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“To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them.” ― Neil Postman, ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business’

OK, that’s a quote about old technology.  What follows is about the newspaper.  Or is it a newspaper?

Last week I read that the esteemed (but unread in this house) Daily Telegraph has teamed (ok, too many teems) up with Interactive Investor to offer an “innovative service”, otherwise known as a fund platform. The Telegraph is a trusted brand on the 7.17 from Reading, apparently, and its readers are said (by the Telegraph) to “love the constant stream of investment ideas and analysis published online by our award-winning journalists…we’re pleased that they can now also put their investment ideas into action.”

This is what marketeers call “brand extension”, where a product is created in a different category from the parent brand. The Telegraph clearly thinks that its audience will believe that the Telegraph’s platform will be superior to other platforms, and in a significant way.

The commercial department of the Telegraph probably thought it was a good idea: “Hey chaps, we’re a posh paper read by posh people with lots of dosh, so let’s jolly well take advantage of the blighters” – or words to that effect. However, being an award-winning journalist does not make one a financial services “player”. Frankly without a significant competitive advantage, customers will probably still go elsewhere. The Telegraph is seeking to compete for business from investors who already have loyalties to established brands, e.g. HL. The Telegraph will need to offer an extraordinarily strong reason why the customer in this new category (for the Telegraph) will want to switch. And remember, their platform partner already provides essentially the same service to Trustnet. Being a posh paper (being digital doesn’t make you groovy) probably isn’t enough.

And then there’s the danger of moving from holier-than-thou market observer, commentator and customer champion, to get into the dirty bear-pit with the rest of us. Commercial reality takes over. Customers may have been aware of the Telegraph’s campaign to ban exit charges, in particular on death of the investor. That’s great when you’re shouting from the stands. However, in their rush to get to market they may have had to swallow some humble pie when they discovered that moving more than 10 holdings off the platform would result in an exit charge, including on death, which they now seek to paper over. TCF principle 5 probably doesn’t have prominence in the Telegraph’s commercial office. As for bias, I look forward to a review of the Telegraph’s financial pages 3 months post-launch, and a measure of column centimetres devoted to Hargreaves Lansdown versus pre-launch numbers.

Having a name in another business isn’t enough. Being a customer champion requires more than lip-service and a set of brand principles. At the end of the day, customers want to deal with people who not only have their hearts in the right place, but know what they’re doing – they can walk the walk. They want full-time, trained participants, not brand badges. They want substance as well as ‘spin’.

And probably advice, to boot.

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