The way professional services are being bought and sold has changed more in the last 5 years than it did in the previous 25. Marketing used to be a firm-centered, promotion-oriented push. Now, it’s a client-centered, content-driven pull. The marketing model has changed and it looks a lot more like a publishing business. Why do I say that? And, what does it actually mean?
A few months ago I ran a webinar aptly titled, The Future of Professional Services Marketing. During that session I outlined a set of insights that drive to this conclusion:
Insight #1 – The Googlization of the Web
In some ways it’s hard to remember an Internet world pre-Google. But, before Google rose to prominence around 2000, we relied primarily on “directory search” through web portals like Yahoo! A directory search works pretty well when you already know what you’re looking for (sort of like the white pages). But, what Google introduced to users was the ability to search about concepts and for advice. And, it did it pretty accurately. This changed user behavior. Suddenly, it was easy to search about things you wanted to learn about, but didn’t know where to go.
Insight #2 – The Content Explosion
What “Googlization” really brought us was the rise of the content-driven web. A vast resource that was widely indexed and easily searched. It took a few years to catch on (and a nice push from technology by way of inexpensive content management), but once it did it exploded. In fact, since 2008 Internet users have launched over 350M new websites. That’s 5x the total number of websites launched in the first 15 years of the commercial web (1993-2008).
Insight #3 – How It’s Changing Buying and Selling
This shift has had cascading effects on how professional services are bought and sold:
- Buyers come into their first conversation with a firm better informed. They seek advice, search for answers, self diagnose and formulate opinions before contacting any firm.
- Sellers are used to networking, calling, and connecting — tactics that aren’t working as well as they used to. When they do connect, sellers are focused on guiding prospects to a recommended solution — but, informed buyers come to a meeting to validate, not be guided.
Conclusion – Marketing in A/E Firms Now Looks Like Running a Publishing Business
Ultimately, it’s the marketing department that’s left to fill the gap left behind by the traditional business development model. The best marketers are focusing less on broad-level brand-building and more on educating and informing potential clients. They’re striving to provide the answers to the driving questions frustrating their best clients. They recognize that when they offer answers and advice before the sales dialogue, qualified business leads follow. Ultimately, content sits at the heart of this process.
But, building and sustaining a content-engine looks a lot more like a publishing business than it does a promotional program. Like publishing, firm marketing now needs an editorial team, an editorial calendar, and a strategy for content dissemination and distribution. It needs a process for extracting “stories” from internal teams. It needs the ability to turn those “stories” into good content (for more on this, join us for our 3/6 webinar, Launching a Content Initiative). And, it needs the systems and skills to analyze what content is most read, most shared and most valuable (both to potential clients and to the firm).
The Ironic Twist
As I’ve watched this unfold and written about it I’m struck by a stark irony. At a time when we’re watching traditional publishing businesses struggle (think newspapers) we’re seeing the meteroic rise of the corporate publishing department.