Why thought leadership remains a missed opportunity

In an age of digital addiction and short attention spans, it’s tempting to assume that there’s no time for longer, skilfully written and articulated thought pieces. That they could be consigned to history, dismissed as quaint quirks of an analogue world.

Certainly, it’s true that bite-sized traffic dominates the internet. Even in the world of asset and wealth management, there’s a rising tide of bite-sized content, in the form of tweets, LinkedIn posts or short video.

Asset and wealth managers have become prodigious publishers in the past few years. Content marketing has caught on as a way of building loyalty among existing clients and familiarity among potential clients. And yet, despite the growing number of high-quality thought articles, substantive thought leadership remains a missed opportunity.

Longer than your typical 700-word investment perspectives article, thought leadership reports and surveys create a marketing narrative for the firms that publish them. If the key messages are strong enough, they spark widespread press coverage and digital traffic, even leading to speaking invitations. The result: reputations for expertise are greatly enhanced.

Thought leadership is made even more relevant by the difficulty of marketing to institutional investors or wealthy individuals. Authoritative reports on the prospects for a specific investment strategy, the economic outlook for a region of the world or the challenges of a private equity industry burdened with excess capital can showcase a firm’s insight. The expense and trouble of producing a report is justified by the potential reward of a new client.

The potential

What constitutes success varies. Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund, has shown what’s possible. Most recently, his Principles book was turned into a series of animated videos, with one attracting 36,000 views on YouTube. Even more impressive, his How the Economic Machine Works video, based on a paper of the same name, has been viewed 5.3 million times since publication in 2013.

Yet most thought leadership lacks Mr Dalio’s superstar touch.  The highest-profile report that I have written generated over 1,000 press articles around the world. Its key messages were distributed on social media, with eye-catching infographics. A formidable PR and marketing team promoted the report, and its content was highly newsworthy, based on extensive research.

The big US asset managers such as BlackRock and State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) are among asset management’s leading publishers of thought leadership. Take the recent example of BlackRock’s ‘Common challenges, diverging paths’ survey on the challenges of winding down corporate defined benefit pension funds, which clearly promotes the firm as a thought leader in this area. Another model for thought leadership is a research report illustrating the firm’s opinion on a specific investment strategy or topic, for example the SSGA reports on factor investing.

In wealth management, the UBS/PwC Billionaire Insights reports show how authoritative thought leadership can fortify a brand. This series of reports attracts substantial media attention.

Other thought leadership reports may be less high profile but are useful nonetheless. Even long opinion pieces showcase a firm’s expertise, provide a marketing narrative and raise its profile.

Eight principles for best practice

Just as in journalism exclusive stories attract readers, so in thought leadership topical, provocative insights into areas of the market where there is little information do the same.  They might shed new light on major trends, or showcase new thinking on an investment strategy.

But all too often thought leadership fails through poor planning or execution. To be successful, it is important to follow these principles:

  1. Write content with an edge, that creates news or presents original views
  2. Address a topical issue, often where there is a degree of uncertainty
  3. Tell a clear story
  4. Devote sufficient resources to the project
  5. Make your narrative authoritative with facts, quotes and anecdotes
  6. Emphasise your key messages with creative headings, clear standfirsts and (if needed) executive summaries
  7. Don’t sell
  8. Broadcast your thought leadership reports with tweets and LinkedIn posts.

Digital media’s natural selection

In an asset and wealth management industry driven by ideas and intellectual capital, thought leadership has an obvious place. The most valuable clients are generally highly informed and discerning; they value detailed, in-depth research. Thought leadership demonstrates expertise and insight, setting a firm apart from the rest of the market.

Perhaps counter intuitively, digital media favours in-depth thought leadership. It naturally selects and broadcasts the most eye-catching messages. The stronger the thinking, the greater the exposure.

We are conducting wider research with Rupert into the future direction of content and thought leadership in asset and wealth management. To take part, please email twink@whitemarblemarketing.com.

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