How marketers and their brands can provide shelter from the financial storm.

The recent turmoil in the financial markets has given everyone the jitters. In times like these folk seek reassurance from trusted sources. For those more familiar with the markets, historical precedent and confidence in their own judgement is sufficient to allay the worst fears. However, for end-investors in particular these are the times that brands earn their money.

Many reading this blog will have funds of one sort or another invested through pensions or savings with any number of asset management companies. Some you’ll be able to name spontaneously, some with a bit of prompting and others not at all. And of those that can be named, it’s what they stand for in people’s minds that counts. Those associated with consistency and calm will surely fare best as rattled investors seek to switch or cash in their assets (either directly or through their IFA) and weather the storm.

“No sugar Sherlock” we hear the asset management brand custodians amongst you say. But what these market circumstances highlight is the effort required to create a genuinely meaningful asset management brand. Putting aside obvious comparative geography, size, asset class, product and platform differences, as many end-investors unwittingly do, the challenge for brands in this sector is to articulate something about their approach to investing that’s relevant and ownable. And that approach will largely come down to an overall house-style, a team approach or the attitude of one individual.

And that’s where things become tricky for the asset management brand strategist.


The ubiquitous brand Beckham

Let us, for a moment, turn to the world of football. Football clubs have much in common with investment houses (at this stage we’ve restrained ourselves from doing the ‘if this investment house was a football team who would they be and why?’ exercise). Both have their own way of playing – relying on the counter-attack could be compared to buying in the dips, whilst parking the bus might be likened to a preference for defensive stocks. Equally each have a number of players who bring that playing style to life through individual talent. The success of the club on the pitch is a direct result of teamwork. However, off the pitch the club relies on each of the players as individual brands for commercial success. Think not? Try saying Real Madrid without seeing Ronaldo in your mind’s-eye. Barcelona? Up pops Lionel Messi. Man United? Marouane Fellaini…okay, but you get the point. The brand equity of each player is nurtured and promoted as a commercial asset in order to support the overall brand value of the club. And this is where the similarity with asset management ends.

The problem for investment houses is that despite the old adage that people buy people, there is a natural resistance to overtly promoting their ‘Galacticos’ for fear of the outflows that might follow their departure. It’s a curious problem when you look back at football. When Rooney joined Man Utd, the club weren’t besieged by defecting Everton fans. They remained loyal to the parent brand. Of course football support is far more tribal and less promiscuous but the point remains the same. The parent brand (the club) was big and well established enough to weather his departure and move on.

Which brings us back to the asset management ice-test – is the parent brand strong enough to capitalise on your greatest assets?


Patience is a virtue

Case in point – Invesco Perpetual. On the surface the departure of Woodford could be viewed as a blow to the brand, the loss of a centre-forward who was never far from the headlines. However, deeper analysis might suggest that the business was better prepared than most to sustain the loss, having committed to a brand proposition based upon a consistent long-term approach to investing. The recent ‘Patience’ campaign, although low-profile, built upon that thought and implicitly sent out a ‘business as usual’ message. Moreover, Invesco didn’t shy-away from promoting the new attacking front-line, led by Mark Barnett, through their Live Events campaign.

Conversely the Woodford Investment Management brand is rooted squarely in the values, personality and tone of voice of he of the same name. Of course it’s hard to imagine doing otherwise. And to date that hasn’t worked out so shabbily. The real test will come when and if the business wishes to extend the proposition beyond one person’s values. In truth, David Beckham hasn’t made a bad fist of this either. Then again you may agree that Michael Owen’s now infamous attempt to define his own brand is a ‘how not too’ blueprint.

All of which may explain why many asset management brands analysed in our recent brand review occupy something of an indistinguishable strategic middle-ground.

But then as all of us marketers know, when the storm winds blow, the last place you want to be caught is out in the open.

We couldn’t entirely restrain the urge to do this so there’s a bottle of champagne for anyone who comes up with the best top 10 ‘if this investment house was a football team who would they be and why?’ list. You can send us your answers using the contact form on our website here. And finally, if you’d like to know more about our strategic work in the financial sector visit our website here.