Perhaps like many of you, I am not always the most alert investor, as in the current instance where, in the course of cleaning up files, I have finally reviewed the Q3 2011 report of the Baron Funds, an investment chosen for me by my financial advisor. The report raises this question: If a brand is a promise, what does the brand’s report, pictured below, promise me?
Yes, that’s Sting on the cover, likening the then less-than-stellar Baron’s to “fields of gold” (I’m not sure whose brand has been more tarnished in my view, Baron’s or Sting’s). Open the report and you’ll see that James Taylor, Bebe Neuwirth, Hugh Jackman and Broadway’s Kelli O’Hara (who, the report gushes “Blessed our shareholders singing ‘God Bless America.’”) also performed.
FINANCIAL BRANDS VS. CUSTOMER-CENTRIC MARKETING
Now the only promise I, a regular, individual investor, can take away from this event, which was exclusively for “retail, institutional and high net worth shareholders in addition to more than 500 advisors…” is that the Baron Funds are all about the Baron Funds. In fact, it’s reported that Ron Baron personally footed the bill (and that fact does not in the least assuage my investor grief, as his funds are ultimately derived from mine). It’s not exactly a customer-centric approach – or rather, it clarifies which customers are truly at the center of their attention. Of course, the mass of investors are more like me – which makes a brand event like this a WTD – a Weapon of Trust Destruction, helping inflict collateral damage in an industry that has exceptionally low reserves of trust as it is (see the latest Edelman Brand Trust Barometer to see which categories rank the lowest in consumer trust).
EVEN INDEPENDENT FINANCIAL ADVISORS ARE TAINTED BY THE DECLINE IN FINANCIAL BRAND TRUST
I’ll let you know if my advisor has a good, trust rebuilding retort. After all, advisors, either independently representing their own brands, as with mine, or the captive “wirehouse” breed, have the best chance to overcome industry and institutional insensitivity to build trust one-on-one with a truly customer-centric approach in financial services.
Do you have favorite examples of brand hubris? Please share, from any and all categories.
UPDATE – THE WORD FROM MY ADVISOR
My financial advisor responded by calling the marketing director for Baron’s Funds, who had this response (my paraphrase of my advisor’s retelling), which only serves to destroy what little trust I had that his investment firm might be acting in my best interest:
1. “All the investors are invited.” Not so; as it turns out, all the investors may be allowed to come, if they ferret out that permission from the website our elsewhere, but not all are actively invited… so it’s just a party for the privileged few, at my and other investors’ expense.
2. “We do it because the investors like it.” Again, hardly so; this investor hates it; only the over-privileged invitees like it (and I stress over-privileged, as I realize anyone with money to invest in this fund, including me, has to fess up to being plain old privileged).
3. “We do it to reward and inform our investors.” First of all, the only reward most investors want is good performance (and better than that delivered by Baron’s). Secondly, an email will do just fine for informational purposes, thank you.
4. “It’s not paid for by the funds – it’s paid for by the holding company.” Of course, the holding company derives its money from the funds.
AS IF “BARON’S” DIDN”T ALREADY CONJURE UP “ROBBER BARONS”
The end result of this exercise in destroying brand trust? Baron’s has one less investor, and one less advisor willing to recommend them to his clients.