Within the past month, a number of mutual fund shops have embarked on a branding campaigns. The reason being to either distance themselves from past relationships and/or embark on new marketing schemes to separate themselves from their peers.
American Century Investments last month rebranded its target-date funds, dropping the LIVESTRONG name, which is associated with Lance Armstrong, and branding the funds as One Choice Portfolios. The funds were branded with the LIVESTRONG name in 2006, through American Century's partnership with the cancer charity. Lance Armstrong, who earlier this year admitted using performance-enhancing drugs to win his seven Tour de France titles, founded the charity.
ING U.S., the U.S.-based retirement, investment and insurance business of the Amsterdam-based parent ING Groep NV is rebranding to Voya Financial following its initial public offering earlier last month. ING Groep NV took its U.S. unit public to pay back its 2008 bailout from the Netherlands.
American Century's chief marketing officer Mark Killen took the high road and attributed the name change to the company's broadened commitment to cancer charities. "Our relationship with LIVESTRONG has been a great success. In fact, it inspired us to begin working with a number of organizations whose programs also help those affected by cancer. While we continue to support LIVESTRONG and its mission, in light of our broadened commitment to the cause, showcasing a single entity no longer tells the full story," he said.
"We whittled down over 5,000 names to get to Voya," said Ann Glover, chief marketing officer of ING U.S. "Early on in the process we solicited input from employees and key business partners which we added to the process. We really like the abstract name, it is ownable, an empty vessel to fill with our values of guiding Americans on their journeys to and through retirement."
With the change in name also comes a change in logo. The new logo will retain the orange color associated with ING. "We love the optimism and distinctiveness that orange offers. It breaks out from the sea blue that is common among financial services firms," Glover said.
The operational rebranding process will initialize following the IPO and is expected to take 18-24 months. The company will not use the new name and logo commercially until this is complete.
However, the new name will be reflected in the ticker symbol (VOYA). "What's very exciting is that the ticker symbol will be Voya. Through this we are beginning to build the bridge between Voya and ING. We want to transfer the goodness of ING to the Voya brand," Glover said.
The bridge to the Voya brand is also being built though ING's current advertising campaign. "Right now we're running our Orange money campaign," added Glover.
The campaign places equity in ING Orange though a visual representation of the differences between green money, which is spent and orange money, which is saved. "This is the first step in the rebranding campaign. Down the road these same ads will run with the Voya name," said Glover.
In addition, Scottish firm Aberdeen Asset Management announced plans last month to run its first ever global brand advertising campaign, dubbed "Simply Asset Management." Launched on May 20, the campaign will run for six weeks in over 20 countries and focus on traditional print, outdoor and digital media.
Piers Currie, Group Head of Brand at Aberdeen, said that the campaign aims to deepen its penetration in key wholesale markets such as the U.S. and to foster a stronger awareness of what the Aberdeen brand stands for globally.
"About 5% of asset management groups are genuinely international. The ones I can think of are Franklin Templeton Investments, BlackRock and Schroders. Our desire is for it to be understood that we are a global asset management group. Distributors for wholesale markets globally need to know that you are running an efficient global entity," said Currie.
He noted that a key concern for Aberdeen is that only 20% of its client base is in the U.S., whereas the U.S. market as a whole is 50% of the world's wealth.
"Part of the campaign we are running is to try to get awareness for what we are as a business in the U.S. market. Last year, we opened an office in New York (we already had an office in Philadelphia) and doubled the amount of people responsible for distribution," said Currie.
According to data from Cerulli Associates, fund firms recognize the increasing importance of branding and are planning accordingly. In fact, 33% of asset managers and readers surveyed by Boston-based Cerulli earlier this year reported that their firm-wide focus for the remainder of the year is building brand awareness. Financial advisors also pinpointed recognizable brand as the second-most important attribute among 11 impacting their choice of asset manager, behind only strong client service (51%).
Michelle Pittman, chief content officer at JCPR, said that whether a firm is entering new markets or opening itself up to new client bases, it's important to brand itself in a way that lets it not only extend its reach but keep true to its track record that has made it successful to date.
She said figuring out where and how a firm needs to be seen are probably the two biggest questions firms have to answer before they can go full force with any marketing initiative.
"It's part science and art as far as the best way to position a company and talk about its strength without being adversarial to competitors. You don't want your news to be about how you stack up against the competition. You want it to be about your firm and your brand. For us, we start with the end game and then we work backwards to figure out what the strategy is," she said.
Pittman cautions firms that branding behind something as generic as their customer service record can be a hard sell. "While we completely understand that that is important, it's very hard to go out with a message like that. So really figuring out what their strengths are and how to communicate that is really the first hurdle to building brand," she said
She also advised asset managers to do their digital research upfront to determine "who search engines think are your competitors and what impressions they're getting."