Carrying out marketing audits for professional service firms, all too often the response we get to the ‘who’ question focuses heavily on marketing activity aimed at existing clients. ‘We send them email newsletters’. ‘We invite them to seminars’. ‘I see them every year for an account review’.
This makes for very thin reading under the audit’s ‘current stakeholder engagement’ section.
But it typifies the traditional approach to communications in professional services.
Partners have traditionally driven a firm’s promotional activity in response to tactical needs, largely focused on maintaining proximity with their existing client base.
It’s a time-served approach. But it offers limited impact in today’s digitally-driven market, where reputation is currency and loyalties lite.
Fundamentally, limiting your focus to the perception and attentions of a single stakeholder unit will impact your capacity to effectively manage corporate reputation.
And a positive reputation is an essential precondition for establishing commercial relationships across stakeholder groups.
New-look audience driven by digital transformation
Digital transformation within the marketplace is fuelling changes in mindset and behaviours that should be compelling professional service firms to question and reassess how they approach marketing.
Do not underestimate the importance of the ‘who’.
Who is it you are looking to reach out to, to influence or engage with through your communications to achieve organisational objectives?
This may however be more of a complex issue than at first sight – which we are seeing in the movement away from ‘B2B’ marketing to ‘H2H’ – ‘human to human’.
Changes in target audiences are being driven by advancements in technology and shifts in purchasing behaviours.
Anyone with internet access can do their own research and due diligence on your firm. And anyone can have their say about you online in a wholly-open arena.
Social media; user reviews; forum posts; comments on blogs. Web 2.0 has thrown the publishing world into turmoil. Traditional media outlets no longer exist. Online influencers have emerged forging influence and followings.
The reality facing professional service firms it that target audiences are more diverse, yet more defined, than ever. Collectively and individually they hold more power and influence than ever.For assistance with any aspect of corporate reputation management, contact us.
This can seem overwhelming. But firms have to take a proactive stance if they are to retain any form of control and management over their corporate reputation.
Fail to build up goodwill and establish a baseline of positive messages and clear positioning among your audiences, and the firm is left wide open to the harm of poor reviews, negative press or the many other risks to reputation.
Cover all audiences relevant to your commercial objectives, and you can enable a controlled position. Which is where the multi-stakeholder approach to marketing steps in.
Who are you talking to?
The shift in mindset for professional service firms is acknowledging that audience power and influence sits beyond the primary client.
You need to answer the question, ‘who are our stakeholders?’ I provide an example list of audiences in my post on reputation management.
You then need to identify their level of interest and power / influence in respect of your organisation, and evaluate these against each group’s specific needs. You can research this in a number of ways – direct feedback, ‘jungle’, data-driven.
For example, online research will likely unearth online ‘influencers’ relevant to your areas of focus who you could look to engage with through promotional activity for the benefit of your brand and profile. You will also gain real insight into how best to leverage employee advocacy.
The objective of this exercise is to ensure you are covering all bases, going beyond the traditional groups and the traditional application of the promotional mix.
This approach also provides a whole new perspective on marketing in the context of your organisational aims. Who have you been overlooking? Who have you been focusing on too heavily? Have you pitched your marketing strategy right?
Get the ‘who’ right, and the ‘how’ will follow.
This could mean readjusting or building a digitally-native communications strategy that leverages the benefits of online technologies while meeting the needs and expectations across stakeholder groups line with your strategic aims.
Coming back to the ‘H2H’ shift. If we drill down to the granular level of commercial clients, within the client organisation you are likely to be dealing with multiple decision making units – finance, in-house legal, procurement etc etc.
The changing profile of decision making units can weaken the position on loyalty. Which means that what you say about your firm, and how you position your proposition, must somehow resonate with each of these decision makers. Yet their needs and expectations will be different.
The crux is, professional service firms should proactively consider and include target audiences beyond their primary client base as a basis of marketing strategy and ensuing activity.
Naturally there will be segments firms protest to already being actively engaged with, but crucially, development of the multi-stakeholder approach has to align to the current status quo, which requires an understanding that goes beyond the traditional cohorts of clients, prospects, media. Things have moved on.
For example, are your primary clients actually clients? This may seem a bizarre question, but we have seen on many occasions where a firm has badged intermediaries or sources of work as ‘clients’.
It’s an important distinction.
Needs and expectations will be different, and this should be reflected in how you engage with them and what you say.
A tactical illustration – an e-newsletter on a new court ruling may be of no interest to an intermediary, but an in-house lawyer may expect it as an added value service.
If marketing is fundamentally about meeting needs, it is for professional service firms to look at how they can utilise new technologies and platforms to understand all of their target audiences – their behaviours, perceptions, expectations, and to engage accordingly through communications that are aligned to strategic objectives.
Covering a full base of stakeholders will enable you to make deeper and more meaningful impact, whatever your objectives may be – managing reputation, raising profile, entry into a new market, generating leads.
Always have in mind who you are talking to; get this right and that’s when you can start to have meaningful conversations.
Gill specialises in content and social marketing for professionals, including law firms and accountancy practices.
Gill can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mobile: 07484 643 612.
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