October 12, 2021
In Financial Services, Don’t Sell Your Product, Sell Your People
In the crowded financial services sector, it can be hard to set your firm apart. After all, there are many firms that offer investment strategies in the major asset classes, like large cap equity, high yield bonds, global equity or even emerging markets – all of which can be difficult to distinguish from one another.
To stand out in this homogenous market, performance and product attributes aren’t enough. You need to sell your firm’s talent and ideas. In other words: Don’t sell your product, sell your people.
Your team’s insights, expertise, and points of view can help you thrive in a competitive landscape and volatile times. But you can’t just blast out content from your fund manager or chief economist and expect it to make a splash. To rise above the noise, you’ve got to position your team members as authorities who draw on deep experience to offer unique (and useful) insights.
Here are three best practices to get started.
1. Develop Useful Insights That Meet Your Audience’s Needs
As we’ve said before too many thought leaders get hung up on what they want to say without stopping to consider what their audience wants to hear. So to create messages that keep your audience at the forefront, you first need to define — and seek to meet — their needs. To get started, ask yourself and your team:
- Who is our ideal client?
- What problems are they trying to solve? (e.g., What do they not understand about the implications of their investment decisions? How can they be more strategic with their assets?)
- For the issues you’ve identified, what content already exists on those topics? How credible is it?
- What viewpoint can your organization share to not only enter that conversation, but add to it meaningfully?
Ultimately, the goal here is to be useful by offering a fresh perspective (something your audience hasn’t heard before that makes them think) and/or practical guidance (that they might not be able to get anywhere else). As our research shows, utility attracts your audience more than any other characteristic.
That’s what RBC Global Asset Management did to set themselves apart in the increasingly crowded ESG space. Five years ago, when data on how many investors were deploying ESG strategies – and where and how they were doing so – was less common, they identified the need and surveyed their clients, prospects, consultants and advisers to provide this data to the market. They’ve been doing the survey every year since.
To amplify this effort, we work with their team of experts to secure media opportunities on a wide array of ESG issues, as well as share their expertise and approach through owned content, such as blogs and podcasts. For the 2020 research alone, RBC GAM garnered more than 40 media placements, including those in The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and Bloomberg News. Social media posts received more than 225,000 impressions and the report was downloaded 5,500 times from the survey microsite.
2. Say Something Meaningful (Even if it’s a Little Provocative)
If you really want to differentiate yourself and provide utility, it’s essential to say something meaningful – something that will inspire your audience to action.
Too many firms play it safe and hedge their bets. They give noncommittal advice and leave their clients to wade through endless possibilities. By contrast, true authorities draw a line in the sand, make their case, and back up their position with well-supported rationale.
Let’s think back to our ESG example. There’s a wealth of ESG data out there — and many ways to approach ESG investing. To win over your audience, you need to say something meaningful that will make an investor choose your strategy. You may believe that investing in fossil fuel companies is an essential step towards developing more sustainable solutions. Or you may believe the opposite, that a sustainable fund should never include gas and oil exposure.
Whatever it is, you need a position. And you need to communicate something that matters — even if it’s conceivably provocative. You must show your audience you’re thinking about challenging issues and prove you have the brainpower to guide investors in smart directions.
3. Be Ready to Engage Different Points of View
When you have the courage to say something meaningful, it stands to reason that someone will disagree. That’s a good thing. There are few better ways of honing your authority position than participating skillfully in the marketplace of ideas.
A researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science — Iain Begg — wrote that public engagement is a great way for technical experts to stay sharp because it forces them to render complicated, theoretical or abstract ideas in practice, concrete and accessible terms. He put it this way: “The challenge of having to explain scientific propositions in terms that informed, non-specialist audiences can grasp, forces academics to think about how those outside academia will view the research.” Making the theoretical and abstract accessible also builds trust and credibility.
The bottom line? Enter boldly into the marketplace of ideas. And beyond that, understand the value of inviting others to interact with and iterate on your own. Be prepared to listen and consider alternate points of view along the way. The work of refining your firm’s position of authority is never done, and there is plenty of wisdom to learn from others as you do this important work.
Differentiation Starts with Authority
Setting your financial services firm apart from your competitors is challenging — but it’s not impossible. The key to doing it well is to establish your firm’s authority and promote unique points of view. This requires you to identify your audience’s needs, deliver useful information that solves their problems, say something meaningful to earn their respect, and engage skillfully with those who disagree.
We can help you identify and develop the points of view that will establish you as the authority you are. Just reach out — we’d love to explore how we can help direct a smarter conversation at your firm.