No marketing plan would be complete without a thorough assessment of the competitive landscape.

After all, developing advertisements and new digital interactive content can be time-consuming and expensive.

A quick analysis of two marketing campaigns - one from PIMCO and one from Prudential - may provide some good insights for ETF and mutual funds companies looking to stay relevant and, well, beat the competition.

It's no surprise that Pacific Investment Management, Co., the asset management firm founded by Bill Gross in 1971 with two others (and now owned by German insurer Allianz), is planning for "life after Bill." After all, Gross will turn 70 years old in May 2014 and he's enjoyed great success and acclaim over the years. But PIMCO has a problem - a couple problems, really. Over the past four decades, the name Bill Gross has become almost synonymous with PIMCO. Furthermore, Gross has become known as "The Bond King" and bonds have come under scrutiny of late. By some accounts, PIMCO is the world's biggest fixed-income manager, with nearly $2 trillion of assets.

Therefore, in recent years, PIMCO has been trying to, well, downplay Gross in an attempt to build an institutional identity. In 2008, the firm hired Mohamed El-Erian to become chief executive officer and share the chief investment officer role with Gross (El-Erian recently left PIMCO, after a six-year stint, to pursue other opportunities, thus creating some additional negative flurry which PIMCO will now have to address). They have, however, been grooming younger managers. They've added exchange-traded funds as well as equity, multi-asset, and alternative-asset funds. An animated display ad on an industry trade publication website is doing a good job to help educate financial advisors, who are often times the intermediaries and consultants to the end-investor. The square display ad showed a ghosted back image of Gross and then flashed this message: "Let me introduce you to PIMCO's constellation of stars - our new deputy CIOs." What followed next was a stack of six headshots, all shown in rapid drop-down sequence, with each deputy's name and area of focus at PIMCO. The final rotation before the animation stopped showed the same ghosted back image of Gross with the following words placed prominently in the open space: "We see opportunity across all asset classes in any market environment. Learn how." The PIMCO logo and tagline "Your Global Investment Authority" along with the Morningstar logo and the words "2013 Awards" were visible at the bottom of the ad throughout all the rotations.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

The Visceral Effect

But the PIMCO marketing campaign gets better still. When clicked, the display ad transports the viewer to the new Deputy CIO page. The top banner slightly shifts the message to "We see opportunity in a global market of bonds." And, while there are five page tabs that visits can click to help them "navigate market change without changing course," the most visually compelling portion of the page is the six large boxes that contain big photos of each of the six Deputy CIOs along with investment focus, name and two choices for clicking through "Read Bio" or "Watch Video."

Most people will probably choose to watch the videos. The one-minute Ivascyn video was a close-in shot of him talking to the camera, in his native office setting, saying among other things that all of them are on the investment committee and that the Deputy CIO program not only "allows Bill to delegate" but allows each of them to focus in a specific area (his is alternatives and income). From a marketing perspective: gold star so far. PIMCO's Deputy CIO videos do a good job educating and building trust.

Business Decorum

Ironically, the video of Bill Gross talking about the importance of flexibility in core bonds may be off-putting to some While the six Deputy CIOs in their videos showed respect for the audience by adhering to standard business dress, Gross seemed to be communicating he was above all that. A clearly expensive tie casually draped around a clearly expensive shirt and a less than rich vocal timbre might alienate an uninformed viewer.

The Catchy Headline

Readers of Financial Planning, a sister publication to Money Management Executive, are likely to pause and click on the long banner ad from Prudential Investments. The yellow headline set against the blue background read: "How can we generate income for a generation for a generation that's living longer? Expand to watch video." When clicked, a very cool space opens up right on the publication's website - visitors are not teleported over to a company-owned site. Now this looks cool. Different from most online ad spaces.

Interactive Space

The interactive space for Prudential on the magazine website had three tabs: one on "Meeting Income Challenges," one on "4- and 5-Star Funds," and one on "Our Investing Approach."

The Income Challenges video had a short bit of compelling text next to it: "With Americans living longer, more investors are seeking income solutions to help provide the long-term security they'll need. Prudential Investments can help uncover income opportunities, even in a low-yield environment, with highly rated funds spanning a variety of asset classes." Unfortunately, while the video started off strong and did hint at the solutions, it stopped short of providing any meaningful information. The Investing Approach video also had short bursts of text delivered by multiple people saying that Prudential does good work (okay, sure, but doesn't everybody say that about their firm?) but with very little real information.

The Real Information

The real information, as it turned out, was in the middle tab called 4- and 5-Star Funds. Bull's eye. By rolling over each fund name, visitors could see more information; this is a nice feature in that too much information delivered all at once can be overwhelming and, as any good marketer knows, people will just tune out and click off if relevant information is not delivered in easy-to-digest portions. The interactivity of this area made it more engaging.

Marie Swift is president and CEO of Impact Communications. 

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