What Makes Investment Brands Different

When it comes to the term “branding,” everyone’s definition is different. Some will talk about visual identity, others will talk about messaging, and others will talk about positioning – and some (like us), will say that branding is all of those things and more.

But to further complicate matters, branding differs based on industry. For instance, the best CPG brands tend to focus less on their product and more on audience and lifestyle. Hospitality brands are highly experiential – so you tend to see these brands revolve around things like service delivery, attire of personnel, music, and interior design.

Investment brands are no different. They operate in a complex category with unique challenges. And that, of course, drives a unique set of needs when it comes to branding.

Difference #1: Investment brands need to be bold within their beliefs

“We sort of believe that the market could potentially strive towards the possibility of an event that might or might not happen, based on past performance which really isn’t a guarantee of anything in the future.”

Yes, that’s an exaggerated piece of compliance-driven marketing text, but it illustrates a broader point: Investment brands have had it hammered into them that everything needs to be a maybe, otherwise we will all get fined. The problem, though, is that branding is, at its core, about putting a stake in the ground, saying what you believe in, and finding others who share that belief system.

The strongest investment brands avoid falling into the trap of “maybe”. Yes, they still have compliance departments and yes, they avoid saying anything promissory. But while marketing text is regulated, belief systems aren’t. Look at Vanguard, which has skyrocketed to the top of the ranks through its belief in controlling costs and maximizing value for fund shareholders – and passionately seeking to fulfill their mission every single day. Look at BlackRock, who has time and time again made bold statements that put the firm out in front of its competition. And how about Ark, whose founder every day is inspiring a cult of followers who share her beliefs?

Investment brands need to put a stake in the ground – it’s the only way to stand out in a world of “maybes”.

Difference #2: Investment brands need to blend the emotional and the rational

Marketing for trillions of dollars in capital is not like marketing to sell a candy bar. Investment brands need to recognize that they are marketing for the mother of all high-consideration purchases. And every decision – whether we like it or not – is both a rational and an emotional one.

On the rational side: Do you have the right offering, capabilities, size, scale and resources to deliver? The longstanding history?  Are you broadly recognized as a leader?

On the emotional side: Is it safe to invest with you? Do you empathize and help me solve for real pain points? Do you understand me and what I’m trying to accomplish with my investment? Can I trust you?

At the end of the day – investment marketing needs to message against both these dimensions – not just one.

Capital Group is a strong example of this. Sure, they market with a human and approachable voice (although if we’re honest, the execution here could likely be better). But, they are also undergirded by the Capital System, which is a crystal clear, rational promise for how the company invests for the long-term. What’s more, their system (which, to our earlier point, is driven by a core set of beliefs) has been supported by consistent long-term performance – another rational element of their promise.

Difference #3: The only thing that matters is trust

A nuance of an investment is that it’s a long (really, really long!) term “purchase”. The purchaser (i.e the investor) isn’t just focused on “when I pay you, what do I get” – instead, they’re focused on what you’re going to deliver in 10, 20 and even 30 years, predictably and consistently.

As we all know, the future of the markets is impossible to predict. And as we all have seen, knowing where an investment company and its best thinkers will be decades from today is difficult to foresee.

Consistency – and the kind of internal culture that supports it – becomes key. An investment brand that has been steadfast in its principles, messaging and focus for decades of history can assure advisors and investors that the fund (and firm) you invest in today will deliver on its promises in the decades that follow.

(As a parenthetical side note: Earlier on in this piece we poked fun at compliance and its impact on marketing. But hey, if we’re being honest, compliance and legal are reputation-protectors. Because make no mistake – one unethical act probably has more impact on your brand’s “trust rating” than any single thing. So let’s take a moment to say thanks to all our friends in compliance.)

The TLDR of Substance

In closing, investment brands need to:

  • Avoid the trap of “maybe”: Have bold beliefs that advisors and investors can share and follow
  • Strike the messaging balance: Blend both rational and emotional messaging
  • Breed trust: Focus on supporting a culture that creates long-term business consistency, which ultimately leads to brand trust
  • Don’t be Robinhood: And say thank you to your friends in compliance for making sure it stays that way
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