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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Five Toasts to the New Year
Guest Column by: Pat Allen

Pat Allen
Rock The Boat Marketing
2011 predictions for asset management firms seeking to maximize their presence online? Well, not so much…we prefer to present the following list as five toasts—what we’d say as we drink to the mutual fund and ETF digital marketer’s health in the new year.

May You…

1. …Lighten Up

We spent most of 2010 describing in grand terms the enterprise benefits for the asset management firm that commits to social media. But as we leave 2010 behind, we take away something less lofty from the investment manager Twitter accounts we monitor (about 35 on our Twitter list).

Some asset managers are using Twitter to introduce personality and wit to their communications. For just a few examples, see the Twitter account streams of Rochester Funds, Vanguard and iShares ETFs.

Service/communications with a smile. It’s an idea whose time has come for mutual fund and ETF communicating. The communications that make an effort appropriate to the medium where other communicators are making an effort are likelier to be read, appreciated and shared. What you have to say is valuable and deserves attention, so why present it as bitter medicine?

It’s possible to strike a more conversational tone in non-social communications, too. In 2011 we look for the success of the emerging Twitter personalities to nudge all firm communications to become less wooden and more personable.

2. …Find A Way To Go More Than Half The Way

For as much as this regulated industry has in common with the pharmaceutical industry, pharmaceutical companies have at least one advantage: the free sample. In general, 2010 was the year of beta invitations, flash sales and coupons, all marketing devices that are effective at both reducing the risk of new product trial and of driving excitement and demand.

Toward the end of the year, even a financial planner we follow on AdvisorTweets jumped on board with an offer to defer compensation: “As a client, you do not have to decide whether you wish to pay for and continue with our planning services until we deliver your financial plan and discuss your recommendations. You determine if you've received the value necessary to pay for our services. If so, we expect you to pay for the service as agreed upon from the outset of the engagement. If you do not believe you have received enough value, simply walk away without paying us for the time we have put in to that point. You will not owe anything,” offered Nathan Gehring on his Website.

What can asset management marketers do to reduce the risk for an advisor or investor to enter into a relationship? We look for other industries’ 2010 marketing successes to inspire some new thinking in 2011. What do you know about what happens when your firm is in the consideration set and yet doesn’t prevail? Put the question to your wholesalers, national account staff, Web analytics team. Collaboration plus creativity may point to ways to lower the barriers for advisor and investor trial. And, of course, there will need to be a system in place to evaluate.

3. …Appoint And Empower A Content Czar

Content is what commands advisors’ online attention. But across the board, asset manager content is under-leveraged and under-marketed for silly reasons (e.g., distributed marketing silos) that stand in the way of a firm’s online visibility.

If 2011 is your year to get serious, appoint a content czar and empower him or her to appropriate the best content for the widest audience. Yes, that flies in the face of the common practice of conserving content for tightly constructed audiences (such as visitors to your advisor-only sites). It’s a new year.

Consider what continues to be the most effective content syndication initiative for asset managers: an investment strategist or portfolio manager appearance on CNBC. Your highest paid talent addressing a mass audience.

Name a content director, take the locks off your content, spread it far and wide—and that includes via a mobile app—and watch what happens!

4. …Widen The Circle

Elsewhere, marketers have taken the lead in introducing social media to their organizations. We’ll admit to grousing about the starring role that asset manager Compliance officers took in 2010.

Here’s who we think belongs at the table in 2011 along with Compliance:

  • Marketing—Marketing leadership, that is, not the designated junior staffer. Throughout 2010, we’ve interacted via Twitter direct messages and email with more than a dozen junior marketers (non-clients) eager to make the case for social media at their firms. They understand being social, they are a treasure and, especially as the job market inevitably eases, they are to be treasured. But social media planning in 2011 will require Marketing management-types whose added years of experience and insights give them some gravitas in an organization to get more done and in an integrated way.

  • Customer service management—Of course.

  • Sales—Pity the wholesaler who calls on an advisor who’s tweeting, blogging, producing his own videos on YouTube and the wholesaler doesn’t know any piece of it. In 2011, we look for organizations to be listening and learning and institutionalizing what they learn via the CRM.

  • Investor and public relations—Throughout 2010, we’ve been following IRWebReport’s coverage of the evolution of a new online disclosure model designed to address the high costs and inefficiencies of current information dissemination practices. The changes have implications for corporate Web site and social media disclosures. Much of the IRWebReport’s focus is on earnings releases, but this industry’s PR costs related to ETF and other product launches are added reason to follow this discussion. Although frequently outside the circle, investor and public relations managers at asset management firms need to be drawn in as in 2011 they’re likely to represent a new consideration for social media and Website planning.

  • IT and Human Resources—Of course.

  • 5. …Seize Privacy Disclosures As An Opportunity To Demonstrate Your Honorable Intentions

    What information are you collecting online and how are you using it? All companies will field that question as online privacy continues to be a hot topic in 2011. We see it as a communications opportunity. What’s more, it’s a chance for asset managers to do better and different than how the industry has approached investment risk disclosures that seem tilted toward protecting the provider more than the investor.

    Long-time digital visionary Esther Dyson has been quoted as saying, “It’s not about privacy; it’s about transparency, disclosure and control. I don’t know what privacy is, and you as marketers don’t know what privacy means to each of the individuals you market to. What you can do is you can disclose your own practices, you can make them intelligible and you can give your users control.”

    Our hope for this industry is that asset managers will fight the temptation to load up already-dense Privacy Policy statements and think that they’re done. The care that a financial services company takes to protect privacy must go beyond the letter of what’s required. Someone in the business (not Legal) must be continually mindful of how new activities impact privacy protections and disclosures.

    Here’s to an excellent year!  

    Edited by: Pat Allen

    Pat Allen is the founder of Rock The Boat Marketing, a Chicago-based digital marketing strategy consulting boutique specializing in financial services clients. She also runs AdvisorTweets.com, a site that aggregates the tweets of U.S. financial advisors. Pat’s Twitter accounts: @RockTheBoatMKTG and @AdvisorTweets.

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