Way back in the blissfully optimistic mid-1990s, Bill Gates published an influential article on Microsoft’s website called “Content is King.” The piece argued that content—even more than products or services—would become the most important aspect of the web. In the years since, the phrase “content is king” has become a cliché. Nevertheless, like many clichés, it’s rooted in truth. Content is indeed more critical than ever, creating an arms race among asset managers—and many crowded inboxes.
While most asset managers recognize the need for content, many still struggle with content creation, particularly with developing thought leadership and other value-add programs. Most marketing and communication teams focus on what needs to be completed each quarter—the crucial but seemingly endless fund commentaries, due diligence requests, questionnaires, etc. But firms that really want to differentiate themselves know that’s not enough. They recognize the need to produce proactive content marketing on a consistent basis, but they may not know where or how to start. Here are five key questions to begin that journey.
Question 1: What are your overall strategic goals?
Many marketers focus on content rather than strategy, but it’s crucial that any asset manager’s thought leadership program or content marketing series reinforces the firm’s broader strategic goals. The process should start with a discussion with your firm’s business leaders. What are the objectives over the next year? Three years? Five years? Where are the growth opportunities? Where are you playing defense? A content strategy for a firm looking to launch new products would be very different than that of a firm seeking to grow the AUM of its current products. Alternatively, a firm specializing in currently out-of-favor asset classes may benefit most from content that offers reasons why investors should stay the course. Each firm is different, but regardless, all of your content should have a purpose clearly aligned with your strategic goals.
Question 2: Who’s your audience?
It’s crucial that you segment your target audience(s)and tailor content to their needs. The first step in this process is to clearly identify your current clients by investor type (i.e., institutional investors, financial advisors, and individuals), as well as the types of prospects in your pipeline. You can do this by identifying your largest clients by asset size, revenue, profitability, or other measures in your CRM or accounting systems. To help gain insights into the type of content that each of these audiences wants, you may want to develop ideal client personas.
A one-size-fits-all approach does not work. It’s a mistake to use the exact same piece for investment consultants, financial advisors, and end clients. An article that may confuse an individual investor may seem too elementary to a sophisticated consultant. Consultants tend to have much longer attention spans, as they are paid to dig deep into investment topics. On the other hand, an individual investor may be reading your piece while listening to a podcast or riding the train or checking their email (or all three at once).
This doesn’t mean you need to write on different topics for these audiences. Not at all. You can use the same fundamental insights (for instance, “we believe that stocks in emerging markets are set to rally”) but package it in different ways. For example, you may create a chart-heavy white paper for institutional investors, a two-page executive summary piece for financial advisors, and an infographic on your website for individual investors. Thinking about the different audiences and types of deliverables in advance will help you greatly as you plan your content roadmap. Just keep in mind that by trying to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one.
Question 3: What do you have to say, and are you credible saying it?
There’s no right answer to these questions, but there are better answers. What is your firm’s competitive advantage? (If you can’t clearly articulate your firm’s value proposition, you should begin there before diving into your content strategy.) What types of insights do people expect from you? Every firm or investment team has some type of unique perspective, but it can sometimes take a good writer to extract those insights from a chief investment officer or portfolio manager.
In a crowded marketplace, you need to either say something interesting, or at least say something in a new or catchy way. You also need to make sure that you truly have expertise in the area you’re writing about. Start with your strengths. For example, if you’re really strong in fixed income, or international equities, begin there. If you have an economist on staff, ask them to write down what they think about every day. The insights for a strong content series are probably already in the heads of your people. But make sure that you’re convincing, and that you aren’t simply producing content for its own sake. Again, this is a strategic process.
Question 4: What are you trying to accomplish with your content?
Content can do a lot for you. Based on a study by Edelman and LinkedIn, content can increase the effectiveness of your sales processes. It can help you break into new markets—either other geographies or additional product areas. It can also allow you to directly reach end investors or position yourselves as experts in a specific area. Content can also open doors. According to Greenwich Associates, institutional investment consultants are more likely to take a meeting if your firm offers interesting thought leadership that they can share with their clients. Conversely, a consultant that thinks they’re only going to get a “product push” is less likely to take a meeting in the first place. It’s safe to say that if you’re in the institutional marketplace, content is extraordinarily important. That’s equally true if you want to stand out in the extremely competitive mutual fund market. Knowing and defining your goals in advance will help you understand if a series is successful or if you need to make changes.
Question 5: Do you have the resources to be successful?
Ultimately, a content strategy is only as good as its execution. A content roadmap looks ahead in a systematic way to define topics, deadlines, and distribution plans. That said, you still need the personnel and expertise to implement your plans. Writing about investing is hard, especially if you don’t want to sound like everyone else. Do you have strong writers on your marketing team? Do you have portfolio managers that love to write? Does your agency have writers that truly understand investing? A key element of your content strategy should focus on building or hiring the right team to plan, execute, and ultimately measure the success of your content program.
The process requires a lot of thought, but is absolutely worth the effort.