INTERVIEW: Dutch asset manager NN IP on marketing sustainability

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Dutch asset manager NN IP is working through its integration with Goldman Sachs as it continues to enhance its position in the sustainability space, according to its Head of Global Marketing.

Edwin Rietkerk, who also heads distribution in the Benelux region, says that the company is in the final year of delivering on a 2018 to 2022 strategic plan, which four years ago set out the firm’s ambitions. Key elements of the strategy include becoming a leader in responsible investing, delivering an excellent client experience, delivering investment excellence and expanding the firm’s commercial footprint in key markets.

“In that commercial strategy we have identified markets with a lot of clients in them or big growth potential as markets we want to build.”

Marketing strategy is purpose-built to support this overall strategy, or in Edwin’s words, to “bring it to life”.

“We bring things to life through content which allows you to give more colour on what you do, what your opinion is and what drives your business, products and decisions.”

Measuring real content success

While the approach is content-first, Edwin says it is important to underpin this with data so that “we are not just talking about ourselves.”

There are a range of different inputs to the content, based around research that fund managers are doing and what they are asking salespeople about.

This process is used to determine which content categories NN IP wishes to be strong on, such as sustainability and green bonds. The only content that “counts” is that focused on these chosen themes.

Measuring success goes beyond looking at page views and average time spent on a page.

There are embedded tools on certain pages to measure how long a reader has spent on the page. With longer content, the firm considers around 75% of the article being read as a success, since further down the page from that tends to include disclaimers and other regulatory information.

The analysis also takes account of the types of people who are reading the pieces to ensure they are the target audience, such as key decision-makers and influencers (including journalists and people who have influence within a company).

Most campaigns start with content. There is “not always one answer” about where to share content. Edwin says that most of the time the firm’s owned channels, such as email and sales contacts, are the most efficient, while LinkedIn can be effective

The importance of brand in asset management

The company’s brand is built around the key themes of “sustainability and transparency”, as well as “clear and human”.

Edwin sees brand as having two key aspects – whether a company is known and whether it is thought of positively. In some markets, such as the Benelux and Poland, the brand is well known and it is easier to give it a positive meaning to people.

In markets where NN IP is “much younger”, the firm is still fighting to become known and building a brand is one of the “big asks” from sales.

“Otherwise distributors might not consider us despite having great products.”

He says there is mounting evidence that a strong brand is important in the industry. In particular, a piece of academic research about brand in asset management, which argued that while brand does not really impact in-flows into a fund it does restrain outflow.

“Distribution partners tend to stay longer with stronger brands.”

While one of the key areas NN IP wants to be considered for is sustainability, which it calls “responsible investing”, being authentic is a “constant challenge”.

“It’s not only something we are good at but something a lot of our clients are asking for.”

He says that the products offered by a firm and its governance have to go “hand in hand”.

“You cannot find sustainability important without being a sustainable company, because clients will judge you on that.”

So how does NN IP differentiate itself?

“This is not something we started last year. Our first fund we launched around sustainability was 20 years ago, so we started early.”

He says that Dutch clients in particular are known to be quite advanced in sustainability thinking.

Part of the four-year strategy was to write something about sustainability every month. It is crucial that sustainability is “in everything the company does”. This includes the way the company invests and NN IP’s own business operations.

The company ensures that much of its press engagement is around sustainability, whether through thought leadership pieces on sustainable investing challenges, regulation, engagement strategy, or more product and market-related views such as impact reporting, impact equity strategies, green and social bonds market developments.

“That is an important first step – to show that you’re committed to a sustainability approach.”

He adds that it is also important to have thought leaders in sustainability within the company to talk about the topic. The job of the marketing is just to amplify those stories.

“That makes the marketing easier, because the only thing you need to do is bring those stories to the audience.”

Edwin thinks in the future it will be harder to be known as an overall leader in “sustainability” and different companies will own different aspects within the sustainability umbrella.

The key objective for the next year or so is to handle the integration with Goldman Sachs, which completed its acquisition of NN IP in April.

This will aim to retain each brand where it is strongest. Edwin compares this to the discussions of a couple moving in together, who both think their furniture is the best.

“The point of departure is to bring together the best of both worlds. This will be a gradual process during which we remain focused on providing continuity and minimal disruption of our clients.”

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