Every asset manager has a story. In the mutual fund space, there are 867 asset management firms telling stories about 9,200 mutual funds1; that’s a lot of stories. The challenge, of course, is how you tell your story to stand out from the crowd. How do you avoid the “everybody says that” type of storytelling? It reminds me of the traffic report. How many ways can you differentiate yourself if your “specialty” is delivering traffic reports for a TV news station? Well, bring some coffee, I got a story to tell…
Fred Blankenship is an anchor on WSB-TV News, an ABC affiliate station out of Atlanta, GA. Mark Arum is the traffic reporter at the station. They share a love of hip hop. (Full disclosure: 1. Fred is the husband of my dear friend and colleague Paige Blankenship who works with us at third party marketing firm Havener Capital Partners. 2. I also share Fred and Mark’s love of hip hop so I am biased as to the awesome-ness that was this newscast.) A few months ago, Phife Dawg of Tribe Called Quest passed away. During their newscast after Phife Dawg’s passing, Fred and Mark honored Phife by working Tribe Called Quest lyrics into their broadcast of the traffic. Guess what happened? It went viral. A highlight video was made. The video hit YouTube and Facebook. It was picked up by Billboard Magazine, Rolling Stone, USA Today and so on. Let me remind you: it was two guys delivering a traffic report. Amazing.
So, whether you are starting a mutual fund or marketing an existing fund, what are the lessons here?
1. Recognize the Power of Storytelling. The traffic is the same for every newscaster. There is really only one way to state the facts: “There is an accident on I-95 and traffic is backed up for miles.” The delivery of that information is your differentiating power. Tell a story worthy of developing fans. Tell a story that inspires people to cheer for you. People invest with smart managers who are good at what they do. People invest with their brains, but they also invest with their hearts.
2. Define What Makes You Different. Beware of saying things like, “Our team has been managing money collectively for over 500 years.” Wait… what? Tell us less about the 500 years in total and more about what is relevant during those 500 years. Did you successfully navigate market downturns like 2008? Did your entire team work together for those 500 collective years? Did you build your career under the mentorship of an amazing, legendary investor? Your path in this business is unique and the differentiators in your story will make you stand out.
3. Embrace Vulnerability. It takes courage to put yourself out there. When you are vulnerable, you run the risk of rejection. If you take a stance as a mutual fund manager, some people may not like your stance, and in turn, the fear is that they won’t invest with you. The flip side is that by owning what makes you unique and putting it out there, some people will think you are amazing and in turn, they will invest with you. Put some personality in what you do. Are you a diehard New York sports fan? Obsessed with Game of Thrones? Make connections between your love of investing and your non-investing passions. Work these connections into your commentaries or presentations so they are more interesting and more reflective of you.
4. Make It About Others. The first three lessons here are all about you. However, the overarching principle in marketing is to focus less on yourself and more on your prospects. Your investors care about you – but mostly in terms of how you can help them and their clients. So, really, it’s not about you. Maybe that’s cliché or harsh, but it’s true. Now, look at your marketing materials or your emails and count how many times you use the words “I” and “we”. (You may be surprised.)
Perhaps hip hop is not your genre and you find the traffic boring no matter how you slice it. The message here is not centered on the Tribe Called Quest or the traffic report. This is a story around the amazing things that can happen when people stop worrying so much about “doing what is right” because it’s what everyone else is doing, and instead, people start focusing on “doing what is right” because it is authentic to them.
1Source: 2015 ICI Investment Company Fact Book. Data as of 2014.