I have been lying to clients for years - and now I am coming clean.
Hi. My name is JD…and I am a liar. These are my colleagues – and they are liars, too. They are just too ashamed to admit it.
Man, it feels good to get that off my chest!
If this were one of those “little white” kind of lies, maybe I would have kept it to myself and just buried the guilt. But this one has kept me up at night.
See…for the past few years, my colleagues and I have been hollering that the alternatives industry lacked imagination in how it thinks about marketing. That it was using antiquated tools and refused to innovate or evolve.
And when we started making that claim nearly five years ago – it was the absolute truth.
But that story has changed – and we have steadfastly refused to acknowledge it. As a matter of fact, we are probably yelling louder now than ever – even though we have absolutely no doubt that what we are shouting about is altogether wrong. It was only a matter of time before the person in our firm with the weakest constitution finally came clean. Turns out – that is me.
Here is the issue – had I told you five years ago that:
• nearly every established institutional alternatives manager would be on LinkedIn – with a profile picture included, no less
• most established investment management companies would have a professionally designed, content-rich website, with video
• a firm as “institutional” as The Carlyle Group would have a link to its Twitter feed on the home page of its website, and that David Rubinstein would have his own TV show, aptly called, “The David Rubinstein Show”
• “real” fund managers would write content directly for mainstream publications like Fortune and become much more active contributors to industry media like Harvest Exchange and Institutional Investor
• the word, “Brand” would actually become commonplace in the industry lexicon and people not only would recognize the term, “Style Guide,” but they would actually insist it be a requirement in any outsourced creative project
…you would have laughed at me (at least the polite people would have just laughed). And if you were kind enough to explain yourself, you would have likely said that our comments were just pure blasphemy making statements like, “compliance departments would never allow any of this…that ‘no one’ in the industry would ever want to draw that much attention to herself even if it were allowed…and that these suggestions might work for retail - but institutional investors are far too sophisticated to ever be swayed by that stuff.”
But – despite all of my efforts to convince the industry that it still hasn’t gotten out of the 90’s with respect to how it markets itself – it actually has. As a matter of fact, I would be surprised if any of these marketing tactics are even questioned two years from today. They will probably be thought of as just “another thing you do” to market a fund in order to be perceived as professional, credible and relevant.
So, now that I have given the industry its proper credit, the obvious question is…what’s next?
First major change… a clear distinction between ‘marketing’ and ‘sales'. Not just ‘business development’ and ‘investor relations’ but actual marketing departments with roles being filled by dedicated ‘brand managers’ and ‘social marketers.’ In fact, the terms ‘social marketing’ and ‘social media’ will soon disappear, quietly being replaced by the terms, ‘marketing’ and ‘media’ – because the ‘social’ component will simply be assumed.
Expect to see a trend toward an increased use of digital tools.
IPads with ‘Digital Decks’ will replace PowerPoint in meetings. Those digital decks will incorporate video and have trackable links. And the data generated by those videos and trackable links will be utilized by managers to profile prospective interest determined by activity-based analytics.
Video will get more targeted and content-focused – eventually, managers will start to send short update clips via video as opposed to text. Managers will go beyond traditional approaches to disseminate other information, as well, and begin hosting regular webinars, video calls and probably even podcasts.
And yes…at some point very soon, an investment management company will muster the courage to launch an actual advertising campaign via an actual mainstream outlet. I am not talking about billboards in Times Square (yet) – but a Barron’s ad - or down the road, even a commercial on CNBC.
Why? Because it has been proven to work. And although the audience for our industry’s products is far more concentrated, it is becoming broader. Besides, the industry has grown way too competitive to continuing doing just the same thing as everyone else.
Besides - do you really think that the next generation of allocators…people who grew up never knowing a world without social media and technology, would default to .pdf as its tool of choice to do their jobs?
By JD David