To many people I’ve worked with in the asset management industry, a firm’s brand is its logo. To the Marketing department it is probably a hard to communicate, but critical concept, representing shared perceptions of the firm held by the marketplace. To many CEOs and CIOs in the institutional arena, branding is generally a waste of time.
At best a distraction from capital raising, governance and investment decision making. At worst a cost, representing an unnecessary reduction in the bonus pool. The CFO likely thinks about the brand alongside marketing and sales support as # headcount and $ cash flow – an unfortunate cost of sales without discernible ROI. Human Resources will be fixated on the ’employer brand’.
Sales will have their own regional and channel specific ideas. To the Compliance team it may be a set of guidelines to use with Powerpoint and Adobe InDesign templates.
So what is a brand and why does it matter to asset managers? Think of the firms you really admire, those that stand for something clear and tangible. Perhaps they are industry leaders in a particular market segment (e.g. the best in credit, equities etc), or they are have stellar long-term track-records, or they contribute to industry debates as thought leaders. Names like BlackRock, Bridgewater, Goldman, PIMCO, Berkshire Hathaway and Baupost spring to mind. What do these firms have in common? Investment excellence, clear investment styles and strong leadership are obvious. I believe that these firms are also defined by the strength, individuality and vibrancy of their cultures and that this is the lifeblood of their brands.
Branding is the representation of a firm’s culture through all forms of media: speeches, appearances, marketing collateral, websites, conferences, events, thought leadership and social media. Branding done well is the consistent representation of the firm’s culture across all forms of media in line with the firm’s core purpose, core values and mission statement. The great brands reflect authentic cultures characterised by values that people can connect with. Mark Gobe, the former CMO at Coca-Cola puts this well: “The successful companies of this century are successful because they develop an innovative culture that serves as a basis for a real connection and open conduit to clients and consumers.” (Emotional Branding, 2001)
To build a brand or to re-brand/ launch a firm first you must be crystal clear on your core purpose – the fundamental reason you are in business. You must understand your founding principles/ your core principles and be clear on where your firm is heading, what constitutes success and how you will measure it. Jim Collins (Built to Last) has written extensively on the process of excavating organizational values and clarifying core purposes and mission statements. One important lesson to be drawn from his research is that businesses with cult-like cultures (clear and binding principles that all employees are devoted to) stand the test of time. Branding is then all about being attentive in ensuring that the authentic nature of the firm is reflected in the marketplace and that the brand resonates with people.
In a later post I’ll look at the key environments for developing an institutional quality asset management brand (message development, sales staff/ training, marketing materials, conference attendance and participation, events, media programs, online and IR). We will also look at how branding strategies differ in Europe vs the U.S.A.