A Few Marketing Best Practices for Alternative Investments

Although the lion’s share of alternative funds have yet to dip their toes into Lake Transparency, some small funds are cutting a path for the rest of the industry, in terms of smart marketing…if that’s defined by how clearly they explain their value proposition, and by how well they create investor interest.

Although it doesn’t provide a complete picture, very often you can gauge a fund’s marketing savvy by its website, which in our online world serves as the mother ship for a company’s brand.

So based solely on their websites, here are two small funds that can serve as examples of marketing best practices:

  • Monterey, California-based Topturn Capital – a single, low volatility hedge fund, and
  • Lake Forest, Illinois-based SilverPepper – a liquid alt firm offering two sub-advised funds

And here’s why these two firms are exceptional:

  • Both funds demonstrate that small firms can market themselves very effectively. In fact, smaller funds have a marketing advantage over larger competitors. Fewer people often can mean less politics, a more flexible compliance viewpoint and fewer opinions from the peanut gallery, which serve to dilute core messaging and can kill great ideas.
  • Both funds tell engaging, believable stories about themselves. Their stories explain their investment philosophy and commitment to their business in very human terms, directly related to their own life experiences. They don’t pontificate; they connect with people.
  • Both funds use video to tell their stories. Seeing and hearing fund principals makes those individuals and their firms credible and likeable. This visceral connection is critical in a business where “management” is consistently cited as a leading factor in fund selection.
  • Both funds display thought leadership. Their intellectual capital is showcased, but not in a self-serving manner. Topturn Capital, in particular, succeeds in maintaining market interest and increasing its credibility through well-written blog posts on topics ranging from Ebola to the market impact of presidential cycles.
  • Both funds understand the importance of brand strategy. All of the website elements – content, messaging, design, navigation – support a well thought-out effort to differentiate their firm’s value proposition, and to make it memorable. These are not cookie-cutter marketing solutions; and they reflects pride, creativity and skin in the game.

Admittedly, the SilverPepper website pushes the marketing envelope, in terms of what’s acceptable to most hedge fund compliance officers. But here’s what’s significant about the emergence of liquid alt firms like SilverPepper: because of their retail orientation and facility with sophisticated marketing tactics, that emerging asset class will indirectly drive hedge funds to show greater courage and creativity in marketing in the years ahead.

For most hedge funds, whether they emulate Topturn Capital or SilverPepper, the adoption of marketing best practices – or any marketing practices at all – is long overdue.

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This article appears as the March edition of “Marketing Alternatives,” a monthly column published in the Barclay Insider Report, a newsletter produced byBarclayHedge, a leading provider of alternative fund data.

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Why Your B2B Marketing Isn’t Working

Inconsistency Kills Most B2B Marketing Strategies

Inconsistency Kills Most B2B Marketing Strategies

There are two major reasons why marketing is ineffective at B2B firms, regardless of size or industry:

  1. Marketing is viewed as triage. The company applies a collection of tactics (often labeled as a “marketing campaign”) only in response to a problem; typically involving the loss of a key client, or decline in revenue. When business is good, little or no time is invested in marketing. When business (inevitably) takes a dip, marketing becomes a priority. This classic behavior is depicted in the “Sales / Service Volatility Curve” chart above.
  2. Marketing is expected to deliver immediate results. Either because the company views marketing on a cause & effect tactical basis, or because marketing triage must quickly revive an ailing company, the marketing function is given little time to produce tangible results. It’s no surprise that Chief Marketing Officers have the shortest tenure of any corporate function.

Individually or collectively, both of these circumstances drive the #1 reason why B2B marketing does not work:

INCONSISTENCY

The sad truth is that very few B2B firms either understand the marketing function, or have the discipline to design, implement, measure and stick with a marketing approach that builds brand equity and market engagement on a consistent basis.

As an alternative to changing careers, and to establish the infrastructure and internal culture necessary for the discipline to succeed, we offer marketers (and B2B business owners) the following simple path:

  • Create a Written Marketing Plan. Include goals, strategies, responsibilities, timelines, budgets and ways to measure results. Without a Marketing Plan you will not succeed. And unless it’s a written document, you do not have a Marketing Plan.
  • Gain Senior Level Commitment. The corner office must understand, endorse and support the Marketing Plan. The Plan must also be properly staffed and funded upfront.
  • Do a Few Things Very Well. Marketing’s success will be based on the quality and effectiveness of a limited number of strategies / tactics. Less is usually more.
  • Build and Nurture your Database. Direct and easy access to your company’s clients, prospects, referral sources and opinion leaders is essential. Without this pipeline, the marketing value of the content you create is close to zero.
  • Create Meaningful Content. Self-serving white papers and client case studies have very limited appeal. Generate content that validates your company’s intellectual capital, on topics that target audiences have a genuine interest in.
  • Drive Top-of-Mind Awareness. Leverage your thought leadership content by sharing it directly with target audiences on at least a quarterly basis. More importantly, use content to initiate two-way conversations that build relationships in advance of sales.
  • Connect with the Sales Force. There’s no better way to find if and how well your marketing strategies are working, or to gain an understanding of the marketplace.

Most importantly – with apologies to Glengarry Glen Ross – B2B firms must:

A…..Always

B…..Be

M…..Marketing

…for the discipline to be effective. Otherwise, the traditional short-term, hair-on-fire approach to marketing will keep your B2B firm from ever reaching its full potential.

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The Road to Hedge Fund Transparency: Marketing Essentials and Potential Pitfalls

To survive and prosper in a marketplace where transparency and trust are now valued by investors and promoted by regulators, hedge funds will be increasingly required to build a rational and risk-averse approach to external communication. Ideally, those plans will also avoid many of the non-productive tactics that marketers are known to promote.

Here’s a marketing roadmap designed to achieve that objective:

Build your brand strategy first. This internal discipline yields a unified view and clear expression of what your firm seeks to achieve for investors, how it addresses that goal, what makes it uniquely qualified for consideration, and why investors should select and trust your firm. An upfront articulation of the firm’s value proposition serves as the cornerstone of a written marketing plan that should include: tangible business goals, appropriate marketing strategies and tactics, calendarized activity, budgets and accountabilities. Any firm that operates without a formal plan (which should be simple, and not take months to create), eventually becomes a victim of “trust me it’s working” marketing. No plan = lots of wheel-spinning + no tangible business outcomes.

Create a bona fide website, not a proxy. In an online world, websites are the mother ship of market transparency. If a hedge fund is unwilling to provide on its website essential information related to its capabilities and credibility, then the firm is not really serious about market communication. Ideally, your website should express institutional values, explain investment processes, showcase human capital, provide examples of thought leadership and include inherent 3rd party endorsements. It’s not a sales pitch or report card. Your website will generate investor interest by allowing visitors to draw their own conclusions about the firm and its potential to help them achieve their goals.

Leverage your firm’s intellectual capital. Thought leadership – which is overused marketing jargon – is a strategy that leverages knowledge and ideas to engage target audiences. Effective thought leadership can involve a broad range of marketing tactics, but should always be designed to achieve measurable goals; not to simply have people think you’re smart. A hedge fund’s intellectual capital represents its most powerful market differentiator, and can be showcased without giving away any proprietary information or methodologies.

Harness the market reach of LinkedIn. LinkedIn has become an important due diligence tool for investors, intermediaries and the financial press. Most hedge funds understand this, and either provide a very basic firm profile, and / or allow its employees to post their personal profiles on LinkedIn. But to harness LinkedIn’s enormous market reach and professional clientele, hedge funds must establish a buttoned-up institutional persona that’s consistent with the firm’s (bona fide) website; ensure that its employees’ profiles enhance the firm’s brand positioning; and take full advantage of appropriate user groups on LinkedIn to raise brand visibility and display its thought leadership. 

Hold off on Twitter and other social media sites. Twitter can be a great information source, and most hedge funds should use it exclusively for that purpose: to listen rather than to speak. Few hedge funds have the time or social media sophistication to engage safely and consistently on Twitter, and the compliance risks are significant. Facebook is simply not an appropriate channel for hedge funds, and posting comments on independent blogs or online publications will not yield meaningful results.

Manage press exposure selectively. Beneficial media exposure can provide valuable brand credibility. But this is a high-risk tactic because reporters have agendas, can make mistakes, and are not in business to make your firm look good. However, hedge funds should proactively seek media exposure through participation in targeted editorial opportunities – such as bylined articles, OpEd pieces and certain types of feature articles – if they provide total or nearly complete control over what’s published. Although guest spots on financial news channels such as CNBC can fuel the ego, these are high-risk opportunities that most hedge funds should avoid.

Unfortunately, most media coverage yields no marketing value, because it’s simply hung like a hunting trophy on a firm’s website. To benefit from the implied 3rd party endorsement, beneficial coverage must be properly integrated into the firm’s direct communication strategy with clients, prospects and referral sources.

Merchandise conference participation. Investor conferences are high-cost tactics that can be effective for hedge funds. But these events also yield low results because firms fail to properly re-purpose the related thought leadership they’ve produced; which can serve as raw material to influence target audiences that are much larger, and sometimes of higher value, than those in attendance at the conference. Doing all the heavy lifting (in terms of content preparation, travel, time away from office and home), but failing to benefit from that investment – both before or after the event itself – represents a tangible opportunity loss.

Forget advertising for now, and perhaps forever. Regulators have not made it easy for hedge funds to understand the rules of the new advertising game, so the industry is better off encouraging the very large players – with deep compliance muscle – to be the first ones on the field. But there are more significant reasons why most hedge funds should never include advertising in their marketing plans. Notably, institutional advertising is expensive, requires a long-term commitment to be effective, and is very difficult to measure or generate a market response. More importantly, at most hedge funds there is an extensive list of marketing strategies and tactics (for example, building an effective website) that should be addressed first, and that will provide a more meaningful return than advertising.

As market dynamics of the investment world drag hedge funds, however reluctantly, into the new era of transparency, there is some good news for those firms. Hedge funds have long demonstrated their ability to sustain a successful business enterprise without traditional marketing tactics. So any benefits that effective market communication might provide for them are very likely to result in incremental asset growth.

Additionally, because hedge funds do not currently depend on marketing for survival, they can act in a deliberate, strategic manner. Hedge funds have the luxury of being able to design and implement their marketing programs incrementally, and to focus on doing a limited number of things very well.

In that regard, other vertical industries may eventually point to hedge funds as examples of best practices in branding and marketing. But at the current rate of change, that’s unlikely to occur in our lifetimes.

 

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Why and How to Market Your Firm’s Brand Integrity

As the limitations of a virtual marketplace continue to reduce most B2B firms to commodities, it’s become increasingly important to communicate not just what your company does, but to generate interest in what your enterprise stands for. This task of expressing your firm’s raison d’être involves far more than sticking a “Mission Statement” on its website.

Prospective clients not only want to know what makes your firm unique; before they put you on their short list for consideration, they also want assurance that your company is a “safe choice.” Decision-makers at every level are unwilling to risk their career on selection of an outside firm that may fail to meet expectations, or even harm their firm.

Regardless of whether your firm is the leader or an upstart in its marketplace, brand integrity matters. And it’s a corporate asset that needs to be marketed.

Unfortunately, telling target audiences and opinion leaders that your company is smart, honest, unique, innovative, creative, cutting-edge, trusted, etc. never succeeds. People require hard and soft evidence to support their own conclusions about your brand attributes, notably its integrity.

So how does a B2B firm market its brand integrity through online and offline channels? Here are 10 tangible and intangible factors that, on an individual and combined basis, can drive marketplace opinion on brand integrity:

  • Transparency: Is information regarding your firm’s philosophy, products / services, processes and people available and easily accessible? (Acid Test: How much digging is required to gain a basic understanding?)
  • Consistency: Is all information kept up-to-date, and relevant to current market conditions? Does bad news get communicated to your clients as quickly and openly as good news? (Acid Test: What’s the frequency of content generation, and the number of direct and indirect “touches” with target audiences?)
  • Enthusiasm: Does your firm appear genuine and enthusiastic about communicating with external audiences? Or does communication appear to be treated as a necessary evil? (Acid Test: How often are innovation and fun baked into those efforts?)
  • Values: Are your company’s core values expressed in a compelling manner? More importantly, are those values demonstrated through its actions? (Acid Test: Are they aspirational and inspirational? Is there tangible evidence that values really drive decision-making?)
  • Clarity: Are explanations clear, devoid of technical jargon or mystery, and easily understood by all outside audiences? (Acid Test: Would an 8th grader get it?)
  • Culture: Is there a visible common culture, beyond shared academic credentials or charitable activities? Are there tangible signs that employees are valued, have a unified vision and enjoy working together? (Acid Test: Other than the annual mud run photo, do employees appear to be engaged as a team?)
  • Associations: Who and what are the people, organizations, ideas and causes associated with your firm? Are those associations respected, credible and trustworthy? (Acid Test: Is the firm actively connected with the outside world?)
  • Validation: How is your firm’s value proposition validated by objective 3rd parties? Do reliable sources express open support or inherent endorsement? (Acid Test: Do credible media sources cover the company? Do clients identify themselves by name and company?)
  • Leadership: Are efforts made to share / promote your firm’s intellectual capital in a helpful manner that’s not directly self-serving? (Acid Test: Do other opinion leaders reference your firm’s ideas or contributions? Are white papers just poorly disguised sales collateral?)
  • Persona: Does your firm appear to be run by interesting human beings, or hide its personality behind an opaque, institutional veneer? (Acid Test: Does the overall impact of public-facing communication project warmth and sincerity, or distance and arrogance?)

Marketing tactics aside, companies looking for a guiding principle on brand integrity are well-served by heeding the advice of the late John Wooden, basketball coaching legend, who said, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

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Research Integrity: The Achilles Heel of Content Marketing

The marketing profession has a reputation for sometimes using less than reliable market research to promote a point of view. And this marketer has been guilty of that sin.

Years ago, our insurance company client was introducing a new Directors & Officers liability insurance policy, and asked us to raise market awareness. With good intentions, but given no budget or time to perform proper market research, we interviewed a total of 6 corporate CEOs and board members to provide some validation to the underlying premise of our press release. The headline read: “Most Corporate Directors & Officers Believe They Are Not Protected Properly from Legal Risk.”

With very little expectation that a premise based on such shoddy research would qualify for exposure in the financial press, and dreading inquiries from journalists asking about our research methodology, the release went out. To our great surprise, we received no calls from reporters checking the facts, and the story was immediately picked up by two major wire services, and appeared as a news squib on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, followed by coverage in several business insurance trade publications.

Our client was overjoyed with the media exposure, but we felt less than honorable, and resolved that we would never use market research to promote a client’s product or service unless we believed the supporting methodology had sufficient rigor. And over the years we’ve lost work as a result.

Research integrity was an issue long before the internet became the platform for content marketing. Most often, your research-based news items would not be covered by respected media sources unless you ran the credibility gauntlet. Editors demanded your research methods and data, and had to be convinced that your study was objective and legitimate. Our very thin D&O liability research was a rare and risky exception…and perhaps a sign of things to come.

For well understood reasons, the “legitimate press” now has neither the manpower nor the time to dig deeply for validation of market research that supports content generated by organizations. The loss of this important filter, coupled with the explosion of online content, has created a marketing world in which sloppy, incomplete (and sometimes blatantly false) research generates news items that can go viral and become accepted wisdom. Pumping out content in volume has become far more important than creating high quality content that could withstand the scrutiny of a hard-nosed editor.

What this new world of content marketing means for individuals is simple: assume that all “research-based” information requires close scrutiny. Believe nothing at face value. If it’s important to your business strategy, or you intend to adopt the research to support your own point of view (or upcoming PowerPoint presentation), then you’ll need to become the hard-nosed editor who scrutinizes the original source; who looks at the sample size, respondents, questions asked, etc.; and who determines whether the research results legitimately support the conclusions.

What this new world of content integrity means to companies is more complex: assume that the “research-based” content that you produce is a reflection of your brand’s integrity. For the Marketing Department, this involves educating the corner office regarding the rigor, time and costs involved in market studies, surveys, research necessary to yield content worthy of customer-facing applications. For the corner office, this involves calculating whether the intended marketplace outcome is worth the necessary investment, and avoiding shortcuts.

Without the 4th Estate as the content gatekeeper, there is now far greater opportunity for companies to benefit from content marketing. And by not adopting the market research integrity standards that journalists long upheld, there are far more ways for companies to damage their brand through content marketing.

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Hedge Fund Marketing: From Oxymoron to Best Practices

HFJ_logo

Published in January 2015 Edition

This past September, the well-respected marketing firm, Peppercom, conducted in-depth research involving nearly 300 of the hedge fund industry’s largest firms, to measure how those funds are currently applying standard marketing tools & tactics including websites, social media, the financial press and advertising, one year after the JOBS Act.

Peppercom’s research paper begins with the statement that, “The private world of hedge funds is looking more like Madison Avenue.” But a close examination of the study’s findings suggests that this observation may be wishful thinking.

In terms of marketing sophistication, the hedge fund industry lags far behind all other financial and professional services, across every sub-category. Peppercom’s research shows that:

  • Nearly all of the largest funds have a website, but most of those websites have no marketing value, and consist of little more than a logo and contact information.
  • Two-thirds of the largest hedge funds have a LinkedIn presence, but only 10 of those funds post any meaningful content on that social media site. Very few funds have Twitter accounts.
  • Hedge funds continue to be a hot topic covered by the financial media, but most funds refuse to talk to the press.
  • The anticipated JOBS Act-related groundswell of advertising by hedge funds “seems more like a trickle than a deluge.” Despite the research study’s sugar-coating (for example, “…mid-sized funds…are beginning to understand the importance of a website.”), hedge fund resistance to marketing is unlikely to abate anytime soon.

And there are both good and bad reasons why these sophisticated, deep-pocketed companies refuse to communicate externally in an effective, transparent manner:

Bad Reason: Misguided Mystique: Many hedge funds embrace the notion that an opaque brand image creates a mystique that’s appealing to sophisticated and well-heeled investors and intermediaries. They believe common marketing practices will diminish their “private club” exclusivity. An OpEd piece published recently on the Hedge Fund Marketing Alliance website sums up the prevailing attitude: “Online universities and community colleges advertise—Harvard and Yale do not.”

Good & Bad Reason: Fear of Visibility: Many funds believe marketing makes them more of a target for regulators. In a business where an S.E.C. inquiry can send investors running for the exits, “out of sight / out of mind” appears to be a prudent risk management strategy. Many funds prefer to restrict market visibility, and even sacrifice potential asset growth, rather than to put the firm’s reputation and entire business in jeopardy by raising its public profile.

Although their trepidation regarding visibility may be well-founded, funds can gain some level of comfort knowing that regulators now publicly encourage market transparency. In October 2013, S.E.C. Chairwoman Mary Jo White stated that, “…hedge fund managers feel they have a new freedom to communicate with the public, to advertise, to talk to reporters, to speak at conferences and, most importantly, communicate with investors openly and frankly. And, you can do these things without the fear of securities regulators knocking on your door, or your outside counsel screaming at you.”

My mother’s advice given decades ago to my two younger sisters regarding teen-aged boys may also apply here. She warned them, “It’s always the quiet ones that you need to keep your eye on.” Based on a similar rationale, regulators may also be more likely to focus attention on funds that have very little to say about the nature of their business.

Good Reason: Marketing Confusion: Regulators and marketers share equal responsibility for the widespread misunderstanding about what’s considered permissible and effective marketing for hedge funds. Regulators create incomprehensible rules of engagement, and marketers offer strategies and tactics that often have no connection with tangible business results, and that sometimes put funds at greater risk of violating fuzzy regulations.

Because of this confusion regarding the definition of a risk-averse and effective marketing strategy, many well-intentioned hedge funds that otherwise support the underlying notion of market transparency will pursue the path of least resistance. Most often, that means doing nothing.

Marketing Essentials and Potential Pitfalls on the Road to Transparency

Changing their existing culture, addressing regulatory concerns and deciphering marketing propaganda are not easy tasks for hedge funds of any size. But to survive and prosper in a marketplace where transparency and trust are now valued by investors and promoted by regulators, hedge funds will be increasingly required to build a rational, risk-averse approach to external communication.Here is a roadmap designed to address that marketing challenge:

Build your brand strategy first. This internal discipline yields a unified view and clear expression of what your firm seeks to achieve for investors, how it addresses that goal, what makes it uniquely qualified to achieve that goal, and why investors should select and trust your firm. This articulation of the firm’s value proposition serves as the cornerstone of a written marketing plan that should includes: tangible business goals, appropriate marketing strategies and tactics, calendarized activity, budgets and accountabilities. Any firm that operates without a formal plan (which should be simple, and not require a lengthy process to create), eventually becomes a victim of “trust me it’s working” marketing.

Create a bona fide website, not a proxy. In an online world, websites are the mother ship of market transparency. If a hedge fund is unwilling to provide on its website essential information related to its capabilities and credibility, then the firm is not really serious about market communication. Ideally, your website should express institutional values, explain processes, showcase human capital, provide examples of thought leadership and include inherent 3rd party endorsements. It’s not a sales pitch or report card. Your website will generate investor interest by allowing visitors to draw their own conclusions about the firm and its potential to help them achieve their goals.

But increasingly, investors are demanding transparency. An Opalesque survey showed that 98% of more than 100 institutional investors, family offices and UHNW investors had declined to put money with at least one hedge fund manager because of transparency concerns. And a growing body of market research confirms the weak correlation between fund performance and investor contributions. So understanding of a firm’s investment process, rather than brand mystique, is at least as important as its track record as a driver of asset flows.

Leverage your firm’s intellectual capital. Thought leadership – which is overused marketing jargon – is a strategy that leverages knowledge and ideas to engage target audiences. Effective thought leadership can involve a broad range of marketing tactics, but should always be designed to achieve measurable business goals; not to simply have people think you’re smart. A hedge fund’s intellectual capital represents its most powerful market differentiator, and can be showcased without giving away any proprietary information or methodologies.

Harness the market reach of LinkedIn. LinkedIn has become an important due diligence tool for investors, intermediaries and the press. Most hedge funds understand this, and either provide a very basic firm profile, and / or allow its employees to post their personal profiles on LinkedIn. But to harness LinkedIn’s enormous market reach and professional clientele, hedge funds need to establish a buttoned-up institutional LinkedIn presence that’s consistent with the firm’s (bona fide) website; ensure that its employees’ profiles enhance the firm’s brand positioning; and take full advantage of appropriate user groups on LinkedIn to raise brand visibility and display its thought leadership.

Hold off on Twitter and other social media sites. Twitter can be a great information source, and most hedge funds should use it exclusively for that purpose: to listen rather than to speak. Twitter is a content beast that demands constant feeding, but few hedge funds have the time or social media sophistication to engage safely and consistently. Facebook is not an appropriate channel for hedge funds, and posting comments on independent blogs or online publications will not yield meaningful results.

Manage press exposure selectively. Beneficial media exposure can provide valuable brand credibility. But this is a high-risk tactic because reporters have agendas, can make mistakes, and are not in business to make your firm look good. However, hedge funds should proactively seek media exposure through participation in targeted editorial opportunities – such as bylined articles, OpEd pieces and certain types of feature articles – that provide total or nearly complete control over what’s published. Although guest spots on financial news channels such as CNBC can fuel the ego, these are high-risk opportunities that most hedge funds should avoid.

Merchandise conference participation. Investor conferences are high-cost tactics that can be effective for hedge funds. But these events often yield low results because firms fail to properly re-purpose the related thought leadership they’ve produced; which can serve as raw material to influence target audiences that are much larger, and sometimes of higher value, than those in attendance at the conference. Doing all the heavy lifting (in terms of content preparation, travel, time away from office and home), but failing to benefit from that investment either before or after the event itself, represents a tangible opportunity loss.

Forget advertising for now, and perhaps forever. Regulators have not made it easy for hedge funds to understand the rules of the new advertising game, so the industry is better off encouraging the very large players – with deep compliance muscle – to be the first ones on the field. But there are more significant reasons why most hedge funds should never include advertising in their marketing plans. Notably, institutional advertising is expensive, requires a long-term commitment, and is very difficult to measure or generate a market response. More importantly, at most hedge funds there is an extensive list of marketing strategies and tactics (for example, building an effective website) that should be addressed first, and that will provide a more meaningful return than advertising.

As market dynamics of the investment world drag hedge funds, however reluctantly, into the new era of transparency, there is some good news for those firms. Hedge funds have long demonstrated their ability to sustain a successful business enterprise without traditional marketing tactics. So any benefits that effective market communication might provide for them are very likely to result in incremental asset growth.

Additionally, because hedge funds do not currently depend on marketing for survival, they can act in a deliberate, strategic manner. Hedge funds have the luxury of being able to design and implement their marketing programs incrementally, and to focus on doing a limited number of things very well. In that regard, other vertical industries may eventually point to hedge funds as examples of best practices in branding and marketing.

So perhaps hedge funds are not marketing Neanderthals. They are simply late bloomers.

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Managing Brand Alpha: The Next Frontier for Investment Firms

Performance remains a critical selection factor for investors; but increasingly in a post-Madoff world, it’s not what’s most important to them.

Although investment firms understand this, many choose to ignore the qualitative factors that have significant influence on investor decision-making, which include:

 

  • What You Stand For: INTELLECTUAL CAPITAL is what motivates investors to place their capital at risk. This does not involve how much you know. Investors need to understand what you believe in, and to appreciate what you’re attempting to achieve.

What does “intellectual capital” sound like?

Here’s a letter to investors from Phil Goldstein of Bulldog Investors, regarding one of his funds: “As these statistics suggest, we are risk averse. Thus, we tend to outperform in down or choppy markets. On the other hand, we expect to underperform the stock market when it booms…For the most part, we eschew any attempt to predict the markets. Instead, we focus on trying to find investments where we think we have an edge. By seeking out and exploiting inefficiencies in the marketplace, we hope to generate above average returns for our Fund with reduced risk. We also will use activism when necessary to try to unlock the value of our investments. This strategy has worked quite well for us in the past and we see no reason to alter it.”

  • Who You Are: PERSONAL INTEGRITY qualifies you for consideration by investors. Lacking confidence in your character and reputation, both as a firm and individuals, they will dismiss your performance and your ideas.

What does “personal integrity” sound like?

Here’s what Ray Dalio of Bridgewater Associates stated in an interview, “I started Bridgewater from scratch, and now it’s a uniquely successful company and I am on the Forbes 400 list. But these results were never my goals—they were just residual outcomes—so my getting them can’t be indications of my success. And, quite frankly, I never found them very rewarding. What I wanted was to have an interesting, diverse life filled with lots of learning—and especially meaningful work and meaningful relationships. I feel that I have gotten these in abundance and I am happy.”

  • What Others Think of You: CREDIBILITY must be validated by respected third parties, to provide investors with the confidence they require to consider you as their financial fiduciary.

What does “credibility” look like?

Media exposure in objective, respected publications is one of many ways to achieve third-party endorsements. Here’s the head, subhead and opening of a recent Barrons’ profile: A Top African Hedge Fund Is Buying Markets Others Are Deserting: Andrew Lapping, who runs the Allan Gray Africa Equity fund, has been moving into markets like Zimbabwe and Nigeria that others are deserting. “Investing successfully in Africa’s volatile and illiquid stock markets requires as much patience as courage. Andrew Lapping has acquired a bit of both as the South Africa–based portfolio manager of the Allan Gray Africa Equity fund…”

Investment firms with the talent and discipline required to generate consistent risk-adjusted returns are entitled to investor interest on that basis.

But firms that focus exclusively on their performance to attract and maintain assets — without addressing the selection factors that build understanding, trust and loyalty among investors and their advisors — demonstrate a reckless approach to enterprise brand risk management that not only compromises their financial acumen, but should provide current and prospective investors with some cause for concern.

How an investment firm manages its enterprise brand alpha should be part of the due diligence process for investors.

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