As digital strategies move to the forefront, asset management firms are changing the way they think about their brands, how they communicate their offerings to potential clients - and the teams building that marketing outreach.

A shift toward digitally focused initiatives is driving asset managers to increase their marketing budgets, according to a new report by Cerulli Associates.

The study found that asset management firms with over $100 billion in AUM now favor digital outreach, devoting roughly 43% of their advertising budgets towards Internet platforms, and another six percent towards SEO optimization.

The study addresses an obvious question: the advance of digital media has been well-documented and evolving in the past decade - so why are these strategic and budgetary changes happening only now?

"For many years post-financial crisis the majority of marketing groups did not see an increase in budgets," says Pamela DeBolt, an associate director at Cerulli Associates Asset Management and lead author of the report.

"Over the last two years we are seeing more firms, specifically small and medium-sized, experiencing a bump. This increase coincides with the importance of marketing in working in partnership with the sales organization in implementing the distribution strategy."


Among its more interesting findings, the report noted that to support some marketing projects that are more technologically based, such as CRM enhancements, "a portion of budget dollars may reside with the IT group."

Combining marketing efforts with a technology push, marketers are advised, is one way to gain more funding for their operating budgets.

"Large firms are paying to move data from one department to another. Investments in these technology projects are expensive and profitability evaluation is critical," DeBolt says, adding that the improvement of websites and CRM enhancements "are the top initiatives for asset managers, regardless of firm size."

The study also found that as marketing strategies continue to overlap, asset management firms should have one team that "builds and implements marketing programs" for both retail and institutional distribution segments.

As digital strategies continue to drive change, marketers are now at the forefront of many businesses. "Marketers are front and center as firms implement digital strategies and work toward the creation of a positive and consistent client experience," DeBolt says.

Marketers serving all elements of the financial investment community, including asset managers, concurred with the report's findings.

"Digital marketing, specifically web and video, is the biggest change we have seen with all investment advisors, broker dealers and those with products in the last couple of years," says Bill Wostoupal, executive vice president of sales and business development at NorthStar Financial Services Group.

"Advisors are not only seeing this form of marketing appealing, they are increasing their stake in it with a complete digital marketing plan and a budget to support it," says Brett Clarke, president of Blu Giant, a multidisciplinary marketing agency that works with firms in the asset management space.


The Cerulli report found that while large asset management firms put most of their advertising on the web, medium or small-sized firms maintained focus on event sponsorship.

"It has become more apparent to us that people do stop at the web before selecting a financial advisor," says Ryan Wibberley, chairman and CEO of CIC Wealth Management.

"We don't believe that this is the only factor in the decision, but it's definitely are part of the process. Last year, we spent no money on SEO. This year, we plan to spend about $12,000 on this endeavor."


As marketing teams are reoriented, questions may arise about hiring the right talent to address new skill demands.

Many firms are contemplating whether or not to hire a separate person to spearhead digital marketing strategy, according to the Cerulli study. Sometimes, the responsibility lies with the chief marketing officer or shared between marketing and IT departments. 43% of large and 25% of medium to small sized respondents said they hired a separate digital manager.

Depending on the firm's size, separate managers may be put in place for different functions. "Most large firms ensure someone is in place to manage production, creative services, channel marketing, and e-commerce," according to the report.


Outside of marketing departments, other firms are turning to their advisors to publish content that helps target specific client groups and prospects.

"For example, content targeting allows advisors to produce thought leadership pieces that are distributed to audiences based on what is currently in their portfolios," says John Michel, CEO of CircleBlack, an online wealth platform.

However, some firms are simply reorienting their approach. According to a spokesperson from Vanguard, the firm will be shifting towards placing greater effort into digital marketing over utilizing traditional strategies. However, the company's budget will not be increased in an absolute sense. 

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