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What Asset Managers Can Learn From Vineyards About Marketing

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Leveraging subject matter expertise

Many asset managers ask me, “Why do we need to spend time developing original content? My web site and wholesalers tell advisors and institutions everything they need to know.”

I often answer that question by way of analogy, telling the story of a local vineyard that successfully leverages its subject matter expertise to turn wine aficionados like me into loyal customers.

The Bluehill story

I learned about this vineyard (let’s call it “Bluehill”) via word of mouth and from a post on a local wine blog. Rave reviews of their Virginia Pinot Noir sounded promising, so one day I took a tour.

There I got a behind-the-scenes look at all the tools of the wine-making trade, from the terraced grapevines sprawling across a hundred acres of gentle hills to the complicated network of presses, fermentation tanks, filtration systems, oak barrels and bottling lines that produce the wine. Along the way I learned about the trio of friends who quit their jobs as engineers to turn their passion for wine-making into a vibrant small business.

I learned about the unique qualities of Bluehill’s home-grown grapes that give its pinot noir and other varietals their unique flavor. I was able to sample all of them and took home a bottle of Virginia Pinot Noir, satisfied that my time was well spent. Before I left, my tour guide convinced me to subscribe to their online newsletter (they gave me a high-quality branded wine-stopper as a reward).

Bluehill is one of many vineyards in my area, and I try to visit as many as I can. This is good news for me as a consumer. It’s also fortunate that I can always grab a bottle of its pinot noir at my local wine store, instead of having to return to their vineyard.

But this is not such good news for Bluehill. At the store their pinot noir fights for shelf space against dozens of other brands, including those from the other local vineyards and the national brands. Since I like a variety of wines, how can Bluehill convince me to choose them over their competitors?

The “return value” of original thinking

Fortunately for Bluehill, they’ve figured it out. They learned how to build my brand loyalty by leveraging the expertise of their human capital.

Simply put, every month Bluehill sends me their email newsletter. Among the new product descriptions and industry reviews there’s always an invitation from their vintner (let’s call him Tom) to attend his monthly on-site “Grapevine.”

At these sessions Tom discusses industry trends and tasting ideas (next month: Pairing red wines with Easter candy), previews some of the grape varieties he’s cultivating, provides tastings of unreleased vintages, and leaves plenty of time for Q&A. I usually end up going to at least several of these every year, and every time I go I walk out with another bottle or two. From a marketing perspective, Bluehill has turned me into a loyal customer.

Related: How to Get Introductions as a Highly Referable Advisor

Related: What Does Your Online Presence Say About You?

What can asset managers learn from this?

Think of your website as your storefront. Advisors and institutions may have heard of your funds on Morningstar, through media coverage or via word of mouth. They’ll come to your website to get more information about your firm, its people and its processes.

They can browse your fund lineup, learn what goes into their investment processes, and, if they like what they see, download fact sheets, fund commentaries and prospectuses. Hopefully, after viewing this static content they’ll contact you to get on their email list or, even better, to speak with a member of your sales team.

But after that initial visit, they’re unlikely to come back on their own other than to look up the latest performance data or fund commentaries. Meanwhile, they’re visiting the websites of your competitors. Over time, your firm becomes one of many competing for attention on their mental store shelves. So how do you keep from being pushed to the back?

The answer: Leverage your firm’s subject matter experts to keep your brand front and center.

Create a thought leadership center

Every asset management site should have an area where your key investment thought leaders post their thoughts on the markets, their asset class, the industry and other relevant topics.

This content is different than the typical backward-looking fund commentaries that portfolio managers obligingly create for their funds. This isn’t “checklist” stuff. These are the ideas that set your firm and its people apart from the competition.

Whether it’s an article, a video, a podcast or a webinar, this timely content should convey what your thought leaders are thinking at the moment, how their insights are affecting their investment decisions, and how this might impact investors.

But don’t call it a blog

It’s okay to adopt a less formal editorial tone with these pieces than the compliance-constrained wording in your product sheets, prospectuses and static web site content. But don’t be too informal, clever or conversational. Unlike Tom the vintner, you’re not inviting people to sit down and have a glass of Chardonnay with your portfolio manager. It’s more important for your content to generate respect than familiarity.

That’s why you shouldn’t call this area a “blog.”

Why? Because anyone can write and publish a blog these days. And millions have. Your content is far more valuable than the musings of amateur restaurant reviewers. So call this original content area something like “Insights” or “Knowledge Center” or “Perspectives.”

Promote it aggressively

It’s not enough just to publish the content and hope people will stop by to view it. You need to promote it aggressively on your home page, your social media feeds and via email. Attempt to place it in news publications read by financial advisors and institutions. Use your web and email analytics to figure out which kinds of content are most popular among your target audiences. Elevate your most “frequent consumers” to the top of your sales team’s prospecting and client contact lists.

Cultivating your own success story

Your brand and your funds compete against thousands of others for the attention of advisors and institutions. While good performance may get you premium shelf-space, frequent communication of thought-provoking ideas from your “Investment Masters” will give you the added boost you need to build brand loyalty and purchasing consideration.

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