Category: Capital Markets

How to market a product with no competition

It sounds like the dream scenario, doesn’t it? Marketing a product with no competition. But this apparently ideal situation brings with it a number of challenges. Ellie Jackson explores some of the issues and solutions.

It’s not unusual, especially in our relatively complex B2B industries, for us to be charged with marketing products with no true competition – or where the alternative is a combination of in-house build and various point solutions with dubious integration, involving the technological equivalent of sticky tape.

While a crowded market isn’t easy to work in, being a ‘category creator’ brings its own hurdles. For starters, people don’t typically issue RFPs or RFIs for things that they don’t realise exist. Perhaps they grudgingly accept their current unsatisfactory workaround, or perhaps they don’t give it any thought at all.

Another common challenge is being inaccurately compared to a better-known or understood option. Perhaps you find yourself regularly saying, ‘well no, we’re not really that,’ or yet again you’re fudging the category choice for some industry awards because, ‘there isn’t one that quite fits for us.’ And before you know it, you start defining yourself by the way you differ from others – by the things you aren’t, rather than what you are.

One of the real kickers in all this is that you might well find that you still have competition for share of voice – online or in the media. This can itself contribute to a lack of understanding about where you sit and what you deliver.

Perhaps the toughest of all is what I call the ‘disbelief challenge’. This is sense that people often have that if something like what you purport to deliver were possible, that someone would have developed it before now, or that lots of people would be doing so. One client recently reported this response, even following a demo of their product – it just seemed too good to be true!

All of a sudden, being out in front can seem somewhat lonely.

I’d love to say I have all the answers. I don’t. But through years of experience with variations on this problem, I have uncovered some approaches that help. Here are my top five:

1.Education (education education)

We believe that the job of marketing and PR is to create effective conditions for selling. Sometimes that might be building a firm’s reputation, but sometimes you have to take a step back and focus on educating the audience on the existence of the problem and the availability of a solution. Taking the time to focus on audience education tends to pay dividends in the long-run.

See how we followed this path with RLtec (now OpenEnergi)

2.Show, don’t tell

Arguably, this is always a good approach to audience engagement, but it is especially valuable in the context of a category creator, to fight the challenge of being put in the wrong-shaped box. Be very specific about the benefits of your product, and – if possible – show that in action. That’s exactly how we managed a campaign on ransomware for RES.

3.Let others tell your story

This naturally follows from the point above, but nothing validates your story more effectively than having others tell it. That’s what worked so well when we accelerated eToro’s growth in the UK. In the B2B world, this means working with clients to find approaches with which they (or their corporate comms teams) can be comfortable (which doesn’t necessarily have to be a standard press release or case study, but which could be something more creative like a co-authored article or participation in an event). And it doesn’t need to stop with clients. Working effectively with the analyst community for your industry can yield real benefits here too.

4.Focus on storytelling

We’ve talked before about the power of storytelling. There’s little better for breeding engagement. A good story gently teases the audience in, fostering real engagement, meaning you are far less likely to lose someone clicking away through disbelief before you’ve had a chance to prove that what you say is true. See here how that worked for Malwarebytes.

5.Have patience

Not popular, especially with CEOs, I know. And not something I like to have to tell clients. But the reality is that sometimes, as a category creator, you do need to accept that audience understanding will not change overnight – at least not on most companies’ budgets. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t push for success from the off, but know that you’ll probably have to come back to your education campaign more than once.

There’s every chance there’ll come a time in the future, when others have seen what you’ve achieved and taken steps to emulate it. Then your focus will have to shift to defending and differentiating – and you might look back fondly on this time before the market woke up to your possibilities!

At Aspectus we’ve worked with many companies across tech, financial services, capital markets and energy, helping them to position themselves for growth. If any of these challenges resonated with you and you’d like to explore how we could help, book a 30 minute consultation with Group Director Ellie Jackson below.

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How – and how not – to handle a brand reputational crisis

Every once in a while, firms face a reputational crisis that is completely out of their control. Beer brand Corona has been a recent example of this, with unfortunate and unwarranted associations drawn by some consumers with the coronavirus pandemic (although sales have remained solid).  But in most cases, firms carry some level of responsibility. It is also usually the ones that are most willing to own this responsibility and take action (where appropriate), that come out better than the ones that don’t.

Case A: KFC

February 2018. A time when, inexplicably, the biggest global brand in fried chicken ran out of chicken. A UK-wide scandal. The reason? KFC’s new logistics partner DHL failed to live up to the pressure of distributing ingredients from its single depot in Rugby, unlike its predecessor Bidvest, which had six. The response? An apology that was bold, unequivocal and quietly funny.

The direct blame could have easily been laid at DHL’s door. But disasters like this tend not to happen often to brands like KFC, and frankly, shouldn’t. So, it was the right thing to do to take ownership, even though it would have been tempting not to, for several reasons:

  • Entering a blame game would have only dragged out a corporate reputational war longer than it needed to, drawing further negative attention to the problem than it should
  • Refusing to accept blame and adopting a reactive strategy, rather than proactive, would allow wider media and competitors to control the narrative and inflict further reputational damage
  • Not accepting shortcomings early that inevitably lead to you being blamed creates distrust and causes long-term, not just short-term, damages. As the cliché goes, it takes years to build reputations, but seconds to destroy them

But apart from anything else, in crises like these, the objective for any brand should not be to repair/deter all reputational damage. It may be hard to accept, but the immediate aims are simply limiting damage and retaining control.

Case B: Volkswagen

In 2015, Volkswagen was embroiled in one of the biggest global brand reputation crises we have seen in modern times. In September of that year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that the car manufacturer had fitted a “defeat device” – or software –  in diesel engines that could detect when they were being tested, changing the performance accordingly to improve its emissions results. This case is still ongoing.

The EPA’s findings only covered 482,000 cars in the US only, including other VW-manufactured car brands. But VW then admitted a much larger figure of 11 million cars worldwide, including eight million in Europe, had been fitted with the “defeat device”. At one point, VW’s share price had halved.

However, VW’s business actions, not just communications, to this crisis benefited both its long-run performance and reputation by taking the following steps:

  • Acceptance of responsibility and resignation: In a month, the CEO, Martin Winterkorn, stepped down as VW Group’s CEO saying it had “broken the trust of our customers and the public”. Mr Winterkorn resigned as a direct result of the scandal but did not accept any personal responsibility – certainly an unhelpful parting shot.

VW’s US boss, Michael Horn, said, “We’ve totally screwed up,” and Winterkorn’s replacement, Matthias Mueller, said in his new role “My most urgent task is to win back trust for the Volkswagen Group – by leaving no stone unturned,”

  • Internal Inquiry: Winterkorn’s tenure as CEO was tainted by an autocratic culture that came from the top. The new CEO immediately called for an internal inquiry – signalling to customers the process to rectify this problem and identify responsibility was underway, as well as that the culture overseen by the previous incumbent was to change
  • Restructuring and cost-cutting: As the crisis developed, VW conducted a global restructure, cutting costs to brace for the impact of overheads caused by the scandal

The result? Figures released in 2018 show sales at the group, whose 12 brands include Audi and Porsche, climbed 4.3 per cent in 2017 to 10.7 million vehicles. In addition, despite reputation management consultants in April 2017 claiming Volkswagen had “destroyed brand trust”, the mass-market VW brand stole US market share with a 5.2 per cent rise in sales.

A delay in accepting responsibility, and Winterkorn’s total refusal to accept personal responsibility were certainly unhelpful. But VW’s swift and thorough commitment to change through business actions communicated an effective enough strategy that one JP Morgan analyst said, “You wouldn’t be able to recognise that they had gone through the diesel crisis.” Sometimes actions speak louder than words.

In times of crisis, how firms respond can define not just their short-term futures, but long-term too. To have a chance in ensuring both, they must place three elements at the heart of their strategy: be honest and plan for the long-term, develop your tactics around what you can control and accept what you can’t, and ensure your business actions are tied to your communications. In short, practice what you preach.

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Effective thought leadership: what makes a good report?

By Daniel George

When executed well, an annual report or index is an exceptionally powerful marketing tool.

With each year that passes, your data gets deeper, your insights more interesting and the stories you can tell get richer and more meaningful.

This should yield coverage, downloads and leads that grow in number year on year, as the media (and your wider audience) come to look forward to the report’s release – not only to cover it in isolation but to inform their thinking on a range of wider issues and stories.

Simply put, the very best reports don’t just contribute to conversations. They frame the discussion on the brand’s own terms – causing the competition to follow suit. This is thought leadership in the truest sense. And it can lead to reports not only boosting a brand – but even growing into respected brands in their own right.

Improve your thought leadership approach: book a free 30-minute consultation now

At Aspectus, we have conceived of, researched and authored some of the most influential reports in our clients’ sectors. And, while the success of a report can depend on any number of factors, here are five essential elements that any approach absolutely must include:

Repeat the trick

A single set of stats is great, but there’s a limit to how many stories you can tell with one year’s data in isolation. However, ask the same questions year-on-year and you can start to show how things are changing – and explain why.

Keep up with the times

That said, to pique people’s interest, reports must remain relevant – not just to the big picture but also to the concerns of the present.

Dedicate a portion of the report to an issue that your audience is currently preoccupied with. This helps to guarantee readers and keeps them interested by directly informing their current decision-making, as well as providing a timely hook for you to tell your bigger picture annually recurring story.

Add your own insight

The value of a good report isn’t in the data itself. It’s in the conclusions you draw, and the decisions you help readers come to. So it is imperative that any report you write is jam-packed full of your thinking – whether in the form of your own data, or the thoughts of your own spokespeople and those of your network.

Tell a story

Our minds learn best when given a narrative to follow. So it’s important to present findings within the context of a wider story. This is as true for individual reports as it is for your wider communications campaigns.

This story can be told in all sorts of ways – from setting the scene as a problem to be solved to drawing historical parallels or creating an engaging analogy. The key is to ensure the message lands with as much force as you can muster.

Snackable content tastes better

Reports should be written and designed to be easily broken up for use in wider marketing. Recast, retell and replay is our mantra when it comes to content, so each chapter should be easily adapted into a standalone article, blog and social media post. And every graph should be shareable as a standalone stat or part of a wider infographic.

This ensures that not only does the report punch above its weight at launch, but it also provides a platform upon which you can base six months-plus of marketing activity. Maximising return on your investment and further strengthening anticipation of the following year’s report.

All that remains is to repeat the trick next year!

Do you want to know how to improve your current thought leadership approach? Book a free 30 min consultation.

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Fund managers: now is the time to make your voices heard!

After the last couple of years, you would not think it could get much worse for the investment management community. Just as things were starting to look up, with more clarity around Britain’s departure from the EU and the Woodford debacle fading in memory, along comes an unforeseen pandemic. Unsurprisingly, there has been further outpouring of money from UK funds.

One of the biggest concerns for active managers in recent years has been the rise of passive investment options. But the recent pain has not just been felt by those rooting through the capital markets looking for bargains. Passive funds have struggled too. While it is hard to see silver linings from the crisis we are still very much in the middle of, there lies an opportunity to restate the worth of active fund management.

Of course, active managers are well aware of this. So how can communications help active managers put their heads above the parapet during these uncertain times?

Being involved in the market is not just about stocks and bonds. Whether you are cavalier or cautious in your approach with the media, being engaged with the press offers up the platform to speak directly with your target audience. And now is the perfect time to do so.

As we move beyond this crisis there will be new regulations, industry developments and political and economic decisions that affect this industry as much as any. The structure of the markets, takeovers, trade deals, corporate governance, and the future of ESG will all be under the microscope.

With experience in talking to company boards, an understanding of the mechanics of the capital markets required by professional bodies, and a good grasp of the news cycle necessary in making investment decisions, active fund managers are well-placed to provide insight and opinion on the issues that matter now.

Once you have decided that your voice needs to be out there, you need to decide what is important to you and your fund at this time. Is it a certain sector? Is it a regulation? Or is it a trend that no one else seems to have picked up on? No matter what it is, you need to formulate a media approach that maximises exposure and effectiveness in promoting your beliefs and, ultimately, your fund.

We know very well that journalists are looking for voices to cut through the noise and provide the market with news and views that resonate. Those active fund managers that do this successfully will be the ones with access to the most influential reporters and, thus, a captive audience of asset allocators and investors in the process of making their investment decisions.

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A moment of truth: How a crisis reveals your true company culture

By Emma Andersson

Until fairly recently, working from home was seen as a luxury by some, a useful way to support health and work/life balance by others – but no one was calling it a necessity.

Now, we are all adapting, or at least trying to adapt, to working from home. Naturally, many firms are wondering how they can sustain their company culture without the obvious benefits of the office, its perks and surrounding cafes and pubs: how can a dispersed staff collaborate, retain relationships and stay focused in the same way?

Whether you have a winning company culture or not, culture matters now more than ever – and now is the time to reconnect with your core values. Having a strong internal compass and inspiring employees is key during a time of crisis.

Ever since I put my foot in the Aspectus offices for the first time, I’ve been amazed by the warm culture I’ve been welcomed with, and especially the smooth transition to working from home. Here’s why:

Innovation on the agenda

At Aspectus, this crisis has ushered in a new generation of working from home perks – from motivational speaker sessions every Wednesday to meditation on Tuesdays and Thursdays. From organising monthly virtual learner lunches to provide ongoing training, to attending virtual pub quizzes and hosting weekly competitions – but what is driving this? A positive employee mindset – the core of a winning company culture.

Visual internal comms is a must

The power of video has never been as crystal clear as now. Replacing traditional comms with video conferencing is proving to be an insanely good way to empower staff and boost communication – all from home. Like many others, I would avoid video comms and preferred calls, but now it feels strange having a call without seeing them. And if you haven’t set up weekly virtual coffees with your colleagues yet, I suggest you do it now.

Invest for the best

The world might be on pause, but it doesn’t mean your growth needs to be. Even if you have a team with a dazzling skill set, they still need to stay challenged. A way to motivate your remote workforce is by focusing on personal improvement. Now is the time to focus your team on their potential. In our team, we have been encouraged to pursue any areas we want to upskill and attend any webinars we want during work hours.

Overall, even though this is sure to be a challenging time for many, the new perspective gained from working from home may well have changed internal communications and company culture for the better. We may not have exquisite local coffee from Nepa or free bar Thursdays, but we might have gained new valuable insights in how to keep people motivated. If anything, it has shown that there is much more that binds a company together than just the perks of the office.

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COVID-19: the ups and downs of life as a virtual media trainer

By Tim Focas, Global Lead Media Trainer and Head of Capital Markets at Aspectus

From a jam-packed schedule including trips to some of the world’s most glamourous destinations (and Basingstoke) to a life of, “sorry you cut out, can you repeat the question?” But like everything relating to this pandemic, one has to try and look on the bright side (even though Hong Kong was the opening trip on my schedule). And as someone who is used to spending half their time training execs on how best to handle the media, “can you repeat the question?”, is an all too familiar response from a spokesperson who doesn’t really want to provide an answer. At least now they can blame it on internet connection.

Five weeks into media training virtually, it would be, like Piers Morgan interviewing a government minister, very easy to pick holes. It would be equally straightforward to dive into cheap salesman’s talk about how Skype and Zoom deliver exactly the same benefits as an in-person session. So, like the goal of any journalist worth their salt, here is some balance.

From Frost vs Nixon to Paxman vs Howard, the most iconic interviews are always in-person. It is, and will always be, the best format to get underneath the skin of a spokesperson to uncover the truth. A journalist can see every flicker of fear in the eyes and every bead of sweat down their brow and a media trainer gets an equally intimate gauge of performance. Now, even if the connection is smooth, you do not get the same certainty that your advice has sunk in.

However (cue attempt to provide balance as opposed to shamelessly plugging virtual media training sessions), there are some unexpected pros to online sessions. For starters, the share presentation/video functionality provides a much better platform for collaboration. Just practically and indeed environmentally speaking, you can train spokespeople based across all parts of the world in one session without clocking up any air miles.

Beyond logistics, it would also appear that the novelty of some of the tools offered up by the various different platforms creates a freshness to the session. As a trainer, you can quickly share relevant breaking news articles that you have read on screen. While you can do this in an in-person presentation situation, it is easier when delivering the session via a laptop. Instead of news pop ups or twitter feeds being a distraction, you can click through to a story before instantly sharing it with the spokesperson for feedback. Also, the whole session, rather than feeling second best to an in-person experience, puts a greater emphasis on delivering clear and concise points. After all, you want to make 100% certain what you are saying is being picked up clearly.

To coin what is steadily becoming a loathsome cliché, this is the ‘new normal’ for media. The biggest takeaway is that like any good reporter, you are only as good as the story. Sure, there are limitations from a mock interview scenario perspective, but even a tech dinosaur like yours truly has to acknowledge there are certain advantages. Perhaps most importantly of all, the format of the training matches the reality. After all, not unlike COVID-19, virtual media interviews and corresponding virtual media training is here to stay for the foreseeable future at least.

See what one of our recent virtual media trainees said:

“Tim is extremely knowledgeable and experienced in the arts of media training. He helps the attendee learn all the core elements in a quick and precise manner, making this training course very doable with a busy schedule and allows the student to go away feeling confident that he/she has a suite of tools as aids.”

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Aspectus Group launches Capital Markets division as earnings hit £1 million

Aspectus Group has launched a dedicated Capital Markets practice after reporting over £1 million in annual global revenues across the sector.

The establishment of the new practice is a key foundation to the agency’s drive to continue its 25 per cent year-on-year growth. The increasing revenues are reflected in a growing team of specialist Capital Markets communications consultants, all based out of the new Aspectus London and New York offices. The practice will be led by Tim Focas, who has been instrumental to the agency’s growth since joining from Weber Shandwick back in 2013.

“It is an honour and a privilege to lead the Capital Markets team at Aspectus. These are unprecedented times, but our solid commercial and cultural foundations means we head into the new financial year stronger than ever,” said Focas. “Continuing to deliver considered and credible thinking to increasingly complex markets will be pivotal to ensuring the future growth and prosperity of the practice.”

Alastair Turner, CEO at Aspectus Group, added: “These are very exciting times for Aspectus across all of our core sectors – none more so than in Capital Markets. We deliver measurable business outcomes for our clients, wherever they are in the world. By continuing to integrate specialist sector knowledge with broad digital and communications skills, we are confident that we’ll continue to deliver strong returns.”

Aspectus Group has a diverse Capital Markets portfolio, with clients spanning market infrastructure, asset management and investment banking. The practice supports businesses at all stages of growth, from start-ups and scale-ups through to mergers, acquisitions and IPOs.

The wider Financial Services practice, with a focus on retail banking, payments, fund services, wealth management, crypto, impact investment and pensions, will be led by Emilie Rowe.

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Webinar: Positive positioning – marketing your business during COVID-19 and beyond

Join our Aspectus experts for a free online webinar discussing the challenges that marketing and PR professionals face in an ever-changing business landscape. 

Watch on-demand now

For many businesses, especially right now, there is concern about how you market yourselves whilst ensuring you get it ‘right’ — whether that’s investing in the channels that will deliver the best return, or communicating with your audience in a way that will resonate.

And, with 58% of consumers claiming that the way brands behave during COVID19 will affect their decision to give them their business in the future, the need for you to communicate effectively couldn’t be more crucial. 

During this webinar, you’ll hear from some of the leading minds at Aspectus and their thoughts on how you can positively position your business, both now and in the future.

In this webinar, you will learn:

  • The importance of messaging and tone of voice – run by our content and strategy director, Chris Bowman
  • Cutting through the noise with considered creativity – run by our creative director, Daniel George
  • Integrated campaigns – run by our head of integration, Lucinda Armitage-Price
  • Managing sensitive issues and crises – run by our MD of North America, Alexa West
  • Plus commentary and advice from Aspectus’s Global CEO, Alastair Turner and Chairman, Bill Penn

Watch on-demand

Positive positioning: marketing your business during COVID-19 and beyond

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Zuckerberg’s new year’s resolutions, circa 2020

By: Kelley Wake

Every year the king of social media sets himself a set of new year’s resolutions, or what he calls personal challenges (because, you know, he has to be different), and in true Facebook style, shares them with the world.

We’ve been witness to: ‘wear a tie to work every day’ in 2009, ‘read a book every week’ in 2015 and ‘learn Mandarin’ in 2010. My favourite so far was ‘get more comfortable with public speaking’ – he really needed that one last year given all his Q&As with the heavies in Congress.

But this year, he’s stepped up his game and given us no fewer than five challenges, which are more like ‘new decade’ resolutions, by the sounds of it.

Generational change

Coming in first is his quest to provide generational change. He says that when he launched his platform, he hoped it would give those without a voice the power to make a difference. He says that while it has given people a voice, it hasn’t made the generational changes in addressing important issues he had hoped for (no surprises there). Anyway, he has committed to focusing more on funding and giving a platform to younger entrepreneurs, scientists, and leaders to enable these changes.

Private social platform

His second challenge is to create a private social platform. Acknowledging that, while Facebook has created a global community, it leaves a lot to be desired in the intimacy and purpose department. With the global decline in mental health being connected to humanity’s dependence on likes and shares, Zuckerberg wants to create smaller, more meaningful communities where people can truly connect and discover their unique roles in society.

Decentralising opportunity

With more than 140 million entrepreneurs reaching customers through Facebook, there is no denying the opportunities Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram provide to small-to-medium enterprises in growing their customer base by using his platforms. His fourth challenge is to use technology to build payment systems so smaller companies have the commercial opportunities that were previously only available to larger businesses. Hello Libra, we see you.

The next computing platform

Elon Musk’s Neuralink doesn’t get as much airtime as his other ventures – maybe because it’s an implantable brain chip which will “merge biological intelligence with machine intelligence,” and probably freaks out the majority of the population. Zuckerberg has a slightly different approach to melding human consciousness with technology. He sees the future of digital communication through rose-tinted augmented glasses. Far less invasive, his glasses will track brain functions so that users can control actions like clicking and scrolling by merely thinking about them. “‘Facebook wants to perform brain surgery,’” Zuckerberg joked. “I don’t want to see the congressional hearings on that one.”

New forms of governance

His last challenge – I see it as more of a wish – is for governments to take a more regulative role in online privacy. He has repeatedly said that he doesn’t think “private companies should be making so many important decisions that touch on fundamental democratic values”. Fair enough. He wants governments to establish clearer laws around elections, content, privacy and data. Another suggestion he has given is community self-regulation. He wants users to be able to report problems to an independent board which will have the final say on whether certain content is allowed.

After an eventful couple of years, this seems like quite the undertaking from the social network. We’ve all heard the accusations of unfathomable atrocities the platform has faced, from privacy violations and involvements in elections to spurring literal genocides. Yes, Zuckerburg faced Congress and paid a $5 billion penalty but still made profits every quarter. Who’s to know if these are purely words on paper – like so many of our own new year’s resolutions turn out to be –  or if there will be actual change. One can only hope. Right?

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