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Smaller Asset Management Firms Can Have Big Brands

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Smaller asset managers don’t necessarily have less valuable brands, according to a report released Monday by Landor, a global consulting firm.

Based on data from Brand Finance and Towers Watson, the study found that smaller firms that “punch above their weight” are able to leverage their brand better than larger firms that have lost momentum.

As an example, Mich Bergesen, global director of financial services at Landor, referred to Aberdeen Asset Management, which was managing $551.4 billion in assets as of June 30.

“The firm built its identity around simply asset management, and that’s helped them fuel growth,” Landor told ThinkAdvisor on Monday. “They haven’t been in only one asset class or only one strategy, it’s been a very broad-based platform. On the other hand, I think the track record and consistency of leadership really matters. Some of the recent changes, for example, at the top at PIMCO have taken a toll not just on their AUM but on their brand value.”

“Small” is a relative term in the study, which examined the 50 largest asset managers covered by Towers Watson, with assets between $100 billion and $4 trillion.

There are three factors firms of all sizes need to build their brand around to help them grow.

First is flexibility. Firms need to be able to move quickly to offer their clients what they’re looking for.

Focus is another important characteristic that helps firms communicate clearly what they provide clients. They should avoid generic terms like “global,” “client-centric” and “solution-oriented,” which don’t impart much confidence to clients.

Finally a brand has to be consistent, especially if their audience is highly segmented, in order to build a durable identity over time, according to Landor.  Firms should focus on core aspects of their brand like culture, expertise or operating principles.

Bergesen said that rebranding is about self-awareness. “The first step is understanding who you are,” he told ThinkAdvisor on Monday. “Rebranding or creating your brand isn’t about finding some magic formula that is floating around out in the ether that no one’s discovered. It’s more about authentically communicating who you already are and what you already do.”

Money managers tend not to be introspective, he added. “They tend to be very much about the functional and more about the product and services [they offer]. You can see that in the About Us pages on most firms’ websites. It’s a very functional description of their history, who they are and what they basically do, but it doesn’t really go to the core philosophy that the firm embraces.

“I think we’re seeing some interesting forces in the asset management space right now,” he continued. “Investors are pushing for a wider range of strategies, and of course firms are having to build these broad-based platforms. In some cases the firms that are doing this very well are focused on a singular message and have been very clear and direct in that.”

Check out Advisors Picky About Product Providers on ThinkAdvisor.