JO Hambro Head of Marketing: “People buy people – they are the product”

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Establishing a distinctive brand identity is the top priority of JO Hambro Capital Management (JOHCM)’s marketing director, as he approaches six months in the job.

Since Tom Hughes started in the role at the beginning of December, he has been focusing on moving the marketing function to a “more modern, well-resourced marketing department…[with] the rigour and process that you often see with bigger firms.”

Having worked for 11 years at Allianz Global Investors, Tom notes that the digital operations team alone at many firms is larger than the entire marketing team at JOHCM. Having the right technology in place to build scalable processes is crucial.

While bringing the benefits of a larger marketing department, Tom hopes to hold onto the company’s current strengths, maintaining its “character, client focus and culture”.

Joining at this moment in JO Hambro’s journey comes as a few structural trends drive a change in how asset managers market products, he argues. He highlights a change in how professional investors buy products, moving from performance-led to taking more account of brand and content, meaning the role of marketing is more critical.

In addition, Tom says data now allows marketers to gather better data on client behaviour, boosting the effectiveness and efficiency of marketing efforts – the former meaning covering the right topic, the latter meaning reaching the right clients at the right time.

Alongside these changes within marketing, there is no doubt that this is a turbulent time for the industry, amidst inflation and stock market volatility.

“It’s a tough market backdrop for all asset managers this year,” Tom says. “From a marketing perspective you have to be more flexible than you would have to be in planning and budgeting structures.”

In particular, he says managers need to pay extra attention to the relative performance of all investment products on a day-to-day basis. In this context, marketing serves to hold the different parts of the business and communicate proactively

“You need to be ahead of any questions – you don’t want to be on the back foot,” he says.


A home for talent

The USP of the firm, and what Tom wants to emphasise while building the brand, lies in it being a “home for talent”.

“Fund managers want to work here – we have an incredibly low turnover. From a marketing perspective a lot of this is a dream ticket.”

In contrast to many in the sector, JOHCM openly embraces a “star manager” culture.

“People buy people – they are the product. That gives us something distinctive in the market.”

This means that a key part of the marketing approach is giving the opportunity for teams to shine, showcasing the insights and approaches of the managers. Selling the “sausage factory”, as he wryly terms the approaches of some other firms, is harder.

JOHCM’s people are at the centre of its content strategy, which Tom describes as fulfilling several different functions. This might include content to promote the brand on the one hand, including the likes of podcasts and advertising, and that to promotes with more thematic content in the middle.

“You have to clearly categorise that and the purpose it’s trying to serve – where it is on the journey.”

He argues that the firm will never be doing “tonnes of brand content”. What is success depends on what the aims are.

While some players have managed to create a destination or hub, he says, the few companies who achieved it did through consistency and a big brand presence. Most firms lack the resources to create regular destination content, however.

“You have to be the best or fastest. We’re never going to be the fastest, so we have to be the best. To be the best we have to pick niches where we can be best and where we have something to share.”

Historically, Tom says, the firm has underinvested in marketing, partly as a function of being a very investment-led organisation.

“We’re performance-driven and have lagged behind some of the trends shifting, as well as the importance of brand in how people think about buying product now.”

The path has been relatively clear in some places, with the need to ensure the right plumbing is in place to do activities successfully, such as putting the website on the right platform, using the right automation tool, and the right technology for emails. The data now generated via digital interactions with the firm and its content has become a powerful source of insights for both marketing and sales.

There have also been more structural changes to the team. Previously the team wasn’t necessarily optimised to produce the best content.

“You can’t rely on fund managers to just be brilliant writers. There are some who are, but some need editing.”

Getting the right team in place to deliver good content has been one area the company is investing in, as well as in ensuring that stories are being told in the right way. The best way to distribute content might be video, animation or audio.

Alongside having the right content, it is important to have an active strategy to distribute it that goes beyond emails to areas such as social media, Tom says.

Despite the pandemic leading to changes in preferences as to how people spend time and working habits, Tom points to the constant: at the heart of this has to be the stories, he argues.

“If it’s brilliant, it will work in any format. That’s why great podcasts become books and great books become movies.

He compares the content itself to music and the distribution to a stereo being used to play it.

“The stereo is how loud you can play the music. That’s the technology and channels such as Citywire and LinkedIn. We spend a lot of time on that bit; it’s easier to influence.”

He adds, however, that the music “needs to be good, otherwise no-one will want to listen.

“We need to think about those things in tandem together and influence both as much as we can.

His priority for the coming months is “working and building a differentiated, distinctive brand” with JOHCM– which he says he doesn’t see a lot of peers doing.

“There is a move in certain asset managers towards a cookie-cutter marketing approach. For content, you hire ex-journalists to churn out stuff.

“That’s not exciting and I don’t think that’s the future.”

There are two key areas that the company plans to focus on in developing its distinctive presence as an truly active equities house. The first area within this is JO Hambro’s expertise in impact investing, where Tom says the firm is “doing impact the way it should be done” due to its tangible and transparent reporting approach and history of long-term investing.

The other is its “market-leading” UK equities presence, which Tom says needs to be shared with the market more. The goal is to be seen as “one of the top three players in UK equities”.

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