When You Build It, but They Don’t Come (by Aaron Tellier, Merkle)


Today’s asset managers are consumed by details – day in and day out, the collective energy is poured into a heads down routine filled with monitoring markets, crunching numbers, researching opportunities, analyzing competitors, meeting with clients. All of that acquired knowledge and experience yields an impressive array of innovative investment products that you know have a place in the market. So why aren’t they gaining more traction and market share?

The answer may be surprisingly simple, but ultimately very difficult to implement.  In a world where business success is driven by personalized experiences, the ability to connect directly with clients is crucial. Traditional buying methods are no longer in favor, and marketers have to adapt. But according to a recent informal poll conducted by Merkle, the asset management field is lagging behind other industries, even those within the financial space.

During an interactive webinar, we asked asset management executives about their organizations’ ability to deliver personalized experiences to the brokers and financial advisors who distribute their products and services. The answers were overwhelming – and not in a good way. One hundred percent of those polled said they didn’t feel like they were doing a good job at all. We asked them what their problems and barriers were, and their answers were, basically, “everything.” They didn’t understand the value of people-based marketing; they couldn’t get the necessary funding; their organization was more driven by sales than marketing; it was just too difficult. They haven’t developed the competencies necessary to provide their customers with personalized experiences across all channels, which is crucial to getting products to market and creating competitive advantage. There were so many challenges that they simply didn’t know where to begin.

It’s important for asset management firms to remember that brokers and financial advisors are people too. As consumers, their media consumption patterns are becoming increasingly rooted in digital channels like social and mobile. This is fundamentally changing how consumers search for and interact with financial services providers. And I’m not just talking about millennials. These are the prevailing platforms for daily interactions – both personal and business related – for consumers of all ages. According to Mintel, “Nearly three quarters of consumers say it is important for their financial institution to provide a wide range of mobile and technology services and for them to have access to their own finances online. Personal financial management tools that allow consumers to view their entire financial picture and track goals online are a great way to promote client engagement and desire to work with a financial advisor.”[1]

It seems financial advisors are living in a Netflix and Amazon world, being catered to by door-to-door vacuum salesmen. There is an obvious disconnect. Today, marketers must take advantage of digital marketing opportunities that are data-driven, programmatic, and addressable. This can only be achieved by understanding and reaching actual people with relevant content – across media, channels, and devices – that’s personalized to them as individuals. People-based marketing creates an enormous potential to simultaneously increase conversion and ROI while improving the overall customer experience.

Marketers in other fields within the financial services industry have been moving steadily toward this more customer-centric, digitally driven approach to marketing. Retail banks in particular are making investments in technology and building internal teams and processes to improve targeting and create more individualized experiences for their customers. These strategies are driving greater customer engagement with personalization, relevance, and continuity across channels.

As an example, my team works with a top-15 US retail bank that has seen great success with its transformation to a business strategy that is centered around the customer. The client implemented a data management platform (DMP) to capture and link online and offline first-party and third-party data. The integrated data is now used to inform an understanding of customer behavior; to build an analytics set that informs marketing objectives; to develop business rules for effectively deploying the right message and offer to the right audiences; and to leverage learnings from data and analytics to inform programmatic digital media.

Through this initiative, the bank was able to identify its most profitable customers to be used for look-alike prospecting; identify cross-sell opportunities in 42% of its customers; and identify high-performance audience segments for media targeting. Overall, the DMP helped the bank to harness big data, analyze it, and deploy service messaging across digital and offline channels. Some significant business results include:

  • Digital consumer shift. The bank was able to expand its distance-to-branch audience targeting through digital channels to receive a 2X lift from responders outside its traditional geographic footprint.
  • Consumer preference. New and younger audiences are now being reached via their preferred media, resulting in a 25% lift among responders under 40.
  • Affluence. The client is leveraging media preferences to reach a higher and varied household income yielding a 50% lift among responders >$100k.
  • Volume. The renewed customer strategy is outperforming high-range projections for checking account volume.
  • Value. The bank has boosted its account volume, with high-quality new households maintaining high-value deposit balances.
  • Efficiency at scale. Increased account volume has been achieved while improving media cost per acquisition (CPA) week over week.


So, why haven’t asset managers found the same success in making this transformation? It’s encouraging that asset management marketers are beginning to see an increase in their marketing budgets.  In fact, 78% of small and mid-sized asset managers plan to increase their marketing budgets, 75% of all asset managers want to expand the content offered on their website, and 70% are looking to increase their social media and email marketing efforts.[2]  Even though they are making some headway, investments in marketing are still dwarfed by the traditional focus on sales teams.  To make real progress, marketing functions need meaningful funding and a commitment to building capabilities over the long term.  Increasing the flow of marketing dollars from a drop to a trickle will not provide the product-centric to customer-centric approach that is needed.

Despite the best intentions, none of the responders in Merkle’s informal poll said they were happy with the customer experiences they are providing. They are not successful in their attempts at omni-channel marketing strategies. Whether their obstacles are rooted in the organization, the budget, the data, the technology, or some other factor, they all seem to point to an inability to get the initiative off the ground.

Getting started can be difficult, especially with so many options and moving parts that begin with acquiring and synthesizing new information and figuring out how to build both the big picture view and the tactical view.

Some of the key first steps in your journey should include:

  • Educating yourself on the new ‘state of the art’ of modern digital marketing
  • Benchmarking what other industries are doing and how they are finding success
  • Redefining the marketing vision and objectives with an understanding of the new environment
  • Inventorying your data assets and data needs/gaps
  • Creating a new marketing strategy based on the dynamic, coordinated omni-channel experience
  • Mapping the ideal advisor experience and using this as your blueprint to make meaningful change

To learn more about overcoming the challenges of creating personalized experiences in an increasingly digital, omni-channel environment, download Merkle’s white paper, “Realizing the True Power of Marketing in Asset Management.”

[1]  Marketing Financial Services to the Mass Affluent, Executive Summary. Mintel Group Ltd., Dec. 2015. PDF.

[2] Neal, Ryan W. “Asset Managers Increase Marketing Budgets For 2015.” Web log post. WealthManagement.com. Jan. 2015 Web. 17 Aug. 2016.

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