A recent survey of 200 private equity managers asked about COVID-19’s impact on their firms. The consensus was clear: Firms prioritize generating growth over cost reduction.
Although the pandemic means fewer conventions, leadership summits and in-person networking events to fuel that growth, it doesn’t mean private equity firms aren’t making deals. In fact, the survey found that most are actively fundraising and deal sourcing.
Smart firms have successfully done so by building their brands, positioning themselves as thought leaders and leveraging marketing automation to generate deal flow, raise funds, remain visible in the marketplace and differentiate themselves from competitors.
Here are three key ways that private equity firms can leverage marketing during the Covid-19 pandemic:
1. Build a Differentiated Private Equity Brand
Branding should be among a private equity firm’s top priorities – after capital, of course. Through effective branding, a firm can own a position in the market that establishes it as the go-to choice for deals that meet its investment criteria.
Building such a brand starts with strategic messages for each of a firm’s key constituents, including limited partners, intermediaries and business owners. Each has different needs and it is critical that a private equity firm’s brand clearly articulates how it meets those needs through its investment thesis, deal criteria and growth methodology. The firm must then disseminate its messaging consistently, frequently and professionally.
A consistent message remains the same across all communication channels, from a company’s pitch deck to its website and everything in between. Some firms have even branded their Zoom/Teams backgrounds during the pandemic to project a professional image.
Frequent communication is vitally important because people are bombarded by thousands of advertisements daily. For a private equity firm’s brand to cut through the chaos, it must maintain a steady stream of communications via email, social media and advertising. This enables it to remain top of mind, particularly when the firm’s business developers cannot be in direct communication with their contacts.
All communications must be professional and match a firm’s brand identity because it’s human nature to judge a book by its cover. Consider the times you decided against making an online purchase because a retailer’s website appeared sketchy. Your constituents make similar judgements when reviewing your firm’s marketing collateral.
Evolution Capital Partners is one private equity firm that has developed a strong brand. It is well known nationwide for growing micro-market companies. The firm even has a branded methodology called the Five Fundamentals, which enables its portfolio companies to professionalize, optimize and grow.
2. Establish Thought Leadership Through Content Marketing
Positioning your private equity firm as a though leader in the industries it targets builds trust with investors, deal sources and company owners. They want to do business with a firm that has the experience to help them achieve their objectives.
You can demonstrate your industry expertise through a multitude of content marketing channels, such as a blog, e-newsletter, news placements, whitepapers and LinkedIn posts.
Producing a podcast is a particularly unique and successful approach that few private equity firms are utilizing. Invite your target audiences to be guests on your podcast. They’ll appreciate the opportunity and benefit from the resulting publicity. Plus, the content from the episodes can be repurposed across your other communication channels.
Webinars are also very effective, and they have the added benefit of capturing new leads for your database. Riverside, for example, has produced a number of webinars as part of its Riverside University, covering topics such as sales, crisis planning and social media.
The key to these content marketing tactics is to serve as a source of education and information, rather than be in constant sales mode. A good rule of thumb is for 75% of your content to be informative and 25% of it to be promotional.
3. Implement Marketing Automation
Of course, executing these marketing tactics takes time and resources. Savvy firms are leveraging automation technologies within Salesforce, Deal Cloud, HubSpot and others to put some initiatives on autopilot and stay actively engaged with their contacts.
Consider email distributions. A series of messages can be automatically scheduled for delivery over a period of days or weeks based on actions a contact has taken, such as being added to a CRM database, filling out a form or participating in a webinar.
LinkedIn has a similar automated messaging platform that it launched in March called Conversation Ads. They enable you to add clickable call-to-action buttons in your Sponsored InMails, making them more engaging and improving results.
Digital advertising can also be automated through retargeting. By adding data to the internet browsers of your website visitors, you can display ads to them when they are visiting other sites. These ads can increase brand awareness and conversions.
With in-person networking on hold, now is the time to reassess your private equity firm’s marketing strategy.
This article originally appeared in the January 18 issue of Crain’s Cleveland Business.