T. Rowe Breaks Into Top Three Asset Management Brands, Bumping out BlackRock

Lazard, Russell, and SEI were among the small managers that stood out in Peregrine’s Global 100 report on marketing and communications.

Gabby Jones/Bloomberg

Gabby Jones/Bloomberg

In 2021, Fidelity Investments, Vanguard Group, and T. Rowe Price were the top three overall brands in Peregrine Communications’ third annual ranking of asset management brands. T. Rowe replaced BlackRock this year in the Number 3 spot, according to Peregrine’s Global 100 report. The report measures brand awareness — the level of audience engagement firms have generated from marketing efforts — and the overall effectiveness of marketing and other strategies of the top 100 largest asset management firms.

Not surprisingly, Fidelity and Vanguard occupied the top two spots last year as well. These have been two of the most well known brands for decades. But, this year, T. Rowe Price bumped BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, to seventh place. Sylvia Toense, T. Rowe Price’s head of global brand marketing, attributed the firm’s success, in part to to a new brand campaign the firm launched this year.

The campaign — called “Invest in Your Future” — targets investors in the U.S. and leverages the emotional aspects of finance to engage with web site users, Toense said.

“Money and finances are emotional topics, we believe that leading with emotion helps us connect with investors in more meaningful ways, and helps us demonstrate the true value of T. Rowe Price’s investment approach,” she said.

The report ranked the top 100 asset managers based on all categories that Peregrine measured, including brand awareness, brand momentum (how much the brand is increasing audience engagement over time), share of voice (the volume of media coverage a brand receives), media sentiment (the ratio of positive to negative media coverage for each firm), Google page 1 (how well a firm is represented on the first page Google presents in a search), firms’ social media engagement, search engine optimization, paid search (the amount traffic generated through a firm’s paid search campaigns), paid media (the extent to which firms deployed paid advertising strategies), and, finally, the effectiveness of firms’ web sites. Web site effectiveness looks at how firms retain website visitors, taking into account metrics such as average page views.

The report also included sub-rankings based on 10 categories. The top five firms with the strongest level of brand awareness were Fidelity, T. Rowe, Vanguard, KKR, and BlackRock.

In addition to its top performers, the report revealed larger, industry-wide challenges. From August 2020 to August 2021, over half of the top 100 firms saw no increase or a decline in their brand awareness.

“Brand awareness is absolutely critical because the asset management industry is entering a really interesting decade. It’s going to look unlike any previous decade,” said Josh Cole, director and head of strategy at Peregrine.

Specifically, 52 percent of firms saw no increase or a decline in their organic Google search volumes. Yet firms, on average, saw a 14 percent increase in inbound Google search interest for the brand, signaling that “the rewards of effective communications and marketing are reaped by a comparative few,” the report said. Last year’s report, which observed the period between August 2019 and August 2020, saw a 58 percent decrease in firms’ organic traffic.

“Even though this is the same trend we’ve seen over the last few years, it’s more powerful over time,” said Cole. “In fact, this is really a long-term trend, not just a flash-in-the-pan thing.”

Among the changes to the asset management industry Cole anticipates are an increase in mergers and acquisitions, high CEO and leadership turnover, pressures to adhere to new environmental, social, and corporate governance standards, and a changing regulatory environment. As a result, Cole said, firms that cannot make clear to their audiences “what their brand actually stands for,” will struggle to keep up with their competitors.

“For firms who are not able to get a handle on their brand awareness, they are going to be among the losers of the next decade,” Cole said.

Size Doesn’t Matter

Smaller firms are more effective in garnering brand awareness than larger firms. Smaller asset managers, like Russell Investments ($300 billion AUM), Lazard Asset Management ($258.6 billion), and DekaBank (EUR $368.3 billion AUM) received strong brand awareness scores, “comparative to some of the largest and best-known firms in the study,” the report said. As a result, the report concluded there is a stronger correlation between brand awareness and overall IMC score than between brand awareness and size. In short, brand awareness doesn’t necessarily depend on size; it depends on the strength of corporate communication and marketing tactics.

“It’s easier for smaller managers to grow their brand awareness over time because they’re starting from a smaller base. It’s more challenging if you’re a BlackRock or a JP Morgan to keep growing your brand awareness year-over-year when you’ve been the biggest asset manager for a decade or so,” Cole said.

Cole said it’s also often easier for smaller managers to be more focused on specific, key issues, which helps the audience better understand the mission of the brand.

“In some ways, having a smaller budget is freeing because it makes it easier to say ‘no.’ It means you’re not trying to be everything to everyone because you don’t have the budget to do a massive content program,” Cole said.

For the marketing team at Russell Investments, the mantra of the year was, in fact, “focus,” Mollie Jensen, Russell’s head of global marketing, told II. From its ninth-place spot in 2020, Russell jumped to the number-one spot on Peregrine’s “top 20” list, a list of the top 20 firms that outperformed expectations based on their AUM, specifically the firms that had the biggest difference between IMC score and where they would have ranked in order of AUM. Russell Investments, SEI Investments, and Voya Investment Management took first, second, and third places.

“We got focused on the most important issues facing our institutional and wealth advisory clients,” Jensen said. “We are very focused and very targeted on our OCIO fiduciary management, value proposition, tax-managed investing, ESG, and private markets. There’s a limited but really important list of things we’re really focused on, and that’s where our content strategy is pointed at.”

Jensen said a “focused” marketing strategy was most likely a key reason for her team’s exceptional performance this year. In fact, she said, the firm’s website saw a 25 percent increase in organic search on Google.

SEI, which jumped from number seven in 2020 to number two on the top 20 list, attributed its success relative to its size to its shifting, highly-curated content strategy.

“Over the last 18 months, we’ve customized content on a firm level and an individual level. People recall the brand because they’re getting content that’s relevant to them at the time they need it on the channel they need it,” Seth Morrison, SEI’s head of global marketing, told II.

At SEI, customized content looked like a shift away from long-form pieces, like blogs, to quick, personalized videos and audio clips.

“As you click [around on the website], the content engages with you and you can design your own journey,” Morrison said. “Other asset managers are still left with these massive campaigns, banner ads, and mass emails, which, based on our data, do not do as well in terms of engagement as highly-personalized content does.”

DekaBank, which jumped from the number 11 spot on the top 20 list to the number-five spot in 2021, three factors: “Our successful marketing strategy is essentially based on three success factors: creativity, the strong connection to the savings banks and an innovative content marketing strategy,” Dr. Lothar Weissenberger, head of marketing and digital media at DekaBank, told II in an email.

Weissenberger said, 50,000 customers watched the three live webcasts about investment topics and others watched the stream on demand.

“Deka is also a pioneer in content marketing strategy: top expertise is presented in a clear and entertaining way,” Weissenberger said.