I was recently addressing a group of management and chartered accountants and the discussion inevitably turned to marketing. All professional services providers face a significant challenge: how can businesses that provide broadly similar outputs differentiate themselves. There’s a similar issue with law firms and, I guess, with web designers, training providers and a host of other services.
If this challenge sounds familiar here are six thoughts that might help. Including how content marketing could make all the difference.
1. Not ‘what’ but ‘how’
In the words of the song: ‘It’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it.’
In many cases people will understand what your business produces. Potential customers are often not all that interested in the details of the deliverables, particularly if the detail is the same as that provided by your competitors.
People are more likely to be interested in the principles that guide the way you work. They want to know how the way you do things will deliver added value. What are you looking to achieve for your clients over and above delivering their annual accounts or whatever other service you are providing?
2. The ‘positively good’
Legendary advertising copywriter David Ogilvy wrote about the challenge advertisers face when selling a product that is similar to competing products. It isn’t credible to claim that product X is superior to product Y because consumers will be able to see for themselves that they are pretty much the same.
His belief was that in these cases the job of the advertiser was to express what he called the ‘positive good’. The challenge is to do a clearer, more honest, and more informative job of saying what is good about their product, rather than claiming that it is superior.
Can we extend this idea to marketing professional services? Would a clear, honest and informative account of how your professional accountancy services add value to my business be more persuasive than claiming that one set of management accounts is intrinsically better than another?
Understand how the things you do create value for you clients and state this clearly and with authenticity.
3. What appeals to your customers?
Why did your customers choose your firm instead of a competitor? Do you have a clear picture of the factors that made them decide you were the best fit for their business and their needs? Are there common characteristics among the types of customers you attract?
When you have trustworthy answers to these questions you are on the road to constructing a more targeted message. It will be a message that will appeal to certain types of customer whose specific needs you know you can satisfy.
Use a similar approach if you are trying to reposition your business. If you’re failing to attract higher value clients, for example, ask yourself what they are looking for that they don’t currently see in your marketing. This may not be page after page of content telling them what you do.
4. Content Marketing
Time for a sweeping generalisation. There is a high degree of risk aversion in many professional services firms – particularly lawyers and accountants. I believe that this is the most powerful brake on these businesses embracing an approach to marketing that seems tailor-made for businesses selling expertise: content marketing.
What I’m told is that if you’re an accountant or a lawyer there are potentially serious ramifications for publishing the wrong thing. I’m also told that management structures in larger firms make it difficult to adopt nimble or novel approaches to marketing.
I also understand that we are talking about very busy people with a high opportunity cost when they are writing a blog article rather than doing billable work.
Your business is not selling a mechanical process. It is selling experience, knowledge, principles and a distinctive way of doing things. Publishing regular, personalised content is the most effective way to help potential customers understand all of this.
Which brings me to the most fundamental question:
5. What is your brand?
Do your customers engage with the sign on the outside of your building or the people inside it? Blue chip corporations might engage with the big accountancy and law forms because the scale of their business offers a perceived security. But I believe that for most businesses the relationship is more personal.
The sign over the door, your logo, strapline, even your website, are just manifestations of something more organic.
Your brand is your collective expertise, your beliefs, the way you work and the principal objectives you have on behalf of your clients.
I don’t want to get too New Age here but this ‘soul’ of your business is what you need to find and need to express through your marketing.
Brand authority and SEO
The other big reason to be investing in content is SEO. A recent article on the Stone Temple Consulting blog focused on a discussion with Duane Forrester, Microsoft’s head of SEO. He listed listed content firmly as the top priority for businesses wanting to improve or maintain their search rankings. You can find numerous similar statements from Matt Cutts at Google
Content is rated higher than social media, link building, user experience and on-page optimisation as an SEO technique.
Google is also using the Google+ network to evaluate the authority of individual authors as it looks to present the most relevant and respected content to its users. Imagine how a team of expert authors, each with their own on-line authority could contribute to your overall digital presence and on-line brand.
Actually, do that right now. Stop and imagine the impact that could have on your marketing and on your business.
In short, you can use individual personal branding and authority to build an on-line picture of the sum of the expertise you offer.
This won’t be a trivial task and the first step is to set up authorship and Google+ profiles for your team of experts. If you want to understand how to use authorship and Google+ this article has everything you need.
6. Appreciate the value of trust
Trust is the value that runs through all of these points. Any professional service is likely to be dealing with critical areas of their clients’ business. Ultimately you work with people you trust.
With existing customers you have established trust through your working relationship and successful service delivery. But what about the customers you don’t yet have?
Is your marketing focused on giving people reasons why they should trust you? Or is it focused on explaining services and deliverables that they probably already understand?
Ultimately this is the biggest benefit you could get from a content marketing approach. Publishing content that meets a real need, provides answers and conveys a consistent picture of a business with clear values and principles. Now that’s how you win trust AND business.
Copywriter, Content Marketer, Trainer
01823 674167 firstname.lastname@example.org