Best strategies for marketing your ETFs

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How do you implement an effective public relations strategy for an ETF? Like most strategies, effective messaging and tailored content are the most important things you can do when utilizing PR.

There is no general script that can be written and rehashed. Many spokespeople can fall into the trap of describing their ETF just as it is printed on the prospectus.

Like selling a car, you can read the specifications to whomever you're selling to, but that won't convince them to buy your product. It sometimes gives us basic information, but it doesn't tell us why we should care.

Knowing your target audience and talking about how your fund fits their investment strategy will give you authority with a niche audience. A good example of this is the VanEck Vectors Green Bond ETF (GRNB). VanEck was one of several firms quoted in a January New York Times article on ESG investing, headlined: Cutting Carbon Emissions While Earning Cash.

Within one paragraph, the message, goal and function were condensed into simple, understandable terms. They managed to gain exposure to their niche audience, detail their general investment strategy and explain why their ETF is a great general option for U.S. investors looking to diversify their portfolio.

ESG funds may be more theme-oriented than the average ETF, but every fund has a community of investors who would be interested. Once you know who these people are, it's all about distinguishing your fund from the competitors with consistent messaging.

When comparing your product to others in its theme, some may believe it's essential to go "under the hood" to highlight what makes a product unique, and ultimately what it's best used for.

Comparing the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY) and the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (VOO), you can see this play out. Both ETFs track the S&P 500, so the small details of each would make all the difference. SPY has great liquidity and is one of best-known ETFs on the market, but VOO's expense ratio is lower and it reinvests interim cash, unlike SPY.

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Each fund has its own key features, and depending on how they are presented, each investor will go with the product they feel works best for their strategy.

You might like to highlight what makes your product unique, but unless you have consistent messaging, there won't be much of an opportunity aside from trends with which the fund might be associated. After the furor surrounding a trend slows down, media exposure about a fund's features has the potential to grind to a halt.

Getting around this means you need to be versatile and utilize a message for your ETF that can easily apply to a wide variety of topics. By doing this, you open your spokesperson up for more opportunities to be interviewed, and, in turn, promote your ETF through coverage. If you're asked about a specific holding in your portfolio, you should not only be able to speak to that holding's performance, but also to why it's an indicator of success for your formula/strategy.

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With 60% of the ETF market dominated by big-name companies, gaining exposure like this is crucial for a boutique firm to be recognized. Needless to say, a large component of how your product is promoted relies on some key messages. If you think you have the right spokesperson in mind, make sure they can answer these questions:

  • Why is your ETF superior?
  • How is it constructed?
  • What are its largest holdings?
  • Who is the ETF's ideal shareholder?
  • Why should we invest now?

If they can answer all of these questions, you're on the right track to getting the news coverage that will help grow your fund.

There is one other thing that needs consideration: Is your spokesperson available to talk on trending stories? If you have a spokesperson who is frequently unavailable or can only speak on a very narrow selection of topics, you limit your ability to get publicity, and your product won't get the promotion it deserves. A pyramid can't be built without laying down some bricks, and you can't build exposure if you don't take any interviews.

The impact of a good PR strategy is compounded when the firm utilizes the news coverage they get. Making your media clips readily available through your website, social media and other distribution networks will add extra coverage and help build your credibility as an authority.

This also allows for potential investors to access more information about your firm's outlook. Look at any major fund's website and you'll find a clear link to their presence in the news. With a good story, flexibility and versatility, your ETF can be just as recognizable nationally as the multibillion-dollar funds. PR is a tool, and like any tool, it matters how you use it.

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Marketing Branding Business administration ETFs Asset managers ESG Vanguard VanEck SPDR S&P Money Management Executive