Over the past few decades The Vanguard
Group has been at the forefront of investment trends – from creating the first index funds to leading the effort to drive down costs for consumers – and has risen to
become the largest provider of mutual funds in the world.
Recently, the company has also been pushing
boundaries in another realm: content marketing. Staying true to its
consumer-focused roots, Vanguard has jumped fully into developing sophisticated
digital interactives, in-depth reports, and excellent blog posts for its
audiences. All of the content is based in deep expertise and research, yet
also manages to be easily accessible to everyday investors.
Recent we sat down with Matt Benchener, Head
of Marketing (Retail Investor Group) at Vanguard, to talk about how the company
approaches content marketing and what it has learned from its efforts so far.
Check out the Q&A below:
role does content marketing play in Vanguard’s retail investor marketing
A: We think of content
marketing as a great way to draw investors in through education and through our
Part of that is that we try to deliver useful
insights that are very specific to what people might be thinking about at a
given time of year, so for example at the start 2016 we covered investing resolutions everyone should
set; that was our most popular recent blog post.
We also aim to take really deep, quantitative,
well-researched insights and make them accessible to investors. At Vanguard we
have some of the world’s most brilliant investment researchers who are
publishing insights frequently, so one of the things we do is try to make that
content available and relevant for the investor.
One example of this was a pretty large
research project we published recently. It was a complex analysis that our
investment strategy group performed where they looked at the “penalty of
procrastination,” as they call it, when you’re saving for retirement. They
quantified that waiting just a year or two to begin investing can meaningfully
impact long-term returns. The paper was great. It was backed by advanced
quantitative research. What we did in Marketing is distill that research into a very interactive web experience for investors.
The piece included highlights of the paper
and then allowed people to put in their own information. So it asks how old you
are, what your risk profile is, what you hope to save over time, and then
produces a chart showing that if you start investing now, here’s what your
likely return will look like over the next 20 years. It also shows that if you
wait just two years, how different the returns will be.
do you ensure that these content pieces reach an audience?
A: We have many ways of
doing that; one is the blog, which we publish on at least a weekly basis.
Another is our partnership with the New
York Times, which is how we built traction for the procrastination interactive I was just talking
about. We created that very specific piece which appears on investors’ banner spots
if they are reading an article on personal finance in New York Times. Instead
of the headline being simply “Invest at Vanguard” or something like that, the
banner draws the audience in with compelling content.
We also think of PR as part of our content
strategy. So we do try to provide outlets, such as the Wall Street Journal,
Financial Times, etc., with investing insights that might be engaging.
For example, we did a lot of work a few
years ago in our investment strategy group where we examined: Is an advisor
really worth it? And how do you quantify the “alpha” of an advisor? The work became known as Advisor’s Alpha and is very
compelling. Basically we found that a good advisor can give you as much as three
percentage points a year in additional return, but not in the way that you
might expect. It’s not because they are picking “hot” stocks or timing the
market; rather, a great advisor can help you manage your tax consequences on
your investments, and be a sort of personal emotional coach when things get
tough, plus help you with asset allocation. That’s the sort of information that
gets picked up and read. It’s surprising, insightful, and relevant for
What’s the primary goal of your content?
A: The primary goal is not as a marketing
vehicle; we view content as an education and communication tool to connect with
our clients. Vanguard has a compelling mission that we all believe in, and
that’s to take a stand for all investors, to treat them fairly and to give them
the best chance for investment success.
The investing world is so complex, scary,
and emotional for people, and as a result many investors either make poor
decisions or, even worse, they suffer from inertia and don’t make any
So what we try to do with content is
simplify rigorous, complex, research. We aim to present it to our investors in
a way that will encourage them to take action. So, the hope for the IRA
procrastination piece is not that we draw in thousands of new investors through
the New York Times, it’s that a lot of investors at Vanguard or elsewhere think
a little harder about putting away for retirement now.
It’s the same thing with our
blog. If you dive into those pieces, we’re not pushing Vanguard
product, we’re helping deliver insights that will help people be more effective
Q: Speaking of the blog, one of the things we really like is that most pieces come from senior leadership. How does that work? How do you get these busy people to contribute?
A: You’re right, everyone you’re hearing
from on the Vanguard blog is fairly senior, all the way up to our
CEO and Chief Investment Officer. That’s essential because they have an incredible
wealth of expertise and experience.
A recent blog post was from Don
Bennyhoff, who explained how to measure investor success. Don is one of the most
senior and experienced researchers in our investment strategy group, and he
does very complex, thoughtful, deep analysis. Don was also an advisor himself
before going into that group, so he has years and years of experience advising
personal clients. He brings a really unique perspective and the reason we go
through the effort of publishing pieces from people like him is that we don’t
want these investment truths to come from faceless sources; we want our
investors to know that we’ve done work, that we’ve done the analysis.
It’s important that our audience know the
things we’re communicating are well analyzed and endorsed by our most senior
As for how we get source access to these
internal people, we’re disciplined about it. Each year we set a strategy for
the messages we want to communicate based on what we’re hearing from our
clients and what they need to hear about in terms of the industry. So, for
example, we’ve done a lot of work in the past on demystifying ETFs.
Once we have our handful of themes, we will
identify the key sub-messages within each one and then look internally for the
best expert in Vanguard to communicate these ideas. We don’t go for who’ll be
easiest to get, we go for who’s going to have the most resonance with our
Everyone is very open internally to working
on the blog. We’ve learned the key is to give enough lead-time. Also, we don’t
use ghostwriters, which can be a little bit of a burden; but we believe we’re
putting somebody out there, we want it to actually be from them and in their
Finally, any advice for other marketers? Any learnings from your experiences
with creating and distributing content?
A: There are a few best practices we’ve
learned. The first is to create the most relevant content possible. Content for
the sake of content doesn’t matter; it has to be meaningful to your audience, in
our case investors and clients. So we always try to make client-driven content.
Second, for something like a blog it’s key
to have it come from a human being; it should be in that person’s voice and
authentic to who they are. For us, having the company’s leadership and senior
experts communicating directly reinforces our customer-centric commitment.
don’t assume just because an idea is complex that it can’t be communicated in a
simple way. Sometimes the most interesting, insightful content pieces are the
ones that have rigorous analysis underpinning them. The key is to do the hard
work and make that content accessible