“The Lay of The Brand” by Anthony Payne

The lay of the brand

Anthony Payne, CEO and founder of Peregrine Communications, the marketing communications agency focused on brand building, brand protection and lead generation within the asset management sector, explains how the business has changed and why a firm’s individuality is its best asset.

The last decade has seen many shifts in the public perception of hedge funds. In turn, the approaches to how hedge funds are marketed has had to adapt.

There have been three major developments in the industry. First, communication has shifted from ‘narrowcast’ to ‘broadcast’. Ten years ago, hedge fund managers were marketing themselves to ‘friends and family’ or to funds of hedge funds. Some managers were also marketing via third party marketers, which themselves relied on personal relationships with a small group of investors. This is less the case, now; funds have had to cast their net far wider.

“A subliminal lack of self-confidence has encouraged firms to try to belong to a ‘club’ rather than highlight their differences, their unique ‘edge’.”

Secondly, any trust in asset managers has for the large part evaporated. It is no longer sufficient to point to a performance track record and say ‘trust us that we can do that again’. Now investors need to understand how hedge fund managers plan to make their money. The ability to explain and educate is essential; transparency is the new watchword.

Thirdly, managers not only have to be truly excellent, they need to be outstanding at communicating that excellence. ‘Branding’ and ‘positioning’ has become much more important as managers compete for assets.

To me, a brand is that image, that feeling, that perception, that pops into the target’s mind when a firm’s – or fund’s – name is mentioned. Excellent communication is about managing these perceptions on every level. It may seem obvious, but that perception should be about a firm’s investment ‘edge’, its differentiated advantage, so that it helps you ‘own’ a particular space.

It is extremely rare that funds get this right. Most fund websites (and other marketing collateral) now look very homogenised, with similar colours, generic designs and bland descriptions. I think there are two things at work here: firstly, a subliminal lack of self-confidence has encouraged firms to try to belong to a ‘club’ rather than highlight their differences, their unique ‘edge’; secondly, the person tasked with designing or writing the content often lacks the technical knowledge to successfully communicate that difference, and so dumbs down the content.

Effective communication is also about breakthrough implementation. Essential to this is a coordinated approach, which means using all channels and media to communicate a powerful set of messages. Every aspect of the brand – in words, pictures and actions – must be relevant to its corporate DNA, creating its own distinction. Media, including social media communications, the website, the marketing pitch book, the RFP, the conference speech, the dinner party conversation, all need to communicate that edge. And even if the message is excellent, if the people who carry it are not coached, it can come unstuck.

In order to represent hedge funds, Peregrine has recruited the marketing, technical, design, content and coaching skills needed for an integrated approach. We implemented a structure that organised our combined strengths and specialist skills around our clients, while developing a unique approach and methodology designed to communicate strong messages.

We also invested in two major educational programmes highlighting the strengths of hedge funds. First is our Peregrine Perspectives Panel series, run in conjunction with Imperial College Business School, where we put together academics, traders and consultants around a research topic. Then we’re working with AIMA on a major public education initiative. Roll on 2013, we’re excited!

 

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