Asset Managers Agree, Brand and Reputation are Critical Factors in Growth

Our recent webinar in collaboration with UMB Fund Services – Pandemic, Strategic Plans, and Growth – brought together top boutique asset managers to share specific, actionable insights on how they are going all-in for growth in 2022. Panelists included:

• Greg Bassuk, CEO, AXS Investments
• Timothy Reick, CEO, Liberty Street Advisors, Inc.
• Cole Smead, President and Portfolio Manager, Smead Capital Management

This is the third in a series of three articles focusing on the importance of brand and reputation for growth and how these industry leaders are approaching the challenge of increasing their visibility and authority so their story gets heard.  (Read Part 1 or Part 2)

Why Branding and Reputation are Critical to a Growth Strategy

One of the most significant challenges facing boutique firms trying to grow or get discovered is it takes time, resources, and a well-conceived strategy to get their stories out to the right audiences. While it involves the strategic utilization of digital marketing and producing targeted and relevant content, the path must be paved by building a solid brand and reputation.

We asked webinar participants whether they agree or disagree with the following statement:

We believe that brand and reputation are important factors in growth.

Nearly 100% agreed with the statement, which tells you most asset management firms must be thinking about their brand and reputation. That’s a good thing. But the question of how and if they act on it is another matter.

Cole Smead of Smead Capital has been working on his firm’s branding for 13 years, and he framed what branding has meant to his firm.

“I recommend every asset management firm read Donald Miller’s book, Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen. As a branding guru, he does a great job of getting you to think about your brand. It’s critical because it’s one of the few ways you differentiate yourself. We got our branding statement or value proposition right out of his book.”

Smead continued, “We looked at things like our website. Before, you would have thought we were selling real estate with beautiful geographic shots of Seattle and Phoenix. But what does that have to do with our brand? So, we did our rebrand. We’re always in discussions about how that helps us.” Now Smead is a known quantity. Not everyone may want to work with them, but investors know who they are.

He adds, “Having a strong brand to help our sales team is a huge asset, and it only gets better with time. It’s a simple thing. Your brand is a time game. The more you do it well, the more it benefits you. If you haven’t started on that, start now. Otherwise, you’re wasting your time.”

Over the last several years, Tim Reick of Liberty Street Funds has emphasized the sales side of the business, but more recently, he has leaned into the marketing and public relations side. We asked him how his firm went about that transition and how his sales team is benefiting.

“Back in the 1990s, with the massive amount of mutual funds and SMAs, we were selling products. So, it was about getting out there and educating advisors about the product and emphasizing why one was better than another.”

Fast forward, “The wirehouses today are concentrating on fewer vendors or partners. People may not want to do business with you, but they should know who you are. They may not know exactly what you do, but if they’ve seen your name or seen some valuable content with your name attached to it somewhere along the way, it only increases your chances of a win down the road, or at least have a connection,” Reick said.

“It’s difficult to call someone and have them tell you they’ve never heard of you. But, if you’ve built your brand and partnered with a firm to improve your website and increase your production of valuable digital content, people will at least know who you are, and that gets you a lot further,” he said.

Digital Marketing as the Backbone of a Growth Strategy

Digital marketing is becoming an essential component of asset management firms’ growth strategies. However, everyone seems to have a different view of what it means. Greg Bassuk of AXS Investments has a sophisticated digital marketing system for a boutique, so we asked him what digital marketing means to him.

“Digital marketing continues to evolve. For us, it is almost synonymous with segmentation. We’ve seen over time that investors and advisors are consuming their content and education in ways that they’re most comfortable. So, it is essential for us to deliver our content in those various ways. If you’re providing content on a website, in emails, in blogs, in videos, and other digital means, it’s then a question of knowing what content is being consumed, who’s opening emails, and how much time they’re spending on our website,” said Bassuk.

“For us, digital marketing means all that and then having the analytics to measure how successful we are, where we can improve, and how we can improve. It allows us to be holistic in our marketing approach both in terms of developing different tools to connect with investors and advisors and having the ability to evaluate our success for future campaigns,” he added.

We were interested in learning about specific digital marketing tools our panelists are using, so we asked Gregg about his preferences.

“We work with HubSpot, and one of the reasons it’s been beneficial is it’s user friendly. That allows us to get a lot of folks involved without a whole lot of education. More importantly is the integration of those capabilities into our CRM. Our wholesalers know within minutes how advisors in their territories are interacting with various campaigns we’re doing,” he said.

Content for Engagement and Differentiation

The panel discussion turned to content and its importance in building brand authority, visibility, and engagement. Writing content for purposes of engagement is not easy for many asset managers who are used to creating dry commentary on their strategies and the markets.

We asked the panelists about their best practices for creating content to get out to their clients digitally.

Smead said, “Historically, when firms wanted more content, they would go to their investment team. They might as well be performing a dental procedure because it’s like pulling teeth. Writing content has to be voluminous in nature.”

Greg added, content needs to be simple, saying, “One thing we try to do with content, particularly since we’re focused on traditional institutional strategies and alternative investments, is to keep the method simple. Producing content that is understandable is at a premium today.”

Reick agreed adding, “If what you provide to an advisor about a strategy or idea can’t be easily related to an investor, then you’ve overdone it. Advisors want to look smart, but they want to be able to explain something. If you can’t explain it to them, how can they explain it to their clients? It probably means you’ve gotten too much of the investment team involved in writing the piece.”

Many Thanks to Our Panelists

We want to thank our panelists for their valuable insights into the challenges of achieving growth in the asset management industry. They are a testament to the idea that if you have a good story to tell and are committed to growth, all you need are the right strategies to propel your firm to the next level.

Dan Sondhelm is CEO of Sondhelm Partners, a firm that helps asset managers, mutual funds, ETFs, wealth managers and fintech companies grow through marketingpublic relations and sales programs. Click to read Dan’s latest Insight articles and to schedule a complimentary consultation.