By Stephen Sakach, Zero Company Performance Marketing, Founder and CEO, Chief Digital Superstar and Michael Liwski, Zero Company Performance Marketing, Director of Strategic Performance and Client Guide

Two longtime ETF asset management clients approached us about helping them launch their newest ETFs by designing, building and managing digital marketing campaigns to drive assets under management (AUM). For one client, we had a matter of days and the other only a matter of a few weeks. For both, we built comprehensive digital media campaigns using the 6 proven steps we’ll discuss here. These marketing strategies helped each achieve more than $150 million in AUM in just a few months after launch. 

It’s not easy building momentum right after introducing a new ETF, but it is possible. Here is how we did it:

Table of Contents:

Driving investors to your ETF in a compliance-heavy environment with new products being announced daily poses numerous challenges. According to Statistica, as of February 2021, there were 2204 ETFs in the United States with nearly 1 launching every other business day. Those are forces you can’t control. Additionally, market conditions can provide headwinds or tailwinds to any ETF product launch. To best leverage the tailwinds or defend against any headwinds, here are 6 key steps and a BONUS step.

google ads

Step 1: Win the Search Marketing Zero Moments of Truth (ZMOT).

For example, if you are launching an ESG, SPAC or Technology ETF or mutual fund, someone is researching those exact products right now on Google, Bing or Yahoo. You have to win those moments and introduce this investor to your product. While search marketing may be influenced heavily by retail investors, we know from our in-house tracking, that investment professionals use Google and make those same types of searches.

Search Marketing starts with keyword research. Now, it’s easy for keyword research to go wrong, so a top tip from our search marketing agency team is to keep your keywords tight and targeted. Going too broad is the most common problem we see when developing keywords in the financial services investment management category. For instance, don’t try to battle it out on “energy ETF” as a keyword if you are selling an alternative energy ETF. These are usually two different crowds of people.

We also frequently target ticker and competitor keywords in search, but it can be a challenge. If you are launching an ETF, there are most likely other ETFs out there that are very similar. Perhaps, you’d like your new product to appear next to these established ETFs when people search — a sound idea in theory, but it can be a minefield.

You start with a list of competitor names and tickers that you want to use as keywords. You throw this into an ad campaign and wait for the results. Here are a couple of big issues. First, avoid tickers that are words in themselves. Suppose you have two tickers “MEOW” and “WOOF” that you’d like to appear next to. Obviously, these will be searched by people not interested in ETFs. That’s going to be a problem that you will want to avoid … as you can spend money on really bad traffic. That’s an obvious one you can fix.

The next challenge isn’t so obvious. It has to do with the algorithms used in search and something called “Quality Scores.” An explanation here might get too technical but expect to pay a premium on trying to place yourself on competitor keywords. Your exposure also will be limited. How limited probably depends on your search marketer’s skill level.

While search starts with keywords, another of the most common mistakes made is not making your ad copy hyper-relevant to your keyword. If someone is searching “Technology ETF,” you want to provide ad copy that says exactly that or has that keyword in the title. The more relevant you are for a search, the higher your click-through rate (CTR) will be. The higher the CTR, the less you have to pay to rank. Good search marketing agencies grind away at ad copy and testing for that specific reason. So, plan for testing, plan for sending a variety of ad copy to compliance for review and plan for repeating this process.

There are a thousand things that can go sideways with a search campaign, but trust us, it can really work well. If you are launching a new ETF, we can’t underestimate the value of getting your product instantly (on the day of your ETF launch) in front of people searching for exactly that kind of ETF.

YouTube logo pattern

Step 2: Start Using YouTube Ads.

This channel is underutilized and much more affordable than you think. We’ve spent time and money studying which audiences work best here (custom intent, retargeting and first-party data) and which do not (broad affinity targets). One easy audience to target with video are your own site visitors. If you have a new product launch, the first people you should be driving awareness with are your current clients, subscribers and site visitors. Why not show those exact audiences a video of your new ETF next time they are on YouTube?

A couple other things to note. First, it’s pretty common to pay between $0.02-$0.07 per view. Second, don’t be shy about having a longer video. Maybe only 1 in 4 viewers will sit through a 5-minute video, but if it only costs you $0.06 for that one person to watch the entire video, that’s a tremendous value.

Programmatic Advertising

Step 3: Get Going With Programmatic Advertising.

This is the most efficient way of reaching your exact target audience. Most ETF marketers aren’t very familiar with what programmatic does. Typical programmatic campaigns might include banner ads, native ads, connected TV or video ads. The real juice in programmatic, however, is its audience targeting capabilities.

Whether you want to focus on high-net-worth individuals, investment professionals or even users who have downloaded certain financial apps on their phones, programmatic allows for pinpoint targeting to put your ETF in front of ideal audiences. For a deeper discussion on Programmatic Advertising, read our articles “Programmatic Advertising: What It Is, and Why It Matters to Your Company’s Success” and, “3 Programmatic Advertising Best Practices for 2021”.

Social media

Step 4: Continue Building Through Paid Social Media.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Reddit all have excellent audiences that can be leveraged to promote an ETF launch. Some of these platforms also allow you to upload your own in-house lists that can be matched to users on these platforms for retargeting or building what is called lookalike audiences, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The most important things you must do are:

  1. Define your audience(s). Are they buy-and-hold investors? High-net-worth individuals? Day traders? Active investors? Investment professionals such as other money managers or advisors?
  2. Create these audiences in each of the social channels you will use. And each does them differently. Facebook uses interests, behaviors, influencer pages, your own following and demographics. LinkedIn leverages professional business data, groups, topics, etc. Twitter uses follower data, hashtags, influencers and quick soundbite-like updates.
  3. Figure out your budget. What’s the size of your audience per channel? What’s your expected cost per click, cost per 1000 views, daily spend, etc.
  4. Build your creative. Unfortunately, each outlet has its own specs, so beware of the difference and optimize to each as a best practice.
  5. And don’t forget your tracking. Depending on what you’re using to analyze your site, you’ll need to incorporate proper tagging. If you are using Google Analytics, for instance, use the UTM codes for medium (utm_medium=cpc) and source (utm_source=linkedin or =twitter or =facebook or =instagram). Bonus pro tip: If you have multiple links in the ad or post, use the content tracking tag to help you track and identify which links viewers are using to get to your site (e.g., utm_content=link1).
Reach business community through earned media.

Step 5: Earn More Media Through PR.

Financial content is being consumed at an all-time high. Getting press releases distributed and articles about your new ETF in financial publications generates immediate buzz.

What you say in your release is critical. It has to be at the apex of relevance to your audience and different, otherwise, it will either be ignored or not garner the attention it deserves. If a reporter sticks their microphone in front of you and you have 12 seconds, what are you going to say about your new ETF? You must create your rooftop or main message.

Follow this simple formula: 

  • Who is this ETF for, what does this audience want?
  • What simple set of problems does it solve? Internally. Externally, Philosophically. In the grand scheme of things, why does it matter to them?
  • Why you?
  • How should they invest? When?
  • What is your action message? What do you want them to do next?
    • Doing this leads to what success? Invest today.
    • Or a more subtle action could be “Speak with An Advisor, Get the Factsheet, or Sign up for Updates and Future Insights” 
  • Conclusion: Help your audience transition from their present state to a new better state (like going from scared, unsure or unskilled to strong, sure of self and skilled.)

Once you have your message created it is time to develop your press release. Make sure to include 3 links back to your site:

  1. The ETF Product page URL
  2. Your homepage
  3. Portfolio Manager and Product Manager Profile pages

Next, it is time to start hitting the street, pounding the pavement to offer a media journalist a story or interview under embargo with the lead portfolio manager (PM) or CIO. This is also the time to build a list of journalists who cover your space in their beat. Then at-launch or post-launch, send them the press release and other information about the fund with an invitation to speak with the PM on the day of launch. If this sounds overwhelming, we recommend you speak with the experts at Arro Financial Communications. Ask for Alex and let them know Zero Company sent you. You’ll be in great hands.

Your website is your biggest piece of owned media.

Step 6: Maximize Your Own Media – Your website.

So, you have done all the hard work to get visitors to your site. This is only half the battle. Once there, landing pages need to quickly engage them. Pages need to load fast. Content layout and imagery need to quickly capture attention and help the visitor find what got them there. If not, they will bounce after just a few seconds. This is doubly painful as it also affects your quality score on your paid ad campaign. Ensure your site is optimized, particularly for mobile, and is ready to serve up the content your visitor is most interested in like the performance, statistics, factsheet, holdings, index comparison, management team, and legal documents.

Step 6.5: Your Own Social Media – Use it!

For the financial service vertical this is often a forgotten channel due to compliance and the nature of the interactions. Some managers have successfully navigated these waters. For instance, the top social media influencers in this space have done so through their own handles. Mohamed El-Erian, Ray Dalio, Jefferey Gundlach, Bill Gross. They speak about strategies, outlooks, economics, tectonic macro shifts and trends and avoid any specific ETF or fund product communication. But if you still don’t believe us, check out how Vanguard did it.

If you are among the unfortunate who can’t get their investment leaders to engage a following, create compliance-approved videos, even in authentic, low-grade form. In 2020, these were like gold and several managers capitalized on the opportunity to produce video communication from home, e.g., Direxion ETFs and iShares both produced product explainer videos this way.

Leverage email like never before

Bonus: Leverage Email Like Never Before.

Email is digital gold? Email is constantly bashed for low open rates (OTR), click-through rates (CTR) and engagement rates. So why bother? Because this tool is like gold. If someone sees enough value to give you their email address, you have achieved a level of trust worth keeping through your communications.

We recommend that before launch: 

  1. Your landing pages have downloadable content of value (worth at least $20) to collect emails. 
  2. Then after launch continue the conversation with monthly or quarterly commentaries about the fund’s performance, positioning, strategy and outlook. 
  3. Send video interviews of the manager.
  4. Leverage appropriate segments of the database for subsequent launches. 
  5. Finally, use your email database to build lookalike audiences to get in front of more of the same people. 

In conclusion, the investment landscape and financial services industry is booming with new, novel, niche and more nuanced products. Individual investors, advisors and investment management professionals are being hit with nearly 3,000 messages a day. The pace of ETF launches does not seem to be slowing. Taking advantage of the launch phase is critical to quick and early success to generate AUM growth. Our 6 steps are key. Keep in mind, it is best to do them all. They all work together leveraging the work of the previous. If you need help executing any elements, get in touch now (before a competitor does)! Our team of financial marketing digital experts would love to help you launch and market your new ETF or reinvigorate AUM growth for a previously launched fund.