In today's noisy world, some brands stand out while others are easily overlooked. Mutual fund and ETF companies must constantly work to improve their messaging, create compelling visuals and evolve with the times.

Consumers and intermediaries are looking for information, education and relevant tools to help them make better decisions; but while content is still king, that content must be delivered in clever, engaging and more compelling ways. Savvy information-gathers have learned to tune out overt pitches, pure product promotions likely to be all but invisible.

What makes a difference? How do the best brands stand out?

HITTING THE MARK

"What catches my eye is a firm's philosophy or process," said Gerard Cronin, a portfolio manager for Advisor Partners, an asset management firm that creates and manages portfolios for financial advisory firms.

"Usually I won't follow up on a product-specific ad."

One brand that consistently hits the mark in this regard is Vanguard. Consider the central message of their ETF Learning Center, a special website developed specifically with financial advisor and asset managers in mind: "Vanguard your clients' portfolio today."

"The message is a play on the name Vanguard. It also suggests that they've got ideas about defensive portfolios and that they are focused on what's best for the client - both of which match my philosophy so I am more inclined to stay on the site and look around," Cronin said.

"The landing page carousel has some items of interest to me - whitepapers and videos on aspects of Vanguard's business such as index selection and Vanguard's unique share class structure. There's plenty of commentary from their portfolio managers and economists, and a good educational video that I can share with the advisors my firm serves. I can also get the information I need on products that I am using or am considering," concluded Cronin.

THE FOCUS TO SEE MORE

Another brand that puts its philosophy front and center is Matthews Asia. Their "Do you see what we see?" messaging and interactive web page make the visitor want to stay and explore the site.

The eye is drawn to an animated downward pointing arrow. As the visitor scrolls down the page, interesting graphics and small bits of text reveal themselves, helping the message unfold without overwhelming or accosting the visitor.

The Matthews Asia Video at the bottom of the home page holds the viewer's attention by rotating through short-but-themed statements from a variety of speakers, all of whom clearly articulate the firm's philosophy and a passion for what they do every day: uncover companies and opportunities in Asia.

"There's no doubt about Matthew's strategic niche," said David Edwards, CFP, founder of Heron Financial Group, a wealth management firm serving affluent families and individuals. "The portfolio managers and executives in their signature video seem to take real pride in saying they have a singular focus on Asia and that they uncover - uncover - companies there. They intentionally repeat that key word. Their video library contains a number of good clips that reinforce essential messages," Edwards said.

INVESTMENT THEMES

State Street Global Advisors asks in one of their current ad campaigns, "Are you providing your clients with enough valuable insights?" This message is aimed at fiduciary advisors who visit sites such as MME's sister publication Financial Planning.

The Investing Spotlight page features commentary and insights - which are regularly updated - as they relate to current market conditions. The ETF Ed pages, which were built by State Street Global Advisors specifically for investment professionals, intentionally mimic the feeling of a game board. As the visitor interacts with the content on the site, game pieces move, learning modules open up and challenge quizzes become an option.

ETF Ed will even recommend other courses the visitor might like. The ETF course has been reviewed by FINRA and is approved for public use so it can be shared with the advisor's clients.

"I'm already familiar with SPDR ETFs," Cronin said. "But I could be interested in State Street market insights as well. There are only a couple of investing themes presented so far, but the two they have up now are interesting.

The white papers make a case for their investment ideas and then link to the specific ETFs to use if you agree with the investment thesis. The videos are high-level and could be something to pass along to end clients to explain why an advisor is making an investment with State Street," Cronin said.

Marie Swift is CEO of Impact Communications, a PR and marketing firm.

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