Redefining 'guerrilla marketing' in the age of content.


In the first of a mini-series on content marketing, Rob Davies and James Whiteman from Aviva Investors explain why the term 'guerrilla marketing' needs a reboot and reveal the guiding principles of their successful strategy.

Marketers have many great qualities. Like most professionals, we are hard-working, creative problem solvers, and (generally) a reliable bunch. But in our efforts to bend and stretch language to generate points of difference, we sometimes go too far. At our best, we delight and add serious value. At our worst, we can contribute to mis-selling.

However, perhaps our biggest collective transgression has been our continued misrepresentation and understanding of the term guerrilla marketing. We have completely missed the point.

Shock and awe. Do something crazy and offbeat to grab attention and outwit or disorientate your competitor(s). No end of PR stunts have followed, to varying degrees of success.

Our profession's obsession with the glitzy, shiny side of the borrowed military phrase has caused us to overlook its real roots and meaning. If we'd care to look, we find that guerrilla warfare has always been about much more than surprise tactics. Successful military operations in harsh and extreme conditions place a huge emphasis on culture and teamwork, as well as using technology and innovation to maximum effect. So, instead of abandoning the concept altogether, we should simply re-evaluate and reframe it.

This reclaiming of the phrase takes on increased significance given the rise of content marketing over the last decade. By no means a new marketing tool, but reinvigorated by digital, the more subtle and persuasive nature of content marketing has made it hard for marketing directors to ignore.

As content marketing guru Jo Pulizzi describes it: "Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling. It is non-interruption marketing."[1] Its subtlety makes it more cunning and covert than more traditional marketing approaches, like advertising.


Surveying the jungle

One only need look at marketing technology to realise the harshness of terrain we face. The Martech 5000 - named after the 5,000 companies that were competing in the global marketing technology market in 2017 - now has over 8,000 companies in it.

The issue is a fragmentation of distribution channels and technology, as well as a crowd of largely indistinguishable asset managers all scrambling to be heard. Differentiation is regularly cited as one of asset management marketers' biggest challenges. When you multiply these challenges across numerous geographies and client types, the jungle looks even more daunting.


Ten content strategy rules

To help us navigate through the jungle, we have created ten rules to ensure our content efforts have maximum impact and don't go to waste. The first six relate to production; seven to nine focus on distribution; and the last spans across both. They are by no means exhaustive, but you may find at least some of them helpful.


Rule one: Define the mission

Here is ours: "Don't overtly push product - it hinders trust. Instead, deliver relevant information in an engaging way. By provoking clients and prospects to think differently about the world, they should come to see us as experts and want to buy from us."

Having a mission statement may sound trite. However, just like an organisation, without a guiding hand any department can easily lose its way.

As for why we avoid unsubtle sales pitches in our content, the marketing expert Seth Godin once said: "In a world of zero marginal cost, being trusted is the single most urgent way to build a business."[2]

Investment management is a people business, so trust is sacrosanct. Talking about product too early in a relationship is a turn off. Yet the temptation to default to the outdated, but easy internal conversations with sales colleagues can be great - i.e. go straight to the bottom of the funnel and simply write that brochure or sales aid. Resist that temptation.


Rule two: Pick your battles

There are two parts to this. First, define the rules of engagement. For us, that means only producing content when we have something interesting to say, the subject is aligned to our business strategy, and/or our clients need to hear our view.

These are useful as guiding principles, adding more detail to the mission statement. However, they are still too broad to avoid battle-ground conversations on what to produce and when. To help us further refine this decision-making process, we assign clear proportions for each stage of the marketing funnel. We also overlay geographic and asset class proportions on top to ensure we stay in line with our commercial strategy.

Not surprisingly given our mission statement, we agree with McKinsey's digital marketing lead Jason Heller: "Some marketers have become so focused on bottom-of-the-funnel best practices that drive short-term conversion behaviour that they sacrifice the practices that help to drive ongoing engagement and build longer-term brand equity."[3]

Ultimately, limited resources - a forced reality for any team - require us to pick our battles wisely.


Rule three: Focus on quality

This sounds so obvious it is hardly worth including. Who wouldn't focus on quality? But while nobody intentionally sets out to create mediocre content, it is important to reiterate for a few reasons.

First, it reinforces the power we have to say 'no' to the rest of the business and hold our ground as the arbiters of quality. Subject matter experts are not always natural writers. In contrast, skilled communications professionals, with an eye for a story and a strong handle on the corporate agenda, are best to steer and control content efforts. Given perceived organisational hierarchies, this can create tension and requires both diplomacy and a strong editorial backbone; knowing when to argue and when compromise is needed.

Second, with so many demands on our time from different corners of the business, it serves as a constant reminder to never compromise on quality and to always strive to improve. Quality is not a constant; it changes with both technology, design and industry trends. To keep up requires the humility to keep learning and searching for new ways of doing things. This applies mainly to format, visual design and delivery, as editorial style changes glacially.

Aside from product performance, how you convey the clarity and depth of your thinking represents a clear differentiator in an industry ruled by the quality of investment ideas.

In the second part of this article, we discuss the remaining principles, including the role of technology and data in your content strategy, as well as whether there is still value in creating journey maps.


[1] Epic Content Marketing, Joe Pulizzi. (P. 8), 2014

[2] 'You Need Editors, Not Brand Managers': Marketing Legend Seth Godin on the Future of Branded Content. February 6th, 2015

[3] CMO's The 5 Biggest Marketing Trends For 2019