Isla Mackenzie has had a busy two years since joining Aviva Investors, the global asset management business of Aviva plc, in November 2014. She promptly oversaw a rebranding, a major fund launch and some of the most high-profile marketing campaigns the company has undertaken. In recognition of these achievements, Isla and her team won accolades including the Marketer of the Year award from Investment Marketing & Innovation and best Integrated B2B campaign at the Financial Services Forum (FSF) Awards.

Shortly after her success at the FSF Awards, we sat down with Isla to discuss differentiation, team-building, and shaking up an investment manager that manages £319 billion in global assets.

Q: How did you get to where you are today?

I graduated in English literature and planned initially to work as a journalist. My first role in finance was at Lloyds Motor Finance, followed by a move to Standard Life Investments, where I worked as a marketing executive in the mutual fund business. For me, the main motivation was being able to bring a more creative approach to an industry where marketing strategy had been mundane.

I subsequently moved to Henderson Global Investors in London to take up a product management role. That was a key part of my career development because I learned how an investment manager functions across all segments, from marketing and distribution to business management.

A second stint at Standard Life Investments followed. My team worked closely with Euan Munro – then Executive Director of Standard Life and now Chief Investment Officer of Aviva Investors – to help externalise Standard Life’s Global Absolute Return strategies.

After 16 months at Aberdeen Asset Management, the opportunity arose to work with Euan again at Aviva Investors. He has a vision for the firm to become the global leader in outcome-oriented solutions. It was a clear purpose and I could immediately see the potential. The work involved ramping up marketing of the Aviva Investors Multi-Strategy (AIMS) Target Return Fund and building a highly specialised platform for the subsequent AIMS Target Income Fund.

Q: How have you gone about building the Aviva Investors brand?

We have focused on four target outcomes that we believe clients are looking for: growth, income, managing inflation and liability management. When we were reviewing our collateral and our asset class material, we started with these client outcomes and built our propositions around them.

Developing a common parlance with colleagues that have worked in a particular area of asset management for a long time, with embedded processes and vocabulary, was a key challenge.

We had to work closely with the investment teams to help them rethink how they described their propositions, and how they delivered specific outcomes for clients. It took some time for people to get comfortable with the concept. Now they are, we are delivering much more compelling marketing material that helps customers understand how we are creating value for them.

Q: Which elements of your marketing have been the most effective and why?

There are two things I have been especially proud of during my time with Aviva Investors. The first is our rebrand strategy. We launched our new brand in June 2014, just seven months after I joined the firm. With only half the current team in place, it was impressive how the marketing, sales and investment teams came together.

On the launch day, we took everybody out of the building. The next morning, staff came into an office that had been transformed. I think employees were thrilled to have a brand in which they could take great pride.

My second highlight would be the target income campaign. For the AIMS Target Income Fund, we conducted a large piece of proprietary research. It polled institutional, wholesale and retail clients, canvassing their views about income, and what they believed managers could generate on a sustainable basis. The process focused us on a target return of 4%, around which we built an integrated  campaign. After that we went up a gear, rolling out video and infographics and all the tools we could use to bring the story to life.

Target Income creates a natural income derived from distinct, but controlled sources. Our creative team came up with an engaging image of a waterfall, with different streams of water coming together under the implied control of human intervention. We thought it was a good mechanism to showcase the fund because, although the income stream is natural, a huge amount of intellectual capital is invested in the structure of the Fund.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in implementing your campaign and how did you overcome them?

For us, one of the huge benefits of being part of the Aviva Group is the huge investment our parent has made in digital. Aviva Group CEO Mark Wilson is a huge advocate of digital. The group decided to invest in a cloud-based CRM system, which we piloted and which helped us build a highly responsive digital platform.

The big challenge, however, was that we had to build all of that in a very short space of time. I’ve seen some managers take 18 to 24 months to turn around their digital platform because of the complexity involved.  We were determined to get digitally responsive campaigns running sooner rather than later and we are looking to improve the quality of our digital outlook this year.  We also launched social media a few months ago.

Q: More broadly, what would you say are the biggest issues facing the investment marketing industry today?

For marketers generally, there are two key challenges. Firstly, there is a challenge to scale up marketing efforts because businesses like Aviva Investors are expanding globally. We must do that while controlling costs, which requires innovative thinking about how to build scale and how best to deploy a global versus local response.

The other is differentiation. The research we’ve done around brand tells us that no asset manager has really created what I would describe as real distinction in the minds of end customers.

Q: Where do you think that differentiation can come from? Can investment products really be sufficiently differentiated in the minds of consumers?

We’re all striving to create innovative propositions  that can deliver something unique. I also think it’s crucial to consider how customers want to live their lives, and how they want to save and invest.

For me, the key thing is identifying what those new drivers are and thinking how investment propositions can respond. One thing we’ve learned from other industries is that people are driven by emotion. You  can create an emotional bond with clients by telling a story. It’s hard to make that connection through investment management because the business feels detached. We’re still dealing with customers who have got lots of challenges and issues and things they need to navigate. They are still massively impacted by emotional decisions.

Q: Where is the investment marketing industry headed in the next few years?

Investment marketing teams will have to become more comfortable with data. It will become increasingly difficult for marketing teams to justify having big budgets without demonstrating clear alignment with the revenue model. Cost control is going to be a big deal for marketing teams in the near future, as businesses come under greater pressure from consolidation and regulation. It’s going to require great focus and creativity to thrive in this environment.

That said, I think this is a great time to be in investment marketing because we will really see who can rise to the challenge – which can help guide their business through these challenging times while maintaining strong engagement with the customer base.

Niels Footman