One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi. That's about all the time fund company marketing and sales executives have to make an impression on financial advisors at independent firms and wirehouses.

"You have about three seconds to really make that first impression," says Antonio Ferreira, senior vice president and sector lead for wealth management at Marketing Strategies International.

Results from the marketing research firm's Cutting Through the Marketing Clutter study note that registered financial advisors, regional and independent firms and wirehouse representatives are seeing an influx of marketing materials. However, more often than not these materials tend to see the bottom of their trash bins rather than hit their client mailboxes.

Financial advisors are "rapid evaluators," says Eloise Bond, syndicated product director at the Livonia, Mich.-based company.

"In terms of the asset manager, there is a positive in that, and yes there is also a negative in that. Yes they can gather a lot from me very quickly, but there is not a lot of time to do it. You really have just a moment to grab their attention," Bond explains.

The study documented responses from 18 focus groups that included around three to four advisors, which were staffed at firms with assets under management as low as $29 million to as high as more than $200 million. Findings concluded that advisors still feel that email is the most effective communication preference, but Bond and Ferreira warn that usage of just printed mail or electronic messaging will not do the trick.

In various survey groups, Marketing Strategies International concluded that only 18% of the more than 2,121 individual assessments of print fliers, emails, webinars and white papers were likely to be forwarded to colleagues and clients or engaged by other means. Approximately four-fifths of all distributed materials went unread in a Cogent Wealth Reports study, a series offered by the marketing research company.

How can fund companies address the challenges associated with a constantly developing client relationship, amid a world of various forms of communication?

The Mutual Fund Education Association, which includes a membership of 44 asset management firms that are seeking to "keep pace with the diverse demands of serving investors and advisors," according to its website, has tackled this evolving environment head on.

Kimber Lintz, director at MFEA, says that fund company marketers need to mesh both print and digital worlds in order to cover all their communication bases.

"I think fund companies know in today's world, it's important to include digital strategies as part of their overall communication marketing strategy because there are those individuals who choose to do most of their communication on the web and mobile devices," Lintz says. However, she cautions that "...particularly when you are dealing with money, some people may still want to have that hard paper, so I think it's a trick. It has to be a combination of both."

For Highland Capital Management, a firm with over $18 billion in assets under management in its 17 mutual funds with alternative, income, equity, asset allocation and ETF exposures, the outreach strategy is sticking to what they know in order to attract financial advisors.

"With Highland, it really starts with highlighting our investment performance because we have a terrific lineup of products. It begins there," says Highland National Sales Manager Robin Thompson. "And then we're in a unique position because we have a long standing heritage of being an alternative specialist, having been in the alternative investment world for over 20 years."

Thompson agrees the average wholesaler today has really "raised the bar in talent," which makes it more difficult to attract a financial advisor's attention than it took a wholesaler 10 to 15 years ago.

"The level of talent has really been raised; it used to be that if you were a professional, and you were on time, and you told a pretty good story, you would be successful. And now those are all given, those are all things that get you in the door," Thompson explains.

Thought Direction

Marketing Strategies International's October study shows that leadership in brand distinction and exhibiting a real expertise of specific market segments can help lead the way when marketing materials fall wayside. Bond explains that "thought leadership has the capacity to break through" and grab attention spans. However, she says that advisors' surveyed feel true thought leadership can be achieved through "really strong differentiated messaging."

Bond highlights that progress in thought leadership, credited mostly to Twitter, is contingent on these executives constantly engaging comments and ideas.

"They [the advisors] are not looking to follow another company, they are looking to follow a bold manager who is going to come out with something that demonstrates his personality as well as his opinion," Bond says.

Twenty-year old Highland falls into this category. First founded in 1993 by James Dondero and Mark Okada, the Dallas headquartered firm is credited with structuring one of the industry's first arbitrage collateralized loan obligations as well as pioneering aspects of the bank loan and mutual fund market. Thompson says Okada, Highland's chief investment officer, is sought after by financial advisors and media and but he "enjoys it, which is unique."

"Thought leadership is key at all the firms, a number of them do it through multiple resources, but I think to have a face man up front I think is very effective in delivering that message particularly to the advisors," Lintz says.

She lists Robert Reynolds, president and chief executive officer at Putnam Investments, and Nuveen Asset Management Chief Equity Strategist and Senior Portfolio Manager Bob Doll as some figureheads that are doing it superbly."I think if you have someone that can deliver it well, and is in a high place, the advisors just l want to connect with the portfolio managers," Lintz says. "...Anything you can do to connect them with someone that is in a role at a fund firm that obviously has a say and opinion on how things are run there is great."

With the New Year fast approaching, marketing professionals at fund and ETF companies should incorporate these guidelines into their 2014 financial advisor sales and marketing campaigns should they want to remain ahead of the herd:

* Be clear

* Be concise

* Be candid

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