The ‘Scaling Problem’ in Investment Management Marketing
By John Toepfer
I had conversations this week with two new prospective clients. Each customer expressed a “scaling problem” as being their chief reason for looking into document and data automation.
I very much like that phrase as it’s straight out of my pitch book on why someone should look into a solution like Synthesis for their communication problems. I usually define a scaling problem as:
The point in time in which either the number of documents, the variety of documents, the number of users, or the number of staff required to meet the communication needs has passed some tipping point.
The interesting thing about these two conversations is that, although each firm was experiencing a valid scaling issue, the firm profiles and the scope of their work is vastly different.
Scaling problems don’t look the same at every firm
While the two firms I spoke with represent opposite ends of the spectrum of Investment Management companies, one being very small and one being very large, their scaling problems and need for solutions are equally legitimate.
One is a US-based asset manager that represents seven investment products and updates its material quarterly. This firm produces about 50 pages of literature a month. The other is a European-based firm with around 60 products, publishing in multiple languages, separate share-classes, and updating its material monthly. This firm is producing over 1500 pages per month.
Currently, both firms successfully produce their fact sheets and other literature using their available tools and staff, but both are approaching their limits. Each firm is looking for something better — something that can scale.
What causes a scaling problem?
How can one firm producing about 50 pages of literature a month define their problem the same as one producing over 1,500 pages?
I have two answers to this and they dove-tail quite well:
1) The current system and process was built for communication needs that satisfied the firm’s needs at a point in time, and that has now changed.
2) The current market demands a greater variety of literature than ever before and this is driving the need for better systems and processes across the spectrum of firms.
Having been in the business of supporting asset management marketing efforts for the last 16 years, I’ve seen all the tidal forces of change in the industry. 16 years ago, marketing teams produced factsheets and performance guides and that was pretty much it. The web site usually consisted of a variation on this same content but in most cases was managed separately from the marketing collateral. 300 or 400 word commentaries were sometimes a part of the document mix, but they started getting dropped due to low engagement and a serious impediment in time-to-market.
Content marketing is disrupting the collateral environment
Compare that with today’s collateral environment. This is the age of content marketing and thought leadership in which the marketing team is charged with producing an ever greater variety of materials designed to establish and promote the firm and their sales groups as true thought leaders and innovators in the industry. And what’s more, it turns out that people actually read this material now.
Thus, with contribution from product management or a financial writing team, the marketing group is now in the business of producing factsheets, commentaries, market guides, sales ideas, custom pitch-books, product guides, performance summaries, newsletters, and a website loaded with fresh content and eye-popping interactive tools.
The demand for content at smaller vs. larger firms
What comes as a surprise to us is that there is actually a higher demand for content at the smaller firms. We find that firms with around 15 products are producing more pages of literature per product than the big guys. And there is a payoff for this. The smaller firms build a reputation for specific market or strategy expertise, whereas often the large firms trade principally on their brand status and clout.
In fact, one major firm I know of is actually making moves to decrease the responsiveness of their literature to market content requirements. The logic being that brand-consistency and cost management is more important than driving market-tuned and channel-specific content into the field. Personally I feel this is a huge mistake.
Whether you represent a boutique firm or a market behemoth, the recipe for beating the scaling problem is the same. And it’s not “stop producing quality content.”
The key takeaway is that content is king and without a proper way to produce and manage it, you will undoubtedly experience a scaling problem which could unravel your marketing efforts.
The key is a content-managed approach to the problem
A well-organized and flexible content production and management infrastructure makes scaling in volume and/or variety an achievable goal. We define content as anything that isn’t data. Actually, data is content too, but we like to treat data separately from language or graphical content as it usually has a completely different life-cycle. Content is your descriptions, disclosures, stories, articles and graphics — words and images that are produced to make an argument or to convey critical messages about the product and investment risks. An effective content management approach requires a few specific elements:
1. A data management approach that supports marketing
Many firms have only the most rudimentary of central data warehouses in place and even those with fairly sophisticated models often stop short of creating a platform that really embraces data stewardship and reporting-side utility. It just becomes a database that is never quite all it was supposed to be and leaves data cleanup and delivery to the marketing and e-business teams. This is a solvable problem; it just requires focus and experience to reach a satisfactory outcome. If the data is warehoused well and is tested, validated and approved, then it should be easy to extract or deliver in a readily useful manner.
2. Central management of content and data that supports reusability
If the data and content are both managed centrally, flexibly, and intelligently then preparing literature and websites that are effective, targeted and economical is not difficult. The key is to store all that material in a useful, but use-agnostic format. If the content is organized and managed with consistence and re-use in mind, then, again, producing widening ranges of content shouldn’t be that hard.
3. A system that embraces compliance needs
Additionally, and almost more importantly, content management, data management and proper data stewardship represent a significant reduction in risk to the firm. Taking these ideas seriously will reduce all aspects of compliance risk related to what material was published, its origins, and the controls in place to help insure quality and consistency. Sounds like music to the compliance department’s ears.
If the tools or vendors employed for website or print collateral production are good, then it doesn’t feel like reinventing the wheel when the next turn of the market wheel of fortune turns up a new way to present content and promote your firm and your products.
Firms of all sizes experience scaling problems. Content marketing has disrupted the traditional collateral environment, increasing the demand for high quality content on a variety of different channels. In order to meet this demand, a well-organized and flexible content management and production infrastructure is key to scaling in volume and/or variety to achieve your content marketing goals.
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