Investment Podcasts 2.0—But Let’s Promote Them This Time

I love podcasts so much that I keep waiting for them to make a comeback in the investment industry.

Elsewhere, others have declared a podcast renaissance, driven in part by last year’s stunning 68 million-plus downloads of the Serial podcast. See this 2014 post for what else has changed too, though.

Combine fund companies’ desire to assert thought leadership with users’ heightened content consumption, including while mobile, and the argument for podcasts should be difficult to resist on both sides.

Quite a few firms tried podcasts early on and gave up, as can still be seen on dormant iTunes and Web pages. Blame it on clumsy podcast downloading requirements, less than engaging content, lack of user adoption but also—here's where you come in—a lack of promotional effort on providers’ part.

It's too soon and too spotty to call it a comeback, but there are some encouraging signs that podcasts are back on the radar.

Advisors Are Listening To Something

Advisor use of podcasts appears to have rebounded, according to data reported by American Century’s 2015 Financial Professionals Social Media Adoption Study (more on the study in last week's post). 

Podcasts were among the choices provided in a general (as opposed to investment content-specific) question, “Do you have a profile or account with any of the following social media?”

One out of 10 advisors, by the way, is the same number of advisors who say they read blogs.

Promotion-wise, note the support that Goldman Sachs gives its monthly podcast “Exchanges at Goldman Sachs.” As opposed to tucking it on a modest Podcasts page buried somewhere on a Website, Goldman:

  • Commits high level talent to the shows
  • Gives the podcast exposure on the firm's home page
  • Launches each new show with a splash on its Website and elsewhere, including where I spotted it on an interstitial ad on Stitcher, the streaming service. Goldman is buying pay-per-click ads too. And, having Business Insider cover the podcast content, which happened this week, no doubt provides a nice lift.

Yet To Happen: Consistent Discovery, Delivery

Firms that have returned to podcasting or have launched anew tend to go their own way on presentation and delivery. This is surprising given the standardization of most other fund company communications, especially those directed at a primary audience of financial advisors. Why not simplify the user experience?

The inconsistency in how podcasts get discovered and delivered may be containing overall pick-up. For example, if iTunes is the first result in a search for your firm’s podcast, you’re not doing enough on your own domain. With all due respect.

Goldman’s approach—including making the podcast available not just on iTunes but also to be streamed on Stitcher and elsewhere—represents the state of the art of podcast promotion today.

Below is a list of mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) firms publishing podcasts that I’m aware of. If I’ve missed yours, please let me know and I’ll be happy to add to the list.

Asset Manager Podcasts

Also check out these related podcasts:

  • Between Sessions with Blane Warrene and Jay Palter. This is an occasional Google Hangouts-produced (but available on-demand via YouTube) discussion about #fintech and #finserv. 
  • Bloomberg Business ETF Report with Bloomberg reporters
  • ETF Gurus with Dave Nadig of FactSet. The August 26 show on the “ETF flash crash,” in particular, featured one of the most helpful discussions I’ve heard or seen.
  • The ETF Store Show One of my favorite business podcasts, this is an informative and informed discussion by a Kansas City-based registered investment advisor (RIA).
  • ETF Trends featuring ETF media veteran and publisher Tom Lydon.
  • FP Pad This is one of the many media properties of financial advisor technology expert Bill Winterberg; asset management marketers can learn from Bill.
  • Hearsay Social On the Air The social media archiving solution provider just celebrated its one-year anniversary providing financial social media content.
  • Morningstar A video and audio podcast are available. 

Are Fund Companies Becoming Invisible To Investors?

What if fund companies have been going about this all wrong?

What if the decision to focus on distribution as opposed to end-users has been a mistake?

What if years of business-to-business brand-building should have been directed at building a consumer brand?

What’s the future for product manufacturers whose users don’t know their names?

These are a few questions raised by research released Monday by Hearts & Wallets, a financial research platform for consumer savings and investing insights working with its database of 5,500 U.S. households augmented by focus group work.

“In a grave strategic error, investment product managers have allowed their offerings to become commoditized,” Laura Varas, Hearts & Wallets partner and co-founder, said.

Hearts And Wallets Product Awareness.png

Varas gets to this conclusion by pointing to data that shows a decline in product awareness across all lifestages. At the same time, awareness of asset allocation—something distributors provide—is increasing.

In 2010, 76% of U.S. households knew what investment products they owned.This year, 66% do—a 10 percentage point drop in five years.

The study Product Trends: Ownership, Allocations & Competitive Metrics, whichdetails product ownership trends and opportunities within all lifestage, wealth and age segments, finds that only 54% of the Mass Market could say what types of investment products—mutual funds, ETFs, individual bonds etc.—they own. That’s down 14 points from 68% in 2010.

“This trend is yet another sign of how product manager attentiveness to distributor needs, while ignoring consumers, has allowed retail financial distributors to gain the upper hand in satisfying the needs of the ultimate decision-makers–consumers,” says the press release headlined “Wake-Up Call for Investment Product Managers.”

Oh and also, the firm adds, “the loss of power among manufacturers is exacerbated by the white labeling trend in the defined contribution space. Investment menus are shifting from manager-branded portfolios to generically named options in which money management firms are virtually hidden from participants.”

Meanwhile, Distribution Awareness Is High

“We believe it behooves major investment companies for consumers to be aware whether or not they are shareholders, even if the products were selected by an advisor,” said Hearts & Wallets.

The firm measures this with a Shareholder Awareness score.Vanguard and Fidelity have the most aware shareholders—two-thirds of all shareholders are certain that they are those firms' shareholders. Among purely third-party distributed funds, American Funds leads with a 50% awareness score followed by BlackRock, which has built its score up to 47% from 41% in 2011.

Hearts & Wallets Toothpaste.png

By contrast, 90% of consumers nationally can answer questions about at least one “store”—which is how Hearts & Wallets refers to retail and defined contribution providers that work directly with investors. Just as a Cuisinart blender is available from Bloomingdale's, an American Funds fund might be available from an Edward Jones store or a BlackRock product from the Fidelity store, it explains to focus groups.

The focus group discussions yielded additional troubling insights.

"Participants said they once had expectations for product, but no longer did. And they said they felt most products are the same; products are not perceived as adding as much value as stores," the firm reports.

Even for a third-party distributed fund company, an “extreme degree of disconnection with the consumer” has many disadvantages, according to this explanation from Hearts & Wallets:

  • It puts the product managers entirely at the mercy of the “store.”
  • It deprives the consumer of knowing that the manager cares about them; many, if not all, of the managers care deeply about their shareholders.
  • It deprives product managers of the opportunity to engage with people who are aware of, and presumably interested in, their brand.

Making The Invisible Visible

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On the flipside, marketers could no doubt list several arguments in favor of having a strong connection with users of their products.

Think of the legendary "Intel Inside" branding campaign that dates back more than 20 years. Its success in promoting the importance of a branded semiconductor chip (a commodity if there ever was one) in other manufacturers' computers powerfully drove sales and built brand loyalty.

Intel Inside inspired multiple subsequent “ingredient branding" efforts—what marketing professor Philip Kotler referred to as “making the invisible visible.”

You and your firm may want to review the Hearts & Wallets data. See whether it piques your curiosity about the level of your shareholder/investor awareness and its potential impact on your prospects for growth. The research prompted the following random thoughts from me this week.

The role of the relationship. As fascinating as I find the work and the conclusions, Hearts & Wallets' comparison of retail investment product distribution to consumer products and stores isn’t apples to apples. Toothpaste isn’t sold by anyone who seeks to have a relationship with the buyer. There’s a difference between the context of a consumer product transaction and an investment product selected for an outcome-oriented investment portfolio.

That said, I'm reacting to what I’ve seen that the firm has shared publicly. There’s more in the full study, which also includes “insight into innovative product solutions to help product manufacturers regain some balance with distributors.”

Content requires distribution, too. Embedded in asset managers’ reliance on others for product distribution is a reliance on others for content distribution. Every brand needs to distribute their content but investment brands especially so.

As I’ve commented on previously, mutual fund and ETF sites are product manufacturers’ sites. Their full product specs include information that other sites won’t. But, most product-related traffic goes to distributors’ and others’ domains.

It's just a consequence of today’s business model that when using thought leadership and other content to raise awareness and to demonstrate relevance, asset managers rely on others’ platforms to reach others’ audiences. As with product distribution, this makes firms dependent, can be costly and complicated, and subordinates the fund company brand.

A two-track approach. Let’s suppose that that you find a slide in your retail investor awareness and your firm is determined to reverse it. The effort would take at least two tracks: reaching current investors and reaching the public in general.

Together, omnibus accounts and overall intermediary pushback (i.e., who’s relationship is this, anyway?) present practical challenges to the prospect of elevating the brand to current investors. The greater opportunity will be with whatever marketing, media, public and community relations can accomplish.

Hearts & Wallets’ release recalled the 1990s when “high product awareness prompted consumers to seek out products like the Magellan Fund ofFidelity Investments, which was once the world’s best-known mutual fund.” That was the fund managed by iconic manager Peter Lynch.

For 2015—a disruptive time for every piece of retail investing from the products to the distributors/advisors to the users themselves—effective awareness-building would need to go beyond the promotion of a star manager or two.

Budget-busting. Any strategic decision to reach out to the retail investor would be an expensive one across the board. Brand and advertising is already the largest percentage of asset management marketing budgets, according to SwanDog Strategic Marketing benchmarking work. But most firms today focus on media that helps them reach 300,000 financial advisors. Add retail investor-focused ad buys, inbound marketing, analytics, etc. and you are talking big money.

An ETF advantage? This data would seem to temper what we can expect from mutual fund firms that are getting into the exchange-traded fund (ETF) business. Product awareness is a prerequisite to brand loyalty or brand affinity. If awareness is low, the fund company new to marketing ETFs, whether to advisor-assisted or self-directed investors, may be diversifying product lines with less of an advantage than it realizes.  

A shift in the power dynamic. Who in the typical intermediary-focused organization best knows the consumer? The people who answer shareholder inquiries and (wait for it) those who've recently become involved with the listening and responding responsibilities of social media. A serious commitment to pay attention to consumers would require the building out of resources, conceivably shrinking—even if just a bit—the influence of the wholesale sales organization.

Regarding social media, specifically: Given access to platforms with millions of consumers, is it a miscalculation for firms to instinctively want to fence off an account or area with content directed at advisors? I'm beginning to wonder.

Your thoughts?

Yes, But...How Fund Marketing Is Evolving

There’s a striking evolution underway of investment product marketing/communications. You may need to use a machete to find it, cutting through all the market insights, retirement and personal finance updates that overwhelm asset manager content streams. But look at just the product-supporting communications that are being created using modern-day publishing tools and you'll see what I mean.

There’s no question that we were due for a change, as I was reminded of Sunday via a tweet that I was cced on (yes, that’s a thing).

Tom Brakke aka @researchpuzzler lifted a “fund marketing flowchart” from a partial book draft written in 2000 by Clifford Asness, founder of AQR. Asness described the chart as a decision-making model.

Now, I might have been tempted to dismiss this as nothing more than nostalgic. But three accounts retweeted this Sunday morning tweet, six accounts favorited it and one account piled on. @MikeCraft6, a self-described “bond fanatic,” suggested that a fourth box be added: "Merge Fund into One of the Above."

I don’t know for sure that Brakke—an investment advisor and consultant respected for his views on investment management process and communications; I’ve mentioned him before—meant to bait me. But I took the tweet and the response to heart.

Fund performance advertising has been hated since well before the year 2000. It’s easy to understand why. The basis of the derision is that performance records aren’t something anybody can safely use. As has been repeatedly documented, too often investors felt suckered into “hot funds”—what we advertised. Craft’s add-on jab about merging funds just underscores that “fund marketing” has a trust problem that continues today.

Fund Marketing > Performance Advertising

We did more than performance advertising 15 years ago, but I’ll concede that performance advertising may have been the most outward sign of fund marketing dollars at work. Advertising space purchased to showcase a table of index-beating returns was a concise presentation. The results were offered as a shortcut for what there wasn’t room to say about how those results were produced. Good numbers were enough to get everybody's attention.

The top performers were the funds advertised, absolutely. This is a point that Asness said he had no issue with. “There is hardly a business in the world that insists on pushing its ugly tough-to-sell products as hard as its attractive ones,” he wrote in his book draft.

“Furthermore, if investors insist on shunning anything doing poorly recently, and buying only recent winners, it would be very unfair to blame only the fund companies for the selective advertising practices I discuss. They should not be required to tilt at windmills.”

Excellent, we’re off the hook with the man who created the flowchart in 2000. But it’s obvious—not just in this week’s tweets but elsewhere, including Brakke’s comments on this blog in December—that marketers need to do more than promote performance in order to build trust in mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) communications.

Unbounded by the constraints that limited Marketing's ability to communicate previously (i.e., explicit budget, production/delivery time and expense, and physical space to accommodate the message), today’s product communications are extending in many new directions.

Fund marketing is more than the one-trick pony that some may still see. Yes, space is still being purchased and top-performing funds are still being advertised. But the URLs and social icons included on the ads? They lead to a wealth of additional information that should foster smarter investment decision-making—hopefully resulting in fewer of those gotchas that sting advisors and investors.

As a test Sunday through Wednesday of this week, I sifted through the tweets sent by asset managers (as tracked by the Investment Managers Twitter list) and followed the links to just the product communications. This sample of this week alone suggests a bit of what’s changed since performance advertising defined fund marketing 15 years ago and more.

Going Direct

Access to their own publishing platforms enables firms to go direct, overcoming the budget and finite space limitations of using a media partner to reach advisors/investors. A regularly updated blog combined with social network updates provides for relevant, time-sensitive and friction-free communicating about much more than performance.

For example, here’s AdvisorShares, which weekly takes it upon itself to report on the active ETF market share, including tables of outflow and inflow data showing other firms’ funds.

And, of course, fund companies aren’t the only ones practicing their new publishing skills.

In the office today, marketers continue to sweat over the display and use of brand assets. Meanwhile, there’s a whole community online that’s also newly empowered to share their own text and graphic commentary about your products in the open on the Web.

While short-term performance consumes a significant amount of the attention of those posting to Seeking Alpha or StockTwits, other attributes are discussed as well. Below is a tweet with a screenshot that shows the changes in an ETF’s assets under management. For those paying attention, these product tweets provide insights on what's interesting to others about your products.

Multi-threaded

Previously, fewer than a handful of funds received extra marketing support. Those were the funds whose impressive performance made it easy for wholesalers to engage advisors. It was a backward-looking approach, no question.

But today's product-focused blogs support multiple products. It’s the rare firm that hammers home one fund and ignores all others.  

In addition to aiding investor understanding, this multi-threaded support serves at least two purposes for a firm:

  • It showcases the thinking of all the teams. The “global breadth and depth” of the firm is made real with posts from a blogging stable that includes portfolio managers, portfolio strategists, investment and research analysts.
  • A continuous (vs. sporadic) focus assures a ready supply of content, which will help when the market rotates and there’s heightened interest.

Check out Franklin Templeton’s Fixed Income Almanac, a new "one-stop shop" for portfolio manager perspective and historical data.  

Back in the day, portfolio management had a top-down, locked down approach to being available to Marketing. As a former shareholder report-writer, I sometimes wondered whether the goal was to reveal as little as possible.

This kind of thing from Motley Fool Funds just wasn’t happening in 2000.

From Advisor-Only To ‘Please Share’

Content-sharing isn’t a new concept to fund marketers. But the party line has changed quite a bit. Having thrown in the towel on keeping advisors from sharing product content with their clients (more can be said when the content is prepared for licensed professionals), marketers now are motivated to create shareworthy information.

With this enlightenment comes the recognition that it’s a short list of people who are going to share your product performance data with their social networks. Performance is only one attribute of an investment product and maybe even the least differentiating. There’s also the fund’s story including its process and its holdings, its portfolio management (often featured in old tyme advertising but in a more distant way), its role in a portfolio, its expenses (the focus of many ETF communications).

The qualitative information that’s provided via these product communications is something that robo-advisors aren't able to factor into their algorithms. 

Where previously we would have relegated a risk discussion to the smallest typeface at the bottom of a printed page, check out WisdomTree's 800 words on risk.

The post comes to a favorable conclusion regarding the index underlying the EPI ETF. But does that mean that this content is little more than self-serving?

If we were talking about those posts that begin with, “Is it time to consider (insert product category here)?” I’d have to agree, yes. Not a fan. But WisdomTree's elaboration leads to a more informed buyer of its ETF after a run-up.

And then there's this Rochester Funds tweet about Puerto Rico sales tax collections. It’s a narrow, product-related update that couldn’t have been effectively distributed, and wouldn't have commanded any marketing support, in the old world.

Storytelling possibilities expanded with the rise of ETFs and specifically slice-of-the-market ETFs. A story is much easier to engage with than past performance.

See this infographic on the global water supply, which Guggenheim distributed along with its press releasecommemorating World Water Day 2015. Guggenheim started with why and then closed by focusing on water “as an attractive investment opportunity” and its global water ETF CGW. 

Sometimes—as happens often with PureFunds’ tweets—the connection between the story (another cyber hack) and the solution (the cyber security ETF HACK) is short and sweet. This series of tweets represent a whole different interpretation of drip marketing.

It Takes A Village, Not A Family

The presentation of products on fund company Websites has improved immeasurably in the last 15 years.

But for this post on product marketing, there’s one change worth mentioning: The opening up of fund comparison tools to include all products. It really wasn’t so long ago that these tools were limited to building portfolios with just the Website sponsor’s products, the so-called family of funds. I believe that Putnam deserves credit for blowing that model up, and most if not all firms have followed the lead.

This represents a shift in understanding toward a practical emphasis on how the products can be used. In isolation, past performance helps not very much. Over the years, marketers have learned that fund providers should help with how their products work with others' products.

Content-wise this week, Nuveen offered almost 12 minutes on to how to use small caps in a portfolio and Ivy Funds commented on using a commodities allocation. Wells Fargo Advantage Funds launched a month-long series on using alternatives.

If you’ve been on the inside these last several years, the changes occurring aren’t news to you. The social launches, the video production, the whitepaper manufacturing all have added both to the workload and the expectations of fund marketing. And, you have the best understanding of how much more there is to do.

Will this work serve to bolster trust among those unimpressed by the attention given hot products? I believe it will, with more, and more relevant, communicating yet to come. As always, your thoughts are welcome below.  

A few of the examples above are from firms that I have worked for or currently work for. To exclude them from a round-up post would be to penalize my clients. However, I was not involved in/compensated for anything cited above. When I refer to something that I’ve done for a client, I disclose it.

14 Investment Company Content Highlights Of 2014

Pay no attention to the graph below that suggests my excitement on Twitter plummeted from its high at the start of 2014.

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I begin the Rock The Boat Marketing annual round-up of favorite content super-optimistic (is that better?) about the quality and range of content that I stumbled upon this year. So much so that I can finally limit this list to content highlights produced by and about the asset management industry alone.

That’s a change from previous years’ lists (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010), which included a handful of investment industry examples along with mainstream content gems. This year someone else can cover the Adele Dazeem Name Generator aka Travoltifier.

Unchanged is the need to acknowledge straight away that there’s no identifiable criteria being applied here. My favorite content, numbered below and yet in no particular order, made an impression that continues as much as 12 months after I first saw it. Whether it broke new ground, introduced new ideas, deepened my understanding or changed my mind, I found myself returning to this content, emailing links to it and finding a way to work it into presentations. 

1. Thank You For That Nice Introduction

Not so long ago, tampering with an investment company logo might well have been a fast way to meet the brand’s legal representation. The brand would never have publicly acknowledged yet alone embraced whatever travesty might have occurred.

That was then.

When, in February 2014, Jimmy Kimmel Live created a Kidelity Investments, Fidelity jumped on board. On Facebook and on Twitter, it shared the video and then deftly sought to use the mention to its advantage. Well played, Fidelity.

First the video and then the tweet.

2. Finally An Answer: About 3%

The rise of the “robo advisor” dominated financial advisor news this year, sharpening the advisory community’s focus on the value it provides.

Vanguard stepped up to help quantify the value in what has to be among the most valuable insight advisors were offered by asset managers in 2014.

Putting a value on your value: Quantifying Vanguard Advisor's Alpha was published in March (the table below is an excerpt from it).

3. And Where Did The Money Go?

This infographic is genius and yet why didn't anyone think of this before? We've all seen, produced and updated the classic Asset Classes Returns matrix chart (at right is J.P. Morgan's).

In February, Kurtosys presented 10 years of fund flows into various asset classes. Shown below is just an excerpt.

4. The Keynote Speaker Becomes A Meme

Just before the mainstream adoption of social media, the event experience was getting a tad predictable, wasn’t it? Presentations prepared weeks ahead were delivered by expertly polished speakers, most of whom seemed oblivious to the audience. They were on, they were off and then they were on their way to the next gig.

Social media gives conference attendees a voice, thereby introducing an accountability edge to the experience. Plus, event content-sharing includes the stay-at-homes who can easily follow along.

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The Morningstar conference machine was humming along that day in June when PIMCO’s bond king Bill Gross took the stage wearing sunglasses and delivered some far-reaching (from The Manchurian Candidate to Kim Kardashian) remarks.

Before social media, reporters would have reported on Gross’ comments, of course. But I believe the sustained social attention—including the industry’s very own meme created by Michael Kitces—ramped everything up.

It seemed to set in motion the events that culminated in Gross leaving PIMCO for Janus, a September episode that was riveting to watch and, for some of your firms, benefit from.

5. Take Your Time, Stay A While

This was the year that asset managers joined other brands in wading into what’s called native advertising—content sponsored by an advertiser that looks as if it could be editorial.

One of the best examples has to be Goldman Sachs Interactive Guide to Capital Markets. The guide debuted on the New York Times site in February and now also lives on Goldman’s.

The top metric on this, according to what Amanda Rubin, global head of brand and content strategy at Goldman Sachs, told Contently, is time spent.

6. Act Like You're Human

Easier said than done, especially if you’re a quanty portfolio manager, or at least that’s been my observation. That’s why this Van Eck portfolio manager selfie from October tickled me.  

Ellen De Generes and her Academy Award cronies are actors. Mugging for cameras is what they do, we shouldn’t be surprised. But when money managers think to use (or even if they were cajoled) a relatively new platform to be social and show a little personality, that’s cool.

Nobody retweeted this, though, it’s often pointed out to me. While that’s true and I wish someone had if only to encourage Van Eck, it’s not always about the retweet. Imagine seeing this tweet in your stream—four guys squeezing into the frame while taking care not to obscure the bridge behind them. This is cute. My bet is that it prompted a smile from those who did see its one and only appearance, making the kind of incremental positive impression that can be achieved on Twitter.

Sometimes you just deliver a message, you don't always get a receipt.

7. How Soon Before We’re Really All Working For Google?

In his searing contribution to the otherwise jolly What To Give The Mutual Fund, ETF Marketer—9 Elf-perts Weigh In post (vive la difference), RIABiz’s Brooke Southall made the point, “Asset management has enjoyed one of the great business models of the past 30 years—with high profit margins and terrific scalability…[But] the need to market like your lives depend on it has come to the fore.”

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While Brooke’s focus was on the uninformed purchase of online advertising, it applies, too, to what may be the most intriguing story of the year: the Financial Times’ September report that Google two years ago hired a financial services research firm to assess how to enter asset management. 

In your work optimizing your sites for search rankings, including via mobile devices, digital marketers may already feel as if they're working for Google.Here's a short list of possible advantages that Google could enjoy as an asset manager:

  • For investing, data on search volume for specific words or phrases to time the market 
  • For investing, use of its satellite imagery to predict company earnings
  • To distribute other firms’ funds
  • For relevant, even personalized marketing based on what it knows about individuals' search patterns

Watch this space. 

8. Yes, Do Dignify With A Response

When something critical is written about an asset manager, the standard response is to turn the other cheek, to not engage. But there may be times to do the opposite, given the long life of discoverable Web pages.

This year saw a few firms standing up for themselves in public ways.

To wit: 

  • In September, AdvisorShares distributed a press release about a five-star rating on one of its ETFs. In response, ETF.com writer Dave Nadig cautioned readers not to be "starstruck" about that fund. And, AdvisorShares CEO Noah Hamman took to his AlphaBaskets blog to respond to Nadig point by point. Wow.
  • No mutual fund company takes on Morningstar just because. But Royce Funds’ apparent frustration (“while both our investment philosophy and process, which date back to 1972, have remained steady over the years, most of our funds have experienced frequent movement in and out of Morningstar's equity style categories”) prompted the firm to research how common it is for funds to move between categories. 

The whitepaper and accompanying blog post How Morningstar Category Flux Impacts Peer Group Analysis concludes, “Our research suggests that a fund's category is changed far more often than seems commonly acknowledged, and this should be a consideration when screening, evaluating, and/or monitoring portfolio performance.”

A subsequent video (not embeddable—click on the image to go view it) presented an interview with Director of Risk Management Gunjan Banati sits down with Co-Chief Investment Officer Francis Gannon.

9. After The TV Commercials, Content Comes Next

We don’t ordinarily think of advertising as content, but the John Hancock Life Comes Next series of intriguing television commercials are cross-channel. They serve as teases that lead to the microsite where three endings are offered for each, backed by related content.

Veteran advertisers like John Hancock know how to create commercials that are evocative, and these are terrific. If the overall program is succeeding in engaging viewers in the follow-up content and #lifecomesnext Twitter conversation, they’ve crossed a frontier not many have.

10. Dare To Be Different

Who says you can’t mention product in your blog posts? Lots of people have, over time. The idea is to engage with content that's a level above product.

But this isn’t a hard and fast rule for a business whose business is to manufacture products. Technology companies, for example, blog about their product innovations and updates.

There’s nothing poetic about this January Direxion Investments post but it’s straightforward in connecting forecasted trends with ways to use ETFs to play them. Why not try sales ideas as blog posts and see what happens?  

11. It Takes A Community

I liked Jay Palter’s Top 250 Financial Services Online Influencers That You Need To Know post for a few reasons:

  • Most obvious: The list itself, published in March, is a good place to start if you’re wondering who to follow on Twitter. Finserv isn’t as showy and prolific as others, and you could burn up a lot of time before finding these accounts on your own.
  • The very ability to create a list of 250 names of individuals focused on the regulated financial services industry (broader than just asset management) flies in the face of those who believe not much is happening with financial services and social media. There is a community, in fact.

Lots of smart people have seized on social media for its potential to improve information exchange and overall communication, and the focused content sharing by these Twitter accounts helps foster that.

  • Jay gives a good tutorial on how you might use Little Bird to create your own list of influencers for use in market intelligence. The exercise can help you see the value of optimizing your firm's social accounts with relevant keywords and hashtags that will help others find you.

12. The Benefit Of Looking At Your Own Data: The Sequel

One of 2013’s content highlights was TD Ameritrade’s creation of the Investor Movement Index, based on a sample of the firm’s 6 million accounts. It “raised the bar for other investment companies whose proprietary data contains insights when aggregated,” I wrote.

    It’s back in the list this year because of a Tumblr post by Nicole Sherrod, Managing Director of Trading at TD Ameritrade, published on Yahoo! Finance. Sherrod used the actual data to challenge sentiment survey results. You have to love this subhead: "Is Investor Sentiment Like the Truthiness of a Tinder Profile?"

What people tell the American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) Investor Sentiment Survey that they’re doing is one thing, Sherrod writes, and is volatile. 

But, she says, “What they actually are doing is reacting fairly consistently…Now you can see why we built this index. The IMX gives a view of reality with empirical data that shows what retail investors have actually been doing.” 

13. A Definitive Study On Social Media And Financial Advisors

At this point, financial advisors’ use of social media has been a preoccupation for several years. Early on, it was enough to know that some percentage of advisors considered social media appropriate for business.

But as interest heightens among asset managers, broker-dealers and vendors, questions about advisor participation have necessarily gotten more granular. We are well past high level issues. Given the investment that’s being made in content development, training (firm/advisor) and increasingly advertising, we need to know who’s doing what where and why.

Last week Putnam shared the first of the results of an extensive survey that reports on some issues not previously researched and digs into questions just superficially covered previously. These details could provide the insight needed to optimize your strategy.

LinkedIn, for example, gets all the ink and its dominance among advisors is unquestionable. But note this finding from the full report that the highest percentage of advisors considers Twitter the best network for “cascading thought leadership.”

PutnamSocialMediaSurvey.png

There is a lot here worth your attention, given the survey’s finding that more than half (56%) of advisors now say that social media plays a “somewhat significant to very significant” role versus 35% just one year ago.

(By the way, after I tweeted some of the findings last week, a few people asked whether Putnam is a client. No, it isn’t and never has been. I was excited to see the new dataand yet no exclamation points were used.)

14. Bond Lessons As Performance Art

When you’ve got it, flaunt it.

This iShares video plays to the performance chops of fixed income strategist Matt Tucker and troupe. BONDing is a 2014 asset manager video series (just two to date) that investors will both learn something from and enjoy. My favorite moment in the video below comes at 1:40. Watch for the hand, that's just people having fun. Mutual fund and ETF videos could use more of that.

Bonus: More?

Inspired after reviewing the 2014 content that has stood the test of time? Download Synthesis Technology's Win The Investment Marketing Game, a 20-page e-book that I was pleased to participate in.

This will be the final post of 2014. My sincere thanks to all who contributed to and followed the blog this year. I wish the happiest of holidays to you and yours. Meet you back here the first week of January 2015.

Where's The Fun In The Investment Business?

In real-life some of us can be quite the cut-up. Do investment marketers, and other communicators at investment firms, really have to check their humor at the door?

Before digital, before social, the answer was uh-huh, yes. On a rare telephone conversation a few weeks ago (who needs to talk when you can tweet?), InvestmentWriting’s Susan Weiner and I laughed about the days when something as informal as contractions were frowned upon in investment commentary.

Money management is serious business. Tomfoolery isn’t something that endears a brand to financial advisors or investors. But here and there it is possible to spot some signs of lightening up. Over the last few years (!), I’ve been bookmarking some noteworthy examples. Finally, a few items surfaced this week, bringing my collection to enough of a critical mass to share.

Enjoy these now and I will continue my life's work of funspotting in the investment business.

ETF Tickers That Tickle

Not taking oneself too seriously is a sign of a contemporary communicator. As exchange-traded funds (ETFs) positioned themselves as mutual fund challengers/disruptors early on, it was natural to show a little sass in the selection of their ticker symbols.

MOO (Van Eck Global Market Vectors Agribusiness), DUST (Direxion Daily Gold Miners Bear 3X) and TAN (Guggenheim Solar ETF) are just three ETF tickers representative of the naming creativity among issuers. 

One of my all-time favorite product names was from the now-defunct Claymore Securities (a former employer but this naming predated my stint): the Claymore/Zacks Yield Hog ETF, which perfectly communicated the fund’s objective to traders. Sadly, it was later renamed to Guggenheim Multi-Asset income ETF, defaulting to words believed to appeal to a broader audience.

When A Cartoon Can Capture The Culture

We're all familiar with the difficulties of finding imagery to communicate the features and benefits of the non-tangible investment business. This can be a significant obstacle when faced with the need to provide some visual relief on a Website.

Branding that relies on illustration is rare on the Web. Even rarer is the investment firm that turns to humorous cartoons. The cartoon below is from Ajo Partners’ Philosophy page. I also like the cartoon on the Contact Us page, too. It's a bit edgy for this space.

The Fun In Being Interactive

For some, fun comes wrapped in a quiz. Quizzes have been the rage online for a while now (of all the content published by The New York Times in 2013, a quiz ranked as the most popular).

In this category, there’s no more prolific fund company than U.S. Global Investors. This commodity producer quiz suggests the fun and educational experience provided.

In its award-winning FutureMoves iPhone app released in 2011 (followed with a Website), MassMutual stepped out a little with irreverent messaging intended to focus Gen X and Gen Y on possible retirement scenarios. As shown in the video below, the app involves the addition of a photo of someone and then ages the image, making some predictions—see the first at 0:52.

It’s funny (“hilarious,” according to one iTunes reviewer) and makes the point.

#TBT

As you can tell by now, a fun communication doesn’t require belly laughs. People who consume investment content all day every day appreciate any effort. An unexpected reason to chuckle, smile, even snicker is all we’re looking for to mix things up. It will be remembered, if not always shared.

Let’s start with a fairly new, social-initiated holiday—#ThrowbackThursday or #TBT—and work our way to the high holy day last celebrated Tuesday.

There’s nothing to bring a community together like taking part in a hashtag. #TBT involves the very specific task of sharing an old image (read more about the meme here), and every Thursday brings a new set of updates from brands and individuals, all clustered together by the use of the hashtag.

A handful of investment firms can be counted on to post #TBT updates on Twitter, Facebook or both some Thursdays.

Here are a few recent #TBT posts from Northwestern Mutual, Fidelity and Scottrade.

Obviously, there's room for more firms to take part in Throwback Thursday and with even more imagination. If your firm has any story to tell whatsoever, you can come up with some image-based reminiscences that will both entertain and give your followers a glimpse of your firm's roots.

Not Just For Lovers

Valentine’s Day-related social updates from firms are quite common. But I still LOL when I look back at some 2012 tweets that resulted from a #FedValentines groundswell. They were loosely related to the U.S. economy and Fed policy. (It was what Business Insider called one of the Internet’s nerdiest memes yet.)

The iShares #FedValentines tweets (two examples are shown below) were mostly self-serving, didn’t drive a lick of Website traffic but c’mon, don't you like iShares just a little more because of them?

3 Takes On April Fools'

The April Fools’ celebrations this year started slow.

Fidelity offered a Popsicle-stick quality joke on Twitter and Facebook.

A publication has more latitude than an investment firm. Still, there was extra effort shown when The Economist devoted its daily chart to the comparison that all others know to avoid: Apples to oranges. I loved this, actually. The screenshot below is just a slice—be sure to check out the whole piece.

Finally, the imaginary prize in the investment space for celebrating April Fools' 2014 had to go to FMG Suite. The firm, a marketing solution for financial advisors, created a genuine spoof video for a "world where people still have fax machines."

You have to click on the image above to go watch the 1:30 video on the FMG site, which will take you away from this site. That's OK, don't worry about me. Go. Enjoy yourselves. I want you to have fun!