Liberty Funds Distributor of Boston, which has 1.8 million customers and $67 billion in assets under management, is trying a three-pronged, $1 million effort to promote its name among the investment advisors who sell its funds.
The fund company has just renamed all of its 50 mutual funds from five different fund managers so that they now all bear the Liberty name. Liberty is now running print advertisements promoting the Liberty name in major trade publications read by investment advisors. Liberty has also created web-based educational and marketing aids on which investment advisors can put their own names.
Adding the Liberty name to funds in the firm's subsidiaries - including Stein Roe & Farnham, Colonial Management Associates and Newport Fund Management, all of Boston - is an astute move to improve relations with intermediaries, said Justin Craib-Cox, an analyst with Morningstar of Chicago.
"One of the things that Liberty has done successfully in the last few years is buy a whole lot of asset managers, in order to offer investors a whole range of services," Craib-Cox said. Liberty wisely let each of these divisions continue to run autonomously, he said.
"When you buy an asset manager, the last thing you want to do is to disturb the fund manager," he said.
But now that a considerable amount of time has passed since Liberty's first acquisition, the company wants to combine the "different philosophies" and distribution channels of its "wide collection of assets," Craig-Cox said.
Liberty's trade advertising campaign began in July and is scheduled to continue to run through the end of the year. Ads are appearing in Financial Planning and Bank Investment Marketing, both of which are published by Thomson Financial, the publisher of this newsletter. They are also appearing in Registered Rep, Dow Jones Investment Advisor and Investment News.
The ads play on the Liberty name and promote the company's employees in a lighthearted manner that the company hopes will be memorable, said Phil Fragasso, managing director of marketing for Liberty. Employees, from executives to customer service representatives, are included in the ads.
The ad currently running portrays Marcel, one of Liberty's call center representatives, who is a baseball fanatic, standing on a baseball field. The headline reads, "Give me a fund company that borders on the fanatical."
A second ad, scheduled to begin running in August, shows one of Liberty's vice presidents with his wife, two daughters and golden retriever on a beach. The headline reads, "Give me a fund family that believes in the value of family," and is meant to convey to investment advisors how Liberty Funds strives to make their work lives easier so that they can enjoy more time with their families, Fragasso said.
Each of the advertisements also promotes new, web-based educational and marketing software Liberty has developed, Fragasso said. The educational software includes thirteen 20-minute courses on investment topics including asset allocation, tax-managed investing, international investing and annuities. The software has been configured so that investors can customize how information is presented to them when they supply their ages, investment goals, risk tolerance levels and investment knowledge, Fragasso said.
The marketing materials, for advisors, can be customized to emphasize the strengths and interests of individual advisors, Fragasso said.
"We started this all off with the idea of consumer brands in general and asked ourselves why Pepsi Cola and Nike are some of the biggest brands," Fragasso said. "We concluded that everyone has their own individual brand - including investment advisors."
"If they are a specialist in tax planning, belong to a specific country club or went to a specific school -they have a specific brand," he said. " We want to give them an action plan to develop that brand."
Neither the educational software nor the marketing programs promote the Liberty name, Fragasso said.
Also included in the marketing materials are a mailing list program and access to direct-marketing prospecting lists that advisors can purchase through Liberty. Fragasso said the lists were being supplied by an outside vendor and include a wide spectrum of demographic profiles. He declined to elaborate.
Liberty hopes that all of these efforts - creating a single brand name, providing valuable tools for investment advisors and its trade ad campaign - will strengthen its relationship with investment advisors and prompt them to promote Liberty funds, Fragasso said.