2010 Predictions For Mutual Fund/ETF Digital Marketing

In addition to tracking marketing predictions (see our 2010 Marketing Predictions, Part 1 post for a round-up and see this article for 100 more), we’ve been keeping an eye on business predictions for 2010. And, the short version is that asset-gathering isn’t going to be any easier.

If you’re a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund (ETF) marketer, you can expect competition to heat up as your marketing counterparts do what they can to encourage investors to return to equity funds, evaluate their Roth IRA conversion prospects and use new, improved tools and expert advice for investment portfolio-building and re-building.

Digital marketing strategy and tactics will be at the center of all of these, that’s a safe guess. Below are five Rock The Boat Marketing’s predictions for asset manager digital marketing strategy in 2010, sprinkled with a smattering of wishful thinking.

1. It’s catch-up time for asset managers and how they interact on the Web.

We liken the modus operandi of most asset managers on the Internet today to the neighbor who moves into a bustling subdivision, pulls the shades, keeps the kids from playing outside and refuses to take part in the block party. In 2010, we expect some asset managers to more fully participate as citizens of the World Wide Web.

Of necessity, we expect to see some companies introduce or step up practices that others have been following for years. Linking to other Web sites (which is done minimally or on an exception basis by most money management firms today), developing content designed to draw links from other sites, introducing multiple email newsletter offers, adding RSS feeds. We expect to see more marketing communications writers being tasked with writing search engine-optimized copy. “Unfriendly” URLs that are so prevalent on asset management sites are going to be rewritten.

The current M.O. dates back to a different time, when the assumption was that someone would come to your site and take the time to browse it. Oh no, they won’t. An earlier Rock The Boat Marketing post commented on the decline of traffic to destination sites across all industries, including asset management. The asset manager that stands still next year and makes no change to its current approach to Web publishing will suffer a loss of visibility it can ill-afford.

A few money managers are developing new plans, ones that acknowledge the value of using content to pull information-seekers to them (and what’s required to do so) while simultaneously recognizing that most content will be accessed on sites other than their own domains. Also a part of the plan: how to support mobile phone users.

2. Some asset managers will rethink financial advisor sites.

Having worked on asset management Web sites since the beginning, we recall the original objective of advisor-only areas of asset manager Web sites. The intent was to drive engagement—registered advisors would be more than just users of mutual fund products, they would be advocates, or so the argument went.

It’s time for a reality check on exactly what advisor-only sites are accomplishing today. Multiple surveys (including kasina’s What Advisors Do Online and the SwanDog/Morningstar Marketing To Today’s RIA) suggest that these sites are lightly used by advisors.

American Funds and other managers that command significant market share or have thoroughly and completely committed to the channel may be pleased with advisor reliance on and use of their sites. But the majority of firms that pop the Web analytics hood and look around will see a gaping discrepancy between advisor registrations and log-in activity. Just about everywhere else on the Web is livelier and more engaging than a dusty advisor site that is mostly a document repository and makes no pretense of offering community. Junior advisors who could be expected to most benefit from the resources of an advisor-only site are especially likely to recoil in disappointment after an initial visit.

In 2010, practical asset managers will resolve to objectively look at the site usage data and feedback. We think a few will pursue alternatives and deploy resources in other ways to provide more meaningful value to advisors as a means of engaging them.

3. Relationship-building will become a group exercise, with the digital marketer one of the exercise leaders.

As a digital marketer, you may have a reputation within the company as being a “techie.” In 2010, we predict that you’ll play a pivotal role in Marketing’s responsibility for relationship-building. Relationships will be even more important in 2010 as countless firms set their sights on independent advisors and specifically registered investment advisers (RIAs), whose online reliance is well documented.

We see many changes coming (and needed) in how asset managers manage their online relationships. One example: Having communicated so long via print, many asset managers continue the mindset online. The economics of paper and ink dictated the development of a mass message, but many-to-one communicating isn’t the only nor is it the best way online.

Cogent Research’s Advisor Touchpoints 2009, released in November, quantified the volume of communications that advisors are being bombarded with today. According to Cogent, the average advisor has 14 asset manager relationships that produce more than 100 e-mails, phone calls and mailings per month. The most active communicators among mutual fund firms average 16 client contacts per month; ETF providers average five per month.

Next year will be no different than this year—advisors will open and read the emails that are the most engaging and relevant. The difference in 2010, we predict, is that many firms will be tuning their communications with the help of enhancements to their customer relationship management (CRM)s and based on intelligence from their email and Web analytics systems. With your perspective, you're in a position to add lots of value to what should be a cross-functional mandate.

Look for progressive asset managers to segment their email communications and sequence their messages based on individuals’ response. For those managers, conversation about (and Sales' pushback on) the number of emails sent will have evolved. How effective are online communications in initiating and nurturing relationships? That's the question for the new year.

4. The benefits of social media will drive its evaluation.

At least a few companies in 2010 the focus of the discussion on social media will switch from the risks to the benefits.

As the differences between the relationships that asset managers have with their clients (advisors and shareholders) stand in stark contrast to the transforming dynamic between other companies in other industries, some asset managers will want in. Barriers and sticky issues—and there are plenty—will be ordered and addressed.

Adoption will be incremental. We’ve watched Vanguard pursue this path as it offered content ratings on its site, launched a YouTube page, a Facebook page and later enabled comments on it, and introduced a blog on Vanguard.com. The same is true of TIAA-CREF who just today used its Twitter account to announce its iPhone application.

The Rock The Boat Marketing Twitter list of investment managers now includes 17 companies including Fidelity, The Hartford, Nuveen Investments, MFS, Lord Abbett and Putnam. Throughout most of the year, we’ve commented on the marketing uses of Twitter. But it’s a bona fide customer service channel in some industries, and we regularly see tweets that suggest that investors expect fund companies to be listening, too.

Why don’t you have a social media strategy in development? Is the answer “Compliance won’t let us”? While wariness of social media might have been considered an appropriate, measured stance in 2009, we predict thinning patience for this in 2010. At some point, clients and executive management are going to interpret it as an excuse for inaction.

5. Ambivalent, tepid marketing will give way to aggressive, spirited content marketing.

Our work requires us to spend lots of time on asset manager sites. There is a sameness to them. It's no wonder advisors and investors forget where they saw what. But it’s in the content offerings where we see companies differentiating themselves today.

You and your colleagues in 2009 have delivered phenomenal market analyses, for example. It’s clear that you made them a priority this year and we know from experience how you needed to work your relationships with Investments and Compliance personnel to get Sales what they needed and were no doubt clamoring for. ...And then you "posted them on the Web," right? Or maybe a day or a week later sent out an email to your entire database with the tantalizing subject heading: Whitepaper Updated. (We kid because we love, always remember that.)

Next year some companies will realize that Sales isn’t the only audience for the thought leadership they provide and that they’ve been hiding their light under a bushel (or buried within an Adobe Acrobat file, as the case may be).

Some companies will take a look at the budget they invest in new product hoopla, for example, and re-allocate a portion of it and FTEs to public relations, advertising, email and even social media tactics designed to leverage the marketing potential of the content. Each whitepaper, interview transcript, portfolio update will be announced externally with the same zeal it's announced to Sales.

We’re looking forward to the promise of next year. 2009 and 2008 were not for the faint of heart, to be sure. But they required largely defensive marketing. We think the environment will be conducive to a little more rockin' the boat in 2010.

What do you see in the new year? Do you agree with our predictions? Do you disagree? We welcome your comments below.

Happy Holidays to all! We won’t post next week but will be back the week of December 28. Throughout of course, follow us on Twitter—@RockTheBoatMKTG and our alter ego @AdvisorTweets.