Let’s start with a riddle: What kind of companies tend to be among the largest and most successful businesses in the region (or any region, really) despite not actually selling any products?
Answer: Professional services firms.
“Professional services” encompasses a range of different industries that sell specialized, knowledge-based services to clients, as opposed to tangible products to customers. These include law firms, engineering and architectural firms, financial planning firms, IT firms, human resources groups, marketing communications firms like yours truly’s, and many more.
But despite this wide range of diverse sub-categories, there are several key marketing priorities that should be considered mission-critical for any professional services brand hoping to stand out in what are often fairly crowded fields. As Jonathan Krantz, marketing expert and author of Writing Copy for Dummies puts it, “professional services companies have to ‘sell the invisible’ – intangible qualities of experience and expertise that resist easy ‘features and functions’ descriptions.”
This concept of “selling the invisible,” (a reference to Harry Beckwith’s eponymous book) is, of course, easier said than done – especially for bootstrapping startups with limited marketing budgets. But in order to succeed on this front from a brand marketing perspective, the following should be considered bare necessities.
Strong owned assets.
Because most professional services businesses rely on reputation and referrals, it is mission-critical [MOU1] that they have strong brand identities and functional, aesthetically compelling websites. Yet often for these very same reasons, and due to the fact that many professional services firms tend to be a bit more “old school,” these elements often get overlooked. Even if your only paid media tactic consists of sponsoring the local youth soccer league, if the logo displayed on the jerseys looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 1990s, the impression it will give is that your firm’s expertise hasn’t been updated since then, either.
And so, too, with your company’s website. It’s the digital façade of your firm, housing everything from the breadth of your offerings to the biographies of your subject-matter experts to the means through which interested leads can get in touch with you. If your digital house isn’t in order, you can’t expect anyone to make themselves at home with your firm.
Demonstrating subject-matter expertise.
With virtually any professional services industry, whether B2B or B2C, there is a strong need to demonstrate the subject-matter expertise of the firm’s professionals. To this end, content marketing can whet the appetites of your clients (current and potential alike) by providing a taste of the value you can offer in your respective field of expertise. “Content marketing” refers to the strategic creation, publication, and dissemination of, well, content – blog posts, newsletters, articles, video pieces, webinars, and the like – that demonstrates your expertise and provides valuable information to your clients and prospects. Successful content marketing by professional services firms is key to earning loyalty, trust, and ultimately clients.
Continuing with the point above, demonstrating subject-matter expertise often extends to executive positioning and visibility. In other words, gaining relevant notoriety for the principals of the firm and positioning them as industry experts. The thinking here is that you can’t sell expertise without selling the experts themselves. Executive visibility can help new and established companies alike gain trust and respect among their audiences, create brand awareness and affinity, and position your professional services firm as a go-to source of authority in your field. This requires the development and execution of a thoughtful strategy, but some tactics that often fit into executive visibility plans include authoring and publishing op-eds/bylined articles, cultivating an executive’s social media following, blogging, pursuing speaking engagements, and even industry award submissions. Bottom line: the more present and renowned your executives, the better positioned your professional services firm will be to stand out among the competition.
Need help growing the brand of your professional services firm? Contact The Martin Group today.