Asset Managers’ Ongoing Quest to Build Marketing Muscle


It’s a phenomenon known to many in the investment management industry: a weak marketing function that essentially amounts to sales support. Without a doubt, marketing should work closely with sales, but the two functions are complementary. Weak marketing–which boils down to order fulfilment–does a disservice to sales teams and hinders a firm’s business development efforts.

Sadly, not everyone in the industry has a clear picture of the role and capabilities of a strong marketing function.

May I take your order, please?

Many asset management marketers will recognize the model OppenheimerFunds’ Chief Marketing Officer Martha Willis describes whereby marketing consists mainly of fulfilling sales requests for brochureware, down to the last detail. Sales teams who “told us exactly what the brochure needed to say, the type font—everything about it.”

A familiar feeling

The challenge for many asset management firms is to break from this request fulfillment model and add greater value to the organization. Over the past decade, many firms have confronted this challenge. Some have tackled it head on, while others have been less quick to adapt. Competition has become more intense, with greater fee pressure, an uptake in passive strategies by many investors, and flourishing digital technologies–all of which accentuate the  need to upgrade marketing’s role in the organization.

Then and now

Chief Marketing Officer at United Capital, Gail Graham, characterizes the old way of marketing:

“Years ago, you needed one or two “smart” people, maybe an outside writer, and the marketing communications channels from print to digital. In retrospect, it was pretty simple and a level playing field if you had some good ideas to publish.”

She goes on to outline the ‘new’ marketing operating system:

“Today, for small and mid-sized businesses, this is a whole new approach requiring strategic marketing and curation skills, time to maintain the quality and cadence of content, and technology to not only publish but manage the program and measure your results. For instance, in financial services, we have to link CRM, publishing, compliance, digital analytics and other functions to even get started.”

Locating the roadmap

For OppenheimerFunds, evolution towards a strategic, integrated marketing function focused on three areas:

  1. Acquiring digital know-how
  2. Incorporating product development
  3. Content creation–especially thought leadership (“when the piece that you’re creating changes someone’s behavior and makes them ultimately better at what they do” says Ms. Willis)

The path will look different to each organization, depending upon the starting point. I’ve been a part of the shift from weak to strong marketing in several instances. In my view, the rewards of embracing organizational change are worth the potential anxiety and risk. New ways of working offer the opportunity for greater creativity–particularly where new digital tools and content creation overlap. What’s more, taking the time to discuss the purpose and objectives of the marketing structure can help build consensus and direction. The shift does take time–it’s a long process measured in years, not weeks or months.

The firms that prove able to build strong marketing functions and deliver ‘true thought leadership’ should be best positioned to play a key role in business development–setting those organizations apart from the herd.

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