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Posted by on Jan 20, 2010 in E-Letters |

Tips, Traps and Trends
e-letter from HS Marketing

First Impressions Become Lasting Impressions. Branding as an Asset
January 2010

Dear Clients and Friends,

Is your firm’s brand identity an asset? As we begin 2010 and a new decade, this is a wonderful time to reflect, recap and resolve. Regardless of the current stage in your business cycle, a few introspective questions for hedge fund managers and others in the alternatives community may help avoid common marketing pitfalls and prove useful. The concept of brand identity revolves around the public’s impressions of your firm’s qualities and shortcomings. Successful branding is becoming an increasingly important and integral component of long-term client relationships that extend beyond reliance on investment performance to attract and retain assets. Click here for prior e-letters.

What is the value of branding for an alternative investment firm? Consider your brand as your perception in the marketplace. Your brand identity is the collection of attributes that the buyers of your products and services associate with your firm. Building a brand involves creating the qualities together with a value proposition to differentiate your firm and make your product(s) and services unique to the target audience. Brand awareness requires an ongoing process of outreach to showcase your capabilities and communicate effectively to clients, prospects, other industry professionals and the media. Successful efforts can lead to a higher associated value, trust and loyalty. While most firms in the alternatives space have ignored branding, many companies offering “name brand” services and products in other industries have leveraged these opportunities for years. Remember, we only have one chance to make a first impression.

Tip: Employ a holistic approach to the brand building process. To achieve effective long-term results, branding must reach beyond the task of creating a visual identity or writing a single marketing message for your firm. You will need to execute a multitude of activities, utilize several communications platforms and consider various channels. Most importantly, emphasize what makes you different, how you add value, in order to stand out from the crowd. The suggested list below serves as an initial but not complete roadmap.

  1. First, take inventory from within, followed by a reality check from trusted external sources to address these questions or issues . . . among others.
    1. Can you describe the business in one sentence, also 3-5 words?
    2. When was the firm founded? Is there a unique story?
    3. Is there a key concept, person, place or name associated with the firm?
    4. How does your target audience view your firm today?
    5. What aspects of your image need improvement?
    6. What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of your competitors?
    7. If you have a current visual identity including a logo, what do you like/dislike about it?
  2. Next, consider opportunities to undertake branding activities that will achieve positive lasting impressions within reasonable constraints such as budget, personnel and time.
    1. Position your firm effectively.
    2. Articulate a clear and compelling message.
    3. Design a unique yet professional visual identity.
    4. Build out your marketing tool kit.
    5. Create or upgrade your web presence.
  3. Reinforce your brand across various platforms and channels.
    1. Leverage your website as a “pull” based marketing platform. This strategy if applied effectively will bring your target audience to you for fresh content. Disseminate your investor relations materials on a proactive basis. Be sure to apply data-driven tools to analyze the relevant statistics and gain marketing insights. For a more detailed discussion on this subject by our website development partner, please click here.
    2. Explore and selectively participate in cap intro and/or meet the manager presentations that are a good fit between “who you are” and the audience’s interests.
    3. Consider educational opportunities, speaking engagements and a proactive media relations program to achieve further branding and related visibility.

Trap #1: Applying mixed messages. Whether messages are created by different people and/or at different times, it is critical to apply a consistent look and feel (visual identity) together with a unified storyline for all presentations and collateral, both web-based and offline, including ongoing investor reports, performance commentary and related communications materials. Inconsistency may create brand confusion.

Trap #2: Counting on brand value to be positive. A negative association or poor communication strategy may confuse or dilute your firm’s public perception. In that case, rebranding efforts may be needed. For example, if your fund suffered a severe drawdown or applied gates leading to heavy redemptions, it may be time to refocus your message, go beyond the returns, and consider which attributes could be accentuated to achieve a more positive impact.

Trend: Many institutional investors today are more attracted to a firm’s sustainable infrastructure than a high recent rate of return. Furthermore, excessive reliance on the founder of the firm may appear as a shortcoming, resulting in investor concerns that need to be overcome or at least balanced with a focus on communicating your client servicing and operational capabilities, all of which are potential branding attributes.

Holly Singer, President
HS Marketing, LLC
Princeton Junction, NJ 08550 | tel. 609.275.1303