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Institutional marketing in the financial services space involves outreach to a specific individual within an entity, company or organization with responsibility for hundreds of millions of dollars. These individuals typically represent large pension funds, endowments or foundations who frequently consult with internal or external peers as well as investment consultants before implementing any changes in their investment strategy.
As you can imagine, marketing to this particular audience requires a degree of finesse that is best informed by understanding the client’s mission, needs and current investment approach. Surprisingly, this is where many marketing projects begin to falter.
Many asset managers struggle with their client communication strategy in the institutional market. The sophisticated nature of this audience in terms of their investment knowledge and experience makes for a particularly tricky course for asset managers to navigate. Sending content that’s viewed as too simplistic or too frequent could be annoying and cause clients to ignore future outreach. Providing content that’s too rich or too infrequent runs the risk of the content becoming irrelevant. All the while, the needs and interests of pension investors are often quite different than those of endowments and foundations, requiring that content be tailored appropriately to each audience. Compounding the challenge further is the choice of medium—email or in-person? Digital or print? Our latest US Institutional Investor Brandscape report provides insights to help institutional marketers answer these questions.
To pinpoint the optimal form(s) of contact, we asked institutional investors to identify the most effective means asset managers can use to communicate with them. Overall, email is the overwhelming favorite, selected by more than half of institutional investors. In-person visits are the preferred method of one-fifth of institutional investors.
That said, nearly one-third (29%) of corporate DB pensions and one-quarter (25%) of foundations view in-person visits as most effective. Endowments are the most difficult type of institution with which to secure an in-person meeting, as only 2% voice a strong preference for this type of communication. Comparatively, more than three-quarters (76%) of endowments say email is most effective in communicating with them.
We asked institutional investors how frequently they would like to be contacted by the institutional asset managers their organization works with. Respondents had the option to indicate that they do not wish to be contacted at all. But in positive news for asset managers, 98% of pensions and 96% of non-profits welcome asset manager contact. Most often, institutional investors say they would like to be contacted by asset managers once a quarter. However, there are important differences in frequency preference by asset size as well as by category.
Pensions and non-profits with $500 million to less than $1 billion in assets want less contact, with 46% and 37%, respectively, preferring semiannual over quarterly outreach. However, there is a stronger preference for more frequent contact among endowments, among whom 38% would prefer to hear from asset managers monthly. That said, more than one-quarter of endowments prefer to be contacted by asset managers twice per year or less frequently, so asset managers would be wise to verify preferences with their individual clients and devise a communication plan accordingly.
With a better understanding of the optimal method and frequency of contact for the institutional market, the next question is what content to serve them. Cogent Reports addressed this question head-on in qualitative research conducted in the spring of 2017. Among the key findings, we discovered that institutional investors are far more receptive to investment strategy pieces, particularly material that resonates with their organization, foundation and/or core missions, than product-related content. Case studies illustrating real-life challenges and solutions, for example, offer asset managers a chance to facilitate more in-depth thinking and conversation around plan management and investment oversight.
Institutional investors generally want to hear different viewpoints up front backed by well-constructed arguments. Asset managers should challenge their leading economists, portfolio managers and editorial staff to deliver more positive, uplifting perspectives to get institutions excited about future investment possibilities and engaging with their firms.
The sophisticated nature of institutional investors makes them a challenging audience for marketers; however, knowing the best ways to get in front of these investors, the frequency of contact they desire and the most effective type of content to serve them will give asset management firms an edge in this increasingly competitive market. Targeting even further to specific subsegments, such as $1 billion-plus institutions, asset management firms can develop communication strategies that truly impact their bottom line.