From positioning, to branding, thought leadership marketing and website best practices, this blog post shares a small collection of things I’ve learned from marketing consulting and engineering firms through much of my career.
Just this week, a prospective client asked me why our agency chose to specialize in working with professional services firms. After giving him some loose back story on the business decision we made four years ago, I suddenly realized that my answer was, quite frankly, not very good. That the real answer to the question rooted back much further than I’d ever thought to realize — and that the topical knowledge we’ve built on the subject is much deeper than even I realized.
Why We Specialize in Professional Services
The fact of the matter is, I began studying professional services marketing in a class called Services Marketing, taught by Dr. Neeli Bendapudi (now Dean of the Kansas School of Business) when I was in business school roughly 15 years ago. In fact, much of the foundation of the things we do today was built through the learnings brought forth through that class. It was at that time, when I first became interested in both the challenges inherent to marketing any service and the promise of technology to do it better — though, I’ll be honest, I didn’t entirely know what that meant quite yet.
Fast forward 10 years, and I found myself at the helm of a generalist design agency. One with a 30+ year legacy providing a whole host of creative services to companies of all stripes. While we worked with some of the largest brands you can think of — from Nestle and Verizon to Smuckers and Emerson — it was incredibly difficult for us to build accretive, systemic knowledge about the work we did. Sure, we produced great creative and we offered great client service. But, it was hard for us to really dive down deep into our clients businesses and understand each one of them. Our clients were just too varied and their needs were just so incredibly diverse. So, we made the difficult decision to get narrow. To become an “inch wide and a mile deep.” We chose to specialize in marketing professional services firms because it was the one place we had a proven track record of meaningful business success. And, maybe more importantly, it was the one place I was most inspired by over 15 years ago in business school.
15 Things I’ve Learned in 15 Years
Now, one of the most powerful things about building a specialist agency is that the knowledge we build inside a sector transcends any one individual. We have a whole team of people leading and driving projects against clients’ very specific business objectives every day. That experience enables them to see trends — some I see and others I don’t. And, that repetition helps them see better ways of doing things — things they couldn’t have seen or known one year ago, three years ago, or 10 years ago. So, this list doesn’t really represent the collective knowledge of Rattleback as much as it does share some insights from my personal 15 year journey. Enjoy.
5 Thoughts On Positioning, Branding and Client Attraction
- The biggest challenge facing most small and middle market firms is lack of effective positioning.
- The biggest challenge facing most large firms is clearly communicating their highly diverse mix of markets, services and disciplines in a way that creates some memorability.
- Brand = positioning + thought leadership + people + culture + project experience + project delivery. Somewhere in there a great designer captures it all and packages it as a compelling visual identity system.
- Knowledge trumps experience when it comes to attracting clients.
- Experience trumps knowledge when it comes to closing them.
And 5 More On Thought Leadership and Content Marketing
- Your mission, as a marketer, is to educate clients on their most difficult business issues that you know how to solve — leads and opportunities will follow.
- The most successful thought leadership marketers effectively balance their consultants’ knowledge with learnings from quantitative and qualitative primary research (credit: Bob Buday).
- The most effective thought leadership demonstrates both depth in knowledge of how to solve a problem and specific examples of companies that have already solved it the way you recommend (credit: research we conducted in partnership with The Bloom Group and AMCF).
- Good research creates both a marketing advantage and a practice advantage (credit: Chris Parsons).
- Content marketing works best when it’s delivered in discrete, multi-faceted, topical campaigns.
Which Leaves 5 On Firm Websites and Marketing Technologies
- The website is the definitive source of everything — it should clearly articulate your positioning, showcase all your thought leadership (no matter where it’s published), share your most compelling client case stories (that demonstrate the types of clients you want to attract), showcase your key people (through well-written bios that connect to authored articles and consultants’ projects), and bring your unique culture to life.
- A great client case story positions your client as the hero wielding your firm as the sword to strike down a terrible monster (the difficult business challenge you were hired to solve).
- Selectively applied gates improve lead generation.
- CRM and marketing automation are unbelievably valuable and completely under-utilized — if you want a competitive advantage get serious about both.
- In God we trust, all else bring data (credit: Neeli Bendapudi, Dean of the Kansas School of Business, and my first mentor in understanding both the challenges and solutions to marketing a service organization).
So, What Do You Do With This?
I know what some of your are thinking — that was nice; another easy and scanable list to share on social media. It took me about five minutes to write this list. But, preceding those five minutes was 15 years of hard work — learning from some of the smartest people I know, investing in research, and working with clients. My best suggestion is this — pick one of these topics and go deep. Just about everything I’ve shared in this list is explored in depth on our site. Jump into one of those wormholes and use the content we’ve shared to get smarter and better. And, don’t be afraid to challenge the preconceived notions of what marketing is (and what it’s not) inside your firm. Your firm demands that you do.