Good Example: Morningstar Experiments With Vine

For an example of digital experimentation in our space by a company you know, check out Morningstar’s “Investing is…” campaign.

Two weeks before its annual conference (which wrapped in Chicago Friday), Morningstar started to promote the use of the relatively new mobile app Vine. Conference attendees and others were encouraged to download the app and then use its 6-second looping video format to complete the line “Investing is…” Finished videos were to be tweeted to @MStarAdvisor.

Embedded below is one of my favorite contributed Vines (un-mute using the control in the upper right-hand corner) and then go here to see more. Be sure to click on the Older link at the bottom of the page, I prefer the homemade videos to those shot at the conference. I’ve also subscribed to the RSS feed.

When I first heard about Vine, I don't remember thinking that the format was particularly obvious or even suited to financial advisor communications. Vine is too new for Morningstar to have established an elaborate business case in support of its adoption. This is just Morningstar taking a flyer.

Brevity Inspires Creativity

According to Twitter, which acquired Vine in January, “it’s the brevity of the video that inspires creativity.

Markets, investment opportunities and products—mostly that’s what the Morningstar conference is about. The conference makes the assumption, almost never stated and rarely explored, is that the advisors have the requisite relationship and communication skills.

But, in a bit of scheduling magic, creativity was the subject of Thursday’s luncheon speaker. Graffiti artist and corporate thought leader (love the title!) Erik Wahl encouraged attendees to break out of whatever structure that constrains them and to allow themselves to create. He delivered this message while painting no fewer than three paintings as he spoke. The audience loved it.

And, that’s where the call to creativity might have dead-ended, if not for the conference sponsor’s promotion of Vine. Vine enables the kind of creative construction that Wahl would approve of. To make a Vine, all of us windbags (present company included) in this space need to strip down to what’s essential.

Short can sometimes be more meaningful, as tweeting has already demonstrated. This is a message with wide resonance, as suggested by the popularity of Vine. Released for iOS in January, Vine Sunday ranked #4 in the Apple app store. It was introduced for Android devices just on June 3 and, by Sunday, shot to #5 in the Google Play Store.      

A Good Fit

Introducing Vine was a social-savvy thing to do, for these reasons: 

  • It aligned with what Morningstar does. Morningstar supported conversations about investing well before social networking platforms and in print pre-Web. Demystifying investing is at the core of the company's value proposition.
  • It was an open invitation. All were invited to contribute, not just advisors registered for the conference and not just advisors. A few in the broader ecosystem have already made Vines, but I'd expect others (including asset managers) to make more. 

    Similar to the Morningstar conference hashtag that’s used in the flurry of tweets commenting when the program content is underway, this extends Morningstar’s reach beyond the conference venue. Vines have a longer life than conference hashtag tweets, though, which extends the reach of the conference over time.

    In fact, I’d wager a guess that last week there was more Vine awareness online than onsite among attendees. Morningstar’s post-conference communications can fix that.
  • The “Investing Is…” Vines are being aggregated on a Tumblr blog. Even the Morningstar content machine can benefit from a new source of user-generated and user-promoted content.
  • Introducing the Vine campaign demonstrates a nimbleness that not all organizations have. Major legacy (Morningstar was celebrating its 25th year) events seek to shorten not lengthen the list of outstanding items in the final weeks leading up to the event. A last-minute brainchild is not a program planner’s friend. Yet, this idea was announced at the end of May.

    The Vines that have been produced thus far are a ragtag collection and probably don't represent the full extent of the creativity we are going to see. Until a few days ago, Vines by Morningstar staffers outnumbered others'. The Vines weren’t as integrated into the conference as they might have been with more time. But, sometimes you just have to go with it, and evidently social media whiz Leslie Marshall (official title: Director – Events, Magazine and Social Media) has that license. Credit for the idea itself goes to Jerry Kerns, Morningstar's editor-in-chief.

I mention all of the above not because I think Vine is transformative or even long lasting. I like this as an example of a quick hit. So many digital projects are War and Peace epics—based on extensive vetting, consensus-building and research, featuring a large cast of characters and years in the making. And yet, the very nature of digital lends itself to fast track, quick hit experiments.

Even while understanding and respecting your communications structure/constraints, I’m still going to ask: What has your digital marketing organization experimented with lately?

A Few More Notes 

  • More than #MIC25 8,000 tweets were sent during the Morningstar conference. Yet—and while I don’t have the data to back this up—my sense is that fewer asset managers used the hashtag this year than in previous years. An exception: @Vanguard_FA, which also mixed with tweeps at the tweet-up.

    Mutual fund and exchange-traded fund (ETF) firms were well represented on the conference program and they were out in force as exhibitors and as advertisers. But I think more could have contributed to the online conversation.
  • Morningstar’s Social Media Center was hopping again this year, thanks to the RegEd team headed by Blane Warrene. Blane recorded several podcasts from the conference floor, including with ETF strategist Christian Magoon, Carl Richards of The Behavior Gap, Morningstar team members and me
  • On the occasion of Morningstar's 25th anniversary, Vanguard co-founder John Bogle was scheduled as a general session speaker (in conversation with Don Phillips) to provide a historical perspective. But he's far from pleased with how the industry has evolved, including the marketing of investment products. RIAbiz covered the session, including reactions, one of which is from me. 
  • My thanks to Morningstar for the invitation to attend the conference.