers the following to be key elements of a strategic marketing function:

  • Development and curation of the brand
  • Client tiering, targeting and segmentation practices
  • Thought leadership strategy
  • Technology solutions and social media strategies
  • Client journey mapping and client experience
  • Embracing data to shed light on:

    -Information consumption patterns and preferences
    -Utilization of “big data” and artificial intelligence
    -Marketing ROI and measures of succe



Building a Strategic Marketing Function stat bar

Introduction

Although the asset management industry is often criticized as being slow to move and evolve, the years since the 2008 financial crisis have been ripe with change. Faced with new regulations and challenges related to business management—plus heightened competition and fee compression—the industry has shifted into a more mature state, where brand and marketing now play a bigger role in distinguishing the winners from the losers.

One of the leading indicators of the industry’s broader evolution has been an increased focus on strategic marketing. Some firms have shifted their mindset about the meaning of marketing from tactical activities to more strategic plans. In other firms, the evolution has been about dedicating resources to the function by increasing staff or budget dollars or, perhaps, allocating dedicated resources against marketing efforts for the first time. Either way, recognizing that marketing activities—a complementary blend of tactical and strategic undertakings—are going to shape the future of the firm and the industry as a whole is an important milestone for any organization striving to survive and thrive in the years ahead.

While the list may vary from firm to firm, Greenwich Associates considers the following to be key elements of a strategic marketing function:

Strategic Marketing: Then…and Now

Ten years ago, few items on the preceding list would have made it onto any institutional asset management firm’s senior leadership agenda. The concept of establishing a marketing function to oversee and drive these processes was rare.

To start, institutional marketing departments as we know them today (often led by marketing professionals dedicated solely to the institutional channel) were virtually nonexistent. Sales success was primarily based on the portfolio’s investment performance. Some firms with retail-oriented heritages had marketing teams in place, but they were rarely focused on the institutional business. Instead, most of their time was spent curating messages and advertising campaigns that would resonate with individual investors and their advisors.

Trustworthy Brands: Top 5 Most Highly Rated Institutional Asset Managers in the U.S.

Over the past decade, institutional investors have come to expect more from their asset managers, with trust and loyalty being industry buzzwords now commonplace in evaluating every relationship. Organizations can no longer rely on investment performance alone to drive sales. Instead, firms are being pushed to define their competitive advantage and clearly articulate who they are, what they stand for and why this matters to a potential client.

Once these efforts are successful and money comes through the door, the challenge has really just begun. The asset manager must now remain true to its philosophy and process, deliver consistently high-quality service (and investment returns) and—very importantly—demonstrate and deliver value beyond alpha. At the same time, powerful and ever-evolving market dynamics are shifting the landscape, redefining the concept of “value-add,” pushing firms to reinvent (or at least reinvigorate) themselves, and rendering certain processes, plans and techniques obsolete—or, at a minimum, outdated and undifferentiated.

B2B: First Impressions are Key

Raw Materials

Recognizing the importance of investing in the marketing function, no matter the size or complexity of the organization, is an important first step. Before committing people, dollars and time against any effort, it is critical to ensure leaders, stakeholders and influencers are engaged and willing to support the initiative.

Once alignment and commitment have been established, it is important to identify the architect who will be responsible for drafting the blueprint and gaining approval from the organization. As this individual or small working group begins to review the set of raw materials available—and gaps to fill— it is critical to be mindful of the “three A’s” related to strategic marketing plans: awareness, accountability and action. Similar to when an architect designs a new home, having a clear vision enables development of a plan poised for success. Sticking to the plan ensures expectations are met, and significant planning and forethought are required to predict potential challenges and build contingencies into the original design.

Three A's for Designing a Strategic Marketing Plan

Drafting the Blueprint

When drafting a blueprint for the firm’s strategic marketing effort, getting one thing exactly right and a lot of things almost right is not enough. For the plan to work as expected, each design element must serve a defined purpose, blend cohesively with the other elements and be timed perfectly to make interactions smooth and efficient. Stated another way, the architect’s vision of the “what” is only as good as the engineer’s plans for the “how” and the general contractor’s effectiveness in tying it all together and executing the combined plan—on time and on budget.

Each Design Element Must Serve a Defined Purpose pull quote

In the context of institutional asset management, there are five key considerations when designing a strategic marketing function from the ground up:

Drafting the Blueprint subheads

Know Your Firm

Many failed attempts to build or enhance a strategic marketing function can be traced back to skipping the key step of defining the firm’s brand. Greenwich Associates defines “brand” in the institutional arena as “communication of the firm’s value proposition to internal and external audiences.”

Without the Support and Consistent Reinforcement pull quote

Building a compelling value proposition requires a strong foundational vision. A firm’s vision statement is an internal reflection about who the firm wants to be and what the firm wants to do. Once the vision has been established, the value proposition—which is client-focused, externally oriented and tailored to reflect the value (beyond investment performance) that the firm intends to deliver to its target client base— can be developed and integrated into sales and marketing materials. There must be a careful balance between realism and forward-thinking elements. The market should view the firm’s vision and value proposition as believable, aspirational and within the firm’s reach.

The integration step is critical—consistent messaging around what defines and differentiates the firm is at the heart of developing a strong brand. The marketing function is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the brand messaging through all client, prospect and consultant touch points—pitch materials, client reports, RM/sales team talking points, web presence, thought leadership, media strategy, etc. Equally important is a formal, internal rollout of the key messages. Without the support and consistent reinforcement of these messages by everyone within the organization, the marketing team will be facing a tough uphill battle to change or adjust market perceptions.

Know Your Audience

Without a detailed and thorough understanding of your organization’s current (and future) target audience, all efforts to curate a brand or develop unique, thought-provoking content to support the message will be for naught. Although this may be fairly easy to conceptualize (especially if your firm’s culture is already very client-centric), it requires time, focus and data to execute properly.

As noted in our Q2 2017 paper, Client Journey Mapping: Improving the Investor Experience, one place to start is establishing a detailed client journey map. By taking the time to accurately document all of the touch points and decision points along the journey—from first hearing about the firm to investing assets to (potentially) choosing to cut ties— members of different teams gain a more holistic view of how certain processes tie together.

Client journey mapping immediately provides a forum for discussing how to optimize particular internal processes to enhance the client experience. If done correctly, the organization as a whole walks away with a renewed focus on the importance of putting clients first (supporting retention, cross-sales and prospecting efforts), an understanding about why inconsistencies in messaging can be so disruptive and a strong conviction about the longer-term value in cooperating with the marketing function—whether that be an individual, a task force or a fully resourced department.

Another important step is to collect and review data about how your target audience prefers to interact with managers and consume or access information. Simply mapping out the client journey only gives you half of the picture. Bringing this to life by conducting research to validate currently held views, challenge assumptions and test hypotheses through direct engagement with institutional investors ensures that your strategic marketing efforts are aligned with client needs and preferences.

Dissecting institutional investors’ information consumption patterns has been a hot topic and is likely to remain critically important. The proliferation of technology solutions and elements of our social-mediadefined world are slowly infiltrating the behaviors of even the most sophisticated and traditional-minded CIOs and investment decisionmakers. Beyond tactical insights regarding the preferred style, length and delivery of thought leadership and other forms of intellectual capital, this type of research can also provide a fact-based strategic overlay to both current and future marketing strategies—an immediate benefit for leading firms and up-and-comers alike.

Maximize Impact

Developing a strategic marketing function that consistently creates value across the entire organization is no easy task. One way to drive visible successes is through the development and active management of client segmentation policies and guidelines. Firms that empower marketing departments to lead, or at least take an active role in, client segmentation practices will more quickly see positive and wide-reaching downstream effects.

Developing a holistic segmentation plan and agreeing on the importance or opportunity set for any given client or prospect will enable all groups, including marketing, to allocate appropriate effort toward customization and value delivery. Within this framework, marketing teams can also align their efforts around the key product areas for the firm (driven by input from sales and investments) to ensure no time is wasted on activities related to lower priority products or clients. This, of course, requires a high degree of collaboration between distribution (sales and service) and the investment (product development) groups as well.

Engagement With Intellectual Capital: Top 5 Most Highly Rated Institutional Asset Managers in the U.S.

Firms leading the charge in segmentation efforts have gone on to establish robust mechanisms for disseminating content tailored to the specific preferences and interests of the end user. Some of this intelligence can be gathered on an ongoing basis through the various internal teams. But increasingly, firms are relying on technology to track engagement with different types of content (topics and formats) to help develop very specific profiles of clients and prospects. Leveraging segmentation frameworks and collecting information about how investors want to interact is a self-perpetuating cycle that empowers employees to make smart business decisions and delivers better value to clients.

Modern Segmentation Practices Help To...

Educate to Engage

Content marketing is now a leading form of advertising—for institutional asset management and also across financial services and other industries. A recent report published by Technavio2 suggests that the growth rate of the content-marketing industry broadly from 2009 to 2021 is expected to be just shy of 5x, resulting in annual spend of $421 billion by 2021.

Designing tailored thought leadership content intended to educate the reader has dual benefits. First, the content consumer receives value by learning something new or by gaining new insights into a well-trodden topic. Second, the creator of the content (i.e., the asset manager) establishes its position in the market and creates a linkage between the brand and particular expertise or capabilities. One investment consultant participating in our annual research said,

If You Are A Great Producer quote

In fact, in many cases it is now an expectation that a manager will deliver thoughtful and value-added content to clients as part of the fees paid for the investment mandate. Another investment consultant told Greenwich Associates,

Investors are Not Hiring Them quote

Engagement through education is not a new concept. It’s a balancing act of providing seemingly unbiased advice alongside careful, purposeful brand placement. If done effectively and thoughtfully, an educational paper, event, video, or podcast on a particular topic can be an effective sales pitch veiled as exactly the opposite—a win/win for both sides.

Consistent execution of a content marketing strategy, paired with thoughtful engagement by PMs and senior leaders with key clients and prospects, requires a concerted effort by the marketing function but can pay dividends. Some asset managers with smaller teams, or whose established teams are working on an array of different initiatives, may benefit from the dedicated support of a third party to help shepherd the parts of the process—gathering data and perspectives, curating messages, drafting text, establishing a distribution plan, and/or advising on engagement models.

See the Bigger Picture

It is easy to find a comfort zone and continue to operate within those boundaries until a strong enough force comes along and drives change. For marketing professionals and business leaders alike, complacency quickly eats away at forward progress and competitive advantage.

Rita Gunther McGrath quote

To build a strategic marketing function poised to succeed in the future, an awareness of evolving trends is paramount. How is social media going to continue to shape the way asset managers interact with key decisionmakers? What can “big data” tell marketers about potential or current clients that would enable easier engagement with certain groups? How will new technologies shape the customization of content or effectiveness of delivery to enable better, more client-centric and timeefficient conversations? It is clear that establishing a plan for monitoring these types of developments will be critical to success.

Simultaneously, it is important to develop internal metrics to track ROI and to shape decisions about the strategy in the years ahead. According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), only “35% of B2B marketers measure the return on investment (ROI) of [their organizations’] content marketing efforts3.” Over time, this number is expected to rise and will certainly become an important input in future discussions regarding budgets and resourcing dedicated to the effort. The more credibility the marketing function can build up based on hard data, the more power and responsibility the group will be able to secure over time.

Challenging the Blueprint’s Authenticity and Strength

Before a new home is constructed, the blueprints are reviewed and tested to ensure safety and function, with an appropriate dose of style. Developing a strategic marketing function that will make a positive impact on the organization over the long term requires a similarly rigorous and holistic review to ensure five important pillars have been achieved:

  1. Is it client-centric in all respects?
  2. Is it aligned with the firm’s mission, vision and value proposition?
  3. Is it clear and targeted?
  4. Is it innovative and can it evolve?
  5. Is its ROI measurable?

Some gaps or holes in your firm’s approach are still likely to show up over time. Address any weaknesses in a direct and pragmatic way. Identify “champions” throughout the firm and across different functional areas to help carry the conversation. Remain vigilant about staying informed on evolving trends and preferences. Strive to make the most out of what you have without becoming complacent. And last, but certainly not least, remember how much more you can achieve over time with the right commitment, alignment, focus, and dedication to the cause.

Sara Sikes




1 The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing, CEB Marketing Leadership Council, 2012

2Global Content Marketing Market 2017-2021, Technavio, October 2017

3 B2B Content Marketing: 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends-North America, Content Marketing Institute, 2018