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Aesthetics Count, Says Marketing Chief


The spacious and as yet uncluttered 37th floor office may offer a sweeping view of the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center. But this office's inhabitant would rather be inside, peeling back the layers to see what really makes people tick.

Competitors' sales and marketing literature is neatly tacked up to large presentation boards that run the length of the office. Across the room, a sign carries its owner's credo: "There is no end to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit."

A pot of gold lies in discovering what makes people buy this or sell that, says Daniel Darst, newly-appointed senior vice president, director of mutual fund marketing at Smith Barney Asset Management. Smith Barney Asset Management is a newly-created division of SSB Citi Asset Management.

"I'm fascinated by why you bought this and not that," says Darst.

Darst, 40, assumed the job of overseeing the marketing and brand strategy initiatives for the asset management subsidiary of Citigroup this past January 1. The unit now manages and sells the Citifunds (former Citibank Landmark Funds group) as well as 60 Smith Barney proprietary funds through 10,500 Smith Barney representatives. It also manages and sells Smith Barney's Concert Allocation Series funds and a variety of portfolios invested in several Smith Barney funds and sold directly to investors through its Primerica Financial Services unit.

Darst says his mandate is, "to build a marketplace identity for Smith Barney's mutual funds based on excellence of utility to the broker and his or her client."

That means the focus is on Smith Barney brokers and what we can do to get products to clients, he says. To accomplish this, the division will develop a new logo, new ads and a series of workbooks, he said.

"Good brokers tend to be great people- particularly good listeners and good audiences for good ideas," he said. "Our challenge as marketers is to create materials that help them do what they do best - listen, solve, empathize and help their clients build for the future." Darst declined to elaborate on the marketing materials he would develop.

"My belief is that marketing aesthetics goes beyond brand and logos," said Darst. He believes that product quality, service quality and pricing have in many instances become indistinguishable and that therefore a company must distinguish itself through its aesthetics in marketing. Packaging is the most important element of all, he says.

"The old adage of, if you have a great product they will come' is not true anymore," says Darst. "It's so important to build your marketing identity on a value proposition but to distinguish it with a defining marketing aesthetic."

Darst, who graduated from Yale University in 1980 and received a masters' degree in international urban planning at Columbia University in 1985, most recently worked for American Skandia Life Assurance of Shelton, Conn. as senior vice president and national marketing director. In that position, he was credited with raising the company's public profile.

Working with primary colors and open white spaces, American Skandia's print ads and marketing materials conveyed a relaxed confidence that won praise and advertising and presentation awards from Dalbar, a financial services and research firm in Boston. And, the materials attracted new assets.

Before joining Skandia, Darst spent seven years as the executive managing director and partner in charge of creative marketing at Optima Group, a marketing consulting firm in Fairfield, Conn. He was the marketing partner for several industry firms such as Northern Trust, Wachovia, SEI, Kemper, and Scudder.

Though he has been in the financial services area for 11 years, Darst traces his marketing roots back to the consumer goods sector of corporate America. As vice president, group marketing and a creative director of Addison/CAR, an advertising agency in New York from 1985 to 1989, he specialized in corporate identity and marketing for large Fortune 500 corporations such as Firestone, Campbell Soup and Bell South.

There, he earned a reputation for being deeply involved in the design processes for marketing campaigns.

"I like to sketch things - to hand them off to designers - to work closely one on one on each piece," said Darst.

"The pacing of brochures is probably the most overlooked part of our business in this industry," said Darst. "Typically, we have design agencies hanging onto the cover design and content people writing 1,500 word essays about risk management and diversification. The real game is thinking through, page-by-page how the broker and his or her client are going to be using the brochure. That's pacing."

Darst's philosophy dictates that he be intensely involved in all aspects of marketing.

"I had a boss once who was really against micro-managing design- felt that you came up with something and then let the creatives' run with it," he said. "I ardently disagree. The only way you can create a truly great brand- one that is effective and replete with a powerful marketing message and story is to pay extra careful attention to every manifestation of it- to all the details- and really to love it. You almost have to love the look to death and make it part of your working life."