The Ted Rogers School of Asset Management Marketing

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Asset Management, Brand Strategy

Mark Taylor

MR TAYLORS BRAND EMPORIUM


Asset Management is an industry I enjoy and find truly fascinating, in among the distilleries, food companies and train companies I also work with.

And I’ve been lucky enough to be employed as branding consultant to some of the ‘best’ fund managers in the market, driving large-scale branding and engagement projects, over the past decade.
Each time, the problem and opportunity has been the same: uncover what makes very similar businesses different, relevant and competitive (but rarely unique).

Certainly there are too many asset management companies in the world. All struggling for the same hard fought distribution to market and inflow cash. All jostling for position in the minds of over-burdened intermediaries and end-investors.

Product manufacturers are under greater pressure than ever for margin, distribution and hearts & minds.

The Elevator is stuck on level ‘C’
In such an over-catered market, every asset management company needs to have clarity on what they are about as a business. To be able to deliver the ‘elevator pitch’ with confidence and credibility, by anyone and everyone in the business, not just the top team. Although it might often be the C-suite team who is the problem. Ask the executive team of a fund management company.

‘So what makes you special and different from the hundreds of other companies out there?’’….…the silence speaks volumes, punctuated only with by a few generic platitudes.

Common ground
All asset management companies aim to make you money and many/most, in a comfy, herd-like fashion, focus on one of three things to convince you of their value : lets call this the rule of “321”, or
The Ted Rogers School of Asset Management:

3. Good performance (what)
2. Good people (who)
1. Good process (how)

3. Too many asset management companies over-define themselves on the theme of performance. Good performance is vital and no one would suggest that you could run a successful asset management business for long without ‘shooting the lights out’ more than occasionally.

But an over-focus on the numbers creates hostages to fortune.

Because when all you have is performance, what happens when performance is lost?

2. For those over-focusing on good people (almost always the fund manager themselves), the problem is equally acute.

Fund manufacturers often view “star managers” like totem poles, highly visible, talismans of good fortune and competence.

Financial fertility symbols. Fund managers duly oblige with the cult take up their Copernican positions at the center of the investment universe.

Whilst they are the engine room of an asset management business, the ship still needs a Captain and a much bigger crew of skills and competencies to be able to set sail and steer a course, over the long term. It’s just plain dangerous to focus on the fund managers as the primary calling card of the business, face of the brand and support for brand differentiation.

Because when they jump ship for your most admired/hated rival your business, what then?

1. Finally, a few companies put faith in how they do things- the process and approach followed, ‘whatever the investment climate and performance weather’.

They will claim to be bottom-up/top-down/or free from being up or down.

It makes sense but is often quite dull and hard to communicate clearly to end investors. And, process can be copied, what then?

Why, why, why?
What asset management companies in their legions overlook or never search for is the most powerful and enduring way to build differentiation with clients and consumer in the asset management space.

By answering the simple, most important self-awareness question of all…Why do we do the things we do? Ask yourself, what is the company all about deep down, beyond the replicable, illusionary & flighty trinity of performance, process and peacock-manager? What is the motivation and belief of the business, that seeps from every pore? What is enduring about the company, it culture and its beliefs that investors and intermediaries can share?

What does the company and its culture represent for investors, which can elicit a ‘buy-into’ rather than just buy-from commitment?

Simply, distinctively, competitively, what does the asset management company stand for (or conversely NOT stand for)?

This line of thinking and inquiry leads to richer, more emotive territory and less risky, more ownable space in a crowded and rapidly evolving industry.

Cynicism, transparency and empowerment
That’s positioning at the level of trust and own ability, based on a greater depth of credibility and integrity of promise because the answers to these big, more searching questions, tap into what runs deep beneath the surface. We live in a hyper-cynical world, in which FS generally had a large shaping hand. All businesses are transparent boxes. Open to the scrutiny of empowered consumers, rallied by campaigning press and vocal bloggers, fueled by the collectivism of engaging social media.

Think like a stick of rock
To be truly competitive, long-term, you will need to find a basic truth about the business in terms of how it sees the world, its point of view, what it believes, its purpose and its cultural traits and values and leverage that in the day-to-day operations of the business.

Then your asset management businesses stands a chance of creating a proper, powerful brand; not just another quite well-known name, linked to a logo and unremarkable color palette, a fund manager’s face and the last lot of half-decent performance figures. Defining what you stand for, gives the business & brand something that people can buy into and believe in. An ownable, compelling, distinctive story that unfolds over time. One that employees can buy into and live & breathe, through their own behaviors, bringing the ideas and promises to life like the writing down the middle of a stick of rock…with clarity, cohesion & consistency.

Acme Asset Management
The generics of ‘point of difference’/ USP/Proposition will not cut it in an increasingly cut-throat industry, re-shaped by over-supply and more demanding investors looking for clarity and value from their commoditizing product manufacturers.

By standing for something clear and distinctive, bedrock of credibility, integrity and consistency is cast, within which the “stars”, performance charts and processes can all be embedded. But they are important chapters of a bigger, more engaging and rewarding business/brand story.

Commercially clearly articulated ‘Stand for’ brands are more capable of delivering stable, longer term value and business benefits:

  • Clear differentiation, based on something credible and sustainable for the business-its idea, direction, values, essence
  • Motivation and inspiration for employees
  • Creating of conviction and trust in the company
  • ‘Standing for something’ can be a strong surrogate/ symbol for performance e.g. Artemis ‘The Profit Hunter’s’ tenacity, guile, independence and adventurous spirit stands for performance, even when the numbers aren’t particularly forthcoming
  • Appeal for the heart as well as the head (where all human beings neurologically default judgment and decision making -fact)

Artemis (The Profit Hunter), Ignis and AXA Architas to name 3, understood this when I worked with them. ‘Heroic’ brands that employees and investors felt an affinity with because it was clear they stood for something beyond average. Brands/busineses elevated beyond the rank and file competition. Others now include Baillie Gifford, Octopus and Ruffer.

The Wilbur Smith of fund management
Artemis ‘The Profit Hunter’ was a performance claim but without the numbers. It’s an attitude, a belief and a personality that comes from a bigger thought about the Artemis business and its people and their distinctive culture. They are a creative bunch of people. Mavericks. Individuals not hide-bound by a single process. Individuals making their own decisions on how to best hunt down profits for investors.
Not so much fund managers as a collective of entrepreneurs. That’s the difference and essence of Artemis when you think about it isn’t it?

That’s bigger and more emotive than just performance, a process (Smart-Garp) or the faces of John Dodd, Lindsay Whitelaw or Adrian Frost.

Resolution Asset Management a few years back, was not just about performance.

It was on a mission to get the best talent into the business, under a series of JV arrangements arranged by JP, to offer investors best in class investing. Its idea was around being the concentrated boutique. Performance was a product of that ethos. Fund managers were mentioned but it was the heroic stance and profile of the boutique itself that dominated as individual ‘heroes’, within the company collective.

And Architas was a start up backed by AXA with a strong story from the core. A visionary professional services company that constructed from scratch what clients needed, providing an innovative service to an industry used to a ‘buy what we sell’ mentality. Standing for something beyond just the manager, his numbers and the process that got there.

Do fund managers weep?
But this all sounds a bit emotional, New Agey doesn’t it? Investors, retail or institutional, do not buy funds because of shared values or business vision. Surely show me the money should be their only, rational mantra?

HERE IS A SHOCKER. It is impossible to remove the basic nature of human beings from investment industry managers, intermediaries and end investors, just line any other human being. Even DAM’s are human!

Which means that they are all highly susceptible to the drive of emotional decision-making, which they know or like it or not.

When buying a coffee, ordering pizza, flying to Australia, washing our clothes or choosing a home insurer, people are the same. And when it comes to investing and investments they are still people.
They confirm to the principles, now increasingly understood by behavioral science, that the hard wiring in body & brain covertly drives & shapes all our core responses & behaviors.

Personality, values, passions, purpose, all these emotionalities are appealing, even essential, to other human beings, helping us decide who we do business with. Building the relationships we form of value to us, commercially and personally.

Companies/brands have feelings too. Or should have. Strong brands are leveraged emotions creating experiences that build value for people. Bonding customer, client and company and ultimately creating deep, commercially significant differentiation for the businesses they represent.

A rubbish Ted-Talk
So to conclude, Asset Management businesses should recognize the serious limitations of Ted Roger’s ‘321’ approach as a model for assessing distinctive positioning in crowded markets. Real differentiation and commercial success should come from something more distinctive, deeper and meaningful. And for that, you’ll need to reach to the bottom of the dusty bin that is your business, to find the valuable brass amongst the common old rubbish, which must become your shiny new brand.



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