What’s different about ETF marketing? 

An article in the Financial Times last week painted one picture, citing a scene across the street from the ETF Exchange conference in Miami: financial advisors on board a luxury superyacht “drinking ETF-themed cocktails, helping themselves to prime rib and smoking cigars.”  

Most telling: the event was sponsored by (wait for it) Dimensional Fund Advisors! DFA, which the FT rightly notes, for years had “deliberately avoided splashy marketing of its mutual funds.” 

For me there were two takeaways from the FT anecdote: 1. The good times are here for the $8 trillion and growing ETF segment of the investment management business and 2. Asset managers like DFA that previously favored a quieter approach to build mutual fund assets now recognize that ETF success requires a different tack. 

While the good times suggested by the boat party look and sound a lot like previous boomtime investment-related shindigs, there’s a risk in mistaking then for now. Don’t underestimate what it takes to create awareness, produce buzz, generate flows and grow ETF assets under management. Launching and marketing an ETF is a test for even the most accomplished mutual fund marketers. 

Long-time Bloomberg ETF analyst Eric Balchunas has called the ETF space “the terrordome because it’s brutal.” Providers “come in looking like Tom Hanks at the beginning of Castaway,” Balchunas said in an often-quoted tweet. “Three years later, they’re like Hanks three years later on that island—spearfishing, weighing 100 pounds and completely self-efficient and hardcore.” 

If your firm is contemplating bringing its first ETF to market this year, you’re entering a space where the three largest issuers have 78% of the AUM. The top eight  (including DFA, who has successfully transitioned to ETFs, raising $118 billion in four years) command 93%. (For added perspective, see our ETF marketing gone wild: the spot bitcoin ETF launch.)

Fear not, you and your extended team are about to learn a lot and likely have some fun, too, in one of the most exciting areas of the investment industry. Let us help you ease in—download our new guide prepared specifically for those planning their first ETF launch or those who may need a marketing reset. We highlight the differences between ETF and mutual fund marketing, as well as outline what you need to know about advertising, PR, events, social media and training for the launch and ongoing promotion of an ETF. 

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