Among the wealthiest clients, Fidelity and Vanguard retain their perennial leadership positions in firm perception, but there is room for others to advance their brand, according to a new study on investor sentiment toward insurance and retirement investment product providers.

In messaging done on any platform, researchers at Phoenix Marketing International say one factor that investors note swayed sentiment was how well a firm could communicate its commitment to them and the utility of its services.

"What we see is the personal relevance connection," says Lane Mann, president of syndicated research in financial services at Phoenix. "The concern is how companies can understand needs. Is there a good fit in what I perceive the company to be about, and what my particular needs are?"

The firm's perception ranking of retirement product firms saw some changes from its last survey in 2013, notes Ellen Albert, director of financial services research at Phoenix and author of the report.

While Fidelity and Vanguard simply exchanged the number one and two spots, in a just year the list saw American Funds rising to fourth among its top ten brands, while American Century, Northwestern Mutual and Raymond James joined the ranking for the first time in three years, bumping off Wells Fargo, Edward Jones and Lincoln Financial.

"Fidelity and Vanguard really do dominate the market," Albert says. "The remaining brands really need to do a lot of differentiation to get investor attention."


Firms need to focus on that personal connection with investors and their advisors, Albert and Mann stressed, as survey respondents said the biggest sources of information are first their advisors and then family and friends.

But Albert adds a firm should also ensure its online presence is of the highest quality too, since her research found company websites are the third strongest souce of information that influences perception. "That's something [firms] have direct control over," she says.

In evaluating a firm, survey respondents came to a consenus on certain criteria, Albert adds. The foremost factors investors considered in a brand's impression, she adds, are trustworthiness, fianancial stability and ethical approach and conduct.

The ability to provide good customer service and competitively priced retirement products are two things companies can advertise about and differentiate themselves by, Albert notes.

But surprisingly least important is having a strong brand name, Albert says. "You're not going to stay at the top of list just because you've been around for a long time," she says. "You have to continue to show stability, deliver customer service and for the right price as well."


From their research, Albert and Mann say three important elements of a successful advertisement exist.

"It must score well in one of the following three areas: credible message, credible brand, or impactful and relevant message," Albert says.

"A successful ad does not need to convey all three of these message themes. The decision as to which one to focus on is dependent on the advertising goals. The factors that can go into deciding which pathway to focus on are: firm situation in the market, how the firm wants to differentiate and portray itself, whether there are new products to be introduced, and market conditions."

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