Differentiate Your Investment Brand


Asset Management, Corporate and Investment Banking

Justin Mould

Managing Director

Fin International

Everyone loves a good story, but it requires a certain dexterity to get one across. Yet storytelling is all the rage today. It is the narrative that has spun wildly from the beginning, consumed middle-of-the-road brands and knows no end.

It’s this year’s ‘holistic’.

But telling tales is also clearly on the mind of marketers in the investment sector. In a 2019 survey for The Financial Services Forum – with the majority of respondents from the investment side of the industry – “being able to differentiate from their competitors” was the number one issue.

And that’s what the right stories do across media. With their remarkable ability to bring brands narratively and visually to life, they set you apart – and help you build an emotional connection with customers.

Why stories matter for investment brands
Science is getting better at discerning why stories are so powerful. Neurologists have shown that when stories capture our attention we can take in information better and be persuaded to act.

Stories help us make sense of the world. And in the complex investment domain, the easier it is for audiences to understand the benefits of products and services the better. (See how a relatable visual language can be used to tell a story)

Telling a story to help define a company’s long-term goals is just as important for B2B brands as B2C, and more common than you might think. A 2013 Google survey found that “On average, B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers”.

Furthermore, a Marketing Week survey in May 2019 revealed that B2B companies who outperformed their competition over the last two years are twice as likely to think long term. This is the foresight you need when building powerful brand storylines across media as diverse as digital advertising, websites, social media, print and outdoor communications.

Investment company marketing has traditionally fallen into two camps: one reinforced by facts and figures (eg. what quintile, how many analysts, portfolio asset split) and one where some narrative (eg. conviction-led approach, commodity super-cycle) is woven into the marketing mix.

But how do you differentiate yourself from another company that also offers an EM large-cap index tracker for 0.05%? Or one with people on the ground in 48 territories worldwide, too?

Increasingly, a hybrid approach has come into effect – where the facts and figures are deployed but where a narrative may be inserted, for example, around how Jorge from the portfolio team spent his summer in Japan. (Looking for on-the-ground opportunities.)

Even Ernest Hemingway admitted that for every masterful page he wrote, he composed 91 other pages of rubbish.

This is a tricky feat to pull off effectively, and it is typically more useful to develop a resonant story then see what figures can support the narrative. The main purpose of storytelling for investment brands – like companies everywhere – is to build confidence, to reinforce the qualities of trust and efficiency and to amplify consideration. But it’s not easy.

Even Ernest Hemingway admitted that for every masterful page he wrote, he composed 91 other pages of rubbish. (He put it more colourfully in this letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald)

We have five tips to help investment industry marketers:

1. Avoid telling the whole truth
While you obviously shouldn’t embellish facts, perhaps don’t tell the full story, either. Because describing a firm’s genesis from a quant society in Cambridge, or regaling the minutiae of a bottom up strategy could test your readers. Like legendary Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman said, “You always come into the scene at the last possible moment”. Then get out as fast as you can.

2. Be authentic
Authenticity is not just for ‘woke’ apparel designers, your story must also play true to what you stand for as a company. You can’t elicit the virtues of being an equal opportunities provider if you have an all-male boardroom. But if you have an SRI ethos not only embedded in your investment process, but also within how the whole company is run, that’s a memorable narrative to push.

3. Dig deep
Your brand story, or relevant company stories, won’t always be evident. But if you look hard enough, you should find something worth telling. It could be about the challenges of families to preserve intergenerational wealth, then the solution; it could be the story of an index provider and how their experience helps them to formulate new indices quickly.

Importantly, your story could come from a business aspect common in your sector, but if nobody else talks about it, that could be a persuasive point of differentiation.

4. Be wary of making your story too great
Making claims that are too bold in your story can damage your credibility, plus you also have to get essential compliance sign off.

5. Tell your tale, even if you don’t share it
All good brand stories should be told, but sometimes elements of your narrative may not be shared in public for whatever reason (eg, conflicting strategies, budgets). But your story – the compelling elements of what you do well – should still be composed. A story can be an invaluable internal guide to keep sales teams, the C-suite, internal comms and marketing all humming from the same song sheet. And where it meets the outside world, to empower a unified dialogue with customers.

Going deeper, with a proven partner
While these tips may be useful to absorb, they only skim the surface. To get to the heart of your brand’s story, you must delve a little deeper.

Extracting and delivering a brand’s key story requires strategic thinking, thorough research, and vigorous interrogation. Difficult questions may need to be asked.

Because up to 90% of all marketing budgets are wasted (not remembered or acted upon) – don’t you want to be in the 10%? If you want to be in the top decile your brand should look, sound and behave differently to anyone else in your sector. You need a language all of your own (visual and verbal) so that you stand out – both on the inside and outside.

To establish this language we think you need discover the idea at the heart of your business – the kernel of your brand.

Our own method has been designed, and refined, over nearly 30 years of client and agency experience developing brands of meaning, personality and conviction.

We help companies to show what makes them different by crafting narratives that ring true and loud. Because while everyone has a story to tell, not everyone is a natural storyteller.

If you would like help to bring your story to life, please get in touch.