It would be no surprise at all to see in the next round of research how quickly asset managers and ESG propositions have become homogenous in this area, making it harder to tell apart a good and genuine manager or fund. This is something which has become much more widely evident as 2020 has unfolded and no doubt will continue apace into 2021 and beyond (so long is ESG’s credentials are not eroded by poor levels of integrity).
What has captured the imagination of the majority of the asset management industry, is the very thing that now needs it. We need to reimagine the rapidly adopted marketing conventions of ESG and sustainable investing that is making it so challenging for advisers and institutions to tell propositions apart.
This ESG Gold Rush and its subsequent race for conformity has in many cases created hurried marketing, resulting in high levels of homogeneity, new and in most cases obvious conventions, with everyone using the assimilated language, visual metaphors, with all but a few being differentiated.
This is why it’s more important than ever that many managers remain in the game. To do so, asset managers need to get to grips with their true ESG commitment, viewpoints and be up front and completely honest about how they are approaching ESG and why.
It’s okay to have come later to the Sustainability party. It’s okay to introduce overlays and begin the process of embedding ESG principles but not be fully integrated yet. It’s a journey and being authentic about it is better than creating a new history built on spurious historical behaviours or claims. It is about building on what you have to get to the point of introducing ESG values into your investing approaches and corporate story. You can’t just paper over the cracks with ESG as you’ll get found out more readily. It has to be authentic for you, not just the conventions of the market.
Being true – Above all, to create a ‘sustainable brand’ you must be authentic. Don’t reinvent your history to fit with ESG. Be true, honest and up front about how far you are, how far you’re going, where your ambitions lay for ESG and your brand. Whether you’re migrating, changing, integrating or overlaying it, what matters is clarity and transparency.
Behaviours – Brands aren’t what they say, they are what they stand for and what action they make from it. It’s about transparently true behaviours. Cultural shifts don’t happen overnight, they evolve. What is within them and how they become embedded defines the success of adoption and the authenticity of them externally.
Go beyond homogeneity – Creating differentiated narrative built around where you are, what you are, your investment and your corporate philosophy that is unique to your manager brand is key. Within every asset manager is an individual story dying to be discovered, without the need to use the same words, pictures and claiming of a new history. Look within the business for answers and then beyond the space to create a true and engaging truth that you can package. This will help deliver the evolved and true narrative to carry your solutions and funds to all audiences, retail, advisory or institutional.
Substantiate – There’s nothing like an empty promise.
Too many claims lack or don’t bring to the surface the real gritty detail which substantiates a narrative. When you look to the very few who are doing it well, you will see that all the sustainable investing narratives are built on creating a substantiating theme, for the manager or the approach to the asset class, the fund and so forth. Substantiating the sustainable claim in proof points, the stewardship details, the on the ground factors, the actual behaviours that are demonstrable, aid the integrity in the product, service or people.
Deep discovery for a true & differentiated investment & corporate brand narrative & expression – No matter what scale you are at, if you are intent on being an authentic force or being seen as one in sustainable investing, then evolution is vital for success, or survival.
Perception is reality, until of course the reality is a mismatch between what we were sold and what we experienced, then that becomes the new reality. If the book cover gets readers to read, then our content and everyday marketing actions must live up to it. Content, storytelling, the visual exterior can be true, differentiated and engaging. I believe that every asset manager has its own unique story to be told, however, this is so often seen as a subject too fluffy for the hard-nosed commercial ideals of investment. However, ESG has brought out the softer more emotive side of our world of facts, numbers, structures and algorithms. The investment and corporate brand stories must now align with ever more connection between the two – we are our product. In all of these aspects, digging deeper within the corporate vision, the commercial strategy, the corporate culture and the investment philosophy exists, something that is unique to each asset manager. Just like DNA, there are nucleotides – the fundamental building blocks. As with any other brand in a mature marketplace, with a developing responsibility we must define what makes our ESG story unique and worthy of trust and investment.
We are part of that change. We see our role in helping create and tell these true narratives. Yours is to live them.
Director – Strategy & Innovation
2112 Communications Limited
More of the same
We all know of the popularity of sustainability, ESG and sustainable investing. Every manager wants to be seen to be in love with ESG and it’s values and sustainable funds are the order of the day. The last decade has seen a gradual rise in responsible, ESG and sustainable funds, which has now started to be less gradual – you might want to call it an explosion!
The Covid 19 pandemic has presented challenges to digital communications unlike any businesses have ever faced. Looking back, it made me consider how and even if we should have been adapting our communications to ensure we were effective but remained true to our brand.
As we head into another lockdown, it’s worth looking back to what was the outcome of the last one and how it’s changed us – mostly for the good.