Thank you, Brad Kadrich and Corp! Magazine, for including my thoughts on the state of digital marketing in professional services. Thank you to Joel Epstein for placing this and to Thomas Franz for providing an extra set of eyes on this!
READ THE ORIGINAL PIECE HERE: http://print.corpmagazine.com/publication/?m=9655&i=805021&p=50&ver=html5
In an age where the digital realm reigns supreme, professional services have embraced an array of strategies to harness the power of digital marketing. These strategies, once considered novel, have now become essential for staying competitive in a fast-evolving landscape. The pandemic has shifted the landscape in how our clients express their desire for connection. The golf course, stadium box, and breakfast gathering *may* still have some place in our engagement strategies, but most want to spend their free/social time with their families now. And they expect us to meet them where they are. (Plus, clients are quite happy navigating StubHub on their own.)
Content Marketing: Elevating Thought Leadership
Content has become the cornerstone of successful digital marketing in the professional services sector. Gone are the days of mere promotional messages; clients now seek informative and valuable content that addresses their pain points. This is where content marketing steps in.
By producing in-depth case studies, insightful whitepapers, and regular blog posts, law firms position themselves as experts in their field. This not only fosters trust but also engages potential clients by addressing their legal concerns in an educational manner. Accounting firms, similarly, can provide tax planning guides, ensuring that their clients are well-informed and confident in their services.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Navigating the Digital Landscape
The digital world is a crowded marketplace, and standing out requires a solid understanding of search engine optimization (SEO). Professional services firms are utilizing SEO techniques to enhance their online visibility and attract relevant traffic.
Keyword research is a foundational aspect of SEO. For instance, most SEO platforms use AI to identify key phrases to optimize website content. At Clark Hill, we have seen these efforts move targeted pages into top ten search results. Furthermore, on-page optimization techniques, such as meta tags and structured data, play a pivotal role in improving a website’s search engine ranking. That said, in more B2B marketing, your clients are unlikely to pick you at random from a blind search result. They may look at those results for validation if, say, you claim to be a tech proficient organization, but they are more likely to choose you based on the helpfulness of your thought leadership and your social media engagement.
Social Media Marketing: Building Relationships
Social media platforms are powerful tools for professional services firms to build brand presence and engage with their target audiences. LinkedIn, in particular, serves as a virtual networking event for professionals across various industries. It is a social mixer that is running 24/7, and, on scale, allows you to monitor and most importantly interact with your clients and prospects asynchronously in ways convenient to you both.
It is called “social” media for a reason. Do not just go “on blast” trumpeting your own successes. Rather, engage, celebrate, and share the content of those with whom you are developing relationships. George Orwell, Andy Warhol, and Kurt Vonnegut all predicted this present moment – for better or worse. We are a people who share to be seen, so truly see others. I guarantee that the more you engage with your prospects on social in authentic (not salesy) ways, the more likely they will take you up on that offer for dinner, coffee, or a round of golf (or pickle ball!).
Imagine an accounting firm using LinkedIn to share industry insights and articles about tax regulations. This establishes their credibility and positions them as a valuable resource in the financial world. Furthermore, by creating tailored content for specific audiences, such as business owners seeking financial advice, firms can drive engagement and foster connections. And, while LinkedIn is where you likely should spend the bulk of your time, a presence on Instagram or Facebook or Threads can nicely supplement your reach and your SEO. Yes, Facebook is for “friends and family,” but they have jobs and business and service needs too!
Digital Advertising: Targeted Outreach
In the vast expanse of the internet, precision matters. Digital advertising allows professional services firms to reach their desired audience with pinpoint accuracy. Platforms like Google Ads, LinkedIn sponsorship, and account-based-marketing (e.g., digital ads on various media platforms) enable firms to create targeted ads, some that appear when specific keywords are searched and others that are pushed out to pre-identified profiles.
For instance, a law firm specializing in intellectual property might bid on keywords like “patent attorney.” When someone searches for such terms, the firm’s ad appears at the top of the search results, increasing the likelihood of attracting potential clients seeking their expertise. Effective ad copy and well-designed landing pages further enhance the success of these campaigns.
If entering this world, yes, some of this work can be handled in-house, but you may want to consider enlisting an agency, at least at first, to help you navigate these waters. Much like traditional media, working with an agency to help you refine your message, creative execution, and placement can help ensure better results. This can also help develop your in-house team on tips and tricks they might not already have at their disposal, eventually creating less dependency on an agency.
Challenges in Digital Marketing for Professional Services
As professional services firms embrace digital marketing, they encounter a unique set of challenges that require strategic navigation.
Professional services, such as legal and financial sectors, often operate under strict regulations. This can pose a challenge when crafting digital marketing content, as maintaining compliance while conveying expertise is crucial. Firms must strike a balance between showcasing their knowledge and adhering to industry regulations, ensuring their messaging remains accurate and trustworthy. Please be sure to connect with any regulatory bodies, professional associations, and your organization’s general counsel to make sure you are in keeping with ethical guidelines.
Establishing trust in the digital realm can be a daunting task. Clients seek assurance that their chosen professional services firm is reliable and competent. Beyond showcasing credentials, firms must leverage their digital presence to communicate their values, mission, and successful track record. This might involve sharing client testimonials, case studies, and success stories that resonate with potential clients.
At Clark Hill, we relaunched our brand in 2021 with the tagline “Simply Smarter.” There is a sophisticated look and feel to the brand (if we do say so ourselves!) but we wanted to supplement that with the authenticity storytelling brings. Throughout the launch and following, we have leveraged our firm values and the faces and voices of our colleagues to engage clients, prospects, and talent. Your brand is as much about attracting and retaining your talent as it is growing your client base, so be sure to reflect who you are in all of your external messaging.
Professional services often cater to specific industries or niches. Effectively targeting these niche audiences can be challenging in the vast digital landscape. However, digital marketing strategies allow firms to focus their efforts precisely where they matter most. For example, a consulting agency specializing in the technology sector can create content tailored to the unique challenges faced by tech companies, resonating with decision-makers in that industry.
Measuring the return on investment (ROI) of digital marketing efforts can be intricate. Unlike tangible products, professional services’ value is often intangible and based on expertise. Tracking the impact of digital marketing campaigns in terms of lead generation, client acquisition, and revenue can require sophisticated analytics tools. However, understanding these metrics is essential to refine strategies and allocate resources effectively.
If you have a CRM, that will help you connect the dots between marketing communications, business development, and client decision making. Even if you don’t have such a system in place, use leading measures like web hits, social media reach and engagement, open rates to articulate the impact your work is having. If you can employ a data visualization tool like Power BI to create data dashboards, all the better. Share this internally, along with links to key messages. Again, your internal audience is an extension of the marketing team, and their awareness is key to your success.
Emerging Trends in Professional Services Digital Marketing
The landscape of professional services digital marketing continues to evolve, with several emerging trends shaping its future.
Artificial intelligence and automation are revolutionizing marketing processes. Chatbots can provide instant responses to client inquiries, enhancing user experience. Additionally, AI-driven analytics offer deeper insights into consumer behavior, enabling firms to tailor their strategies more effectively.
Video content is gaining prominence as a highly engaging format. Professional services firms are using video to introduce their team, explain complex concepts, and showcase their workplace culture. This personal touch humanizes the firm and creates a stronger connection with potential clients.
For our brand launch at Clark Hill, we developed a video campaign, telling the Clark Hill story through the faces and voices of our people. We had a long-form video (about 4 minutes) and shorter snippets that we deployed on social media and through digital advertising. The first year of our brand launch our videos had 500,000 views. In the second year, we started featuring our industry teams, and those videos had 750,000 views. Additionally, in that first year, our social media channels reached 9 million and in the second year 12 million, with a 69% increase in engagement. We can only surmise that the addition of video was a big draw, on top of the thought leadership content our attorneys carefully crafted.
Personalization is no longer optional; it’s expected. Firms are leveraging data to craft personalized marketing messages and experiences. Email campaigns that address specific pain points or industry challenges resonate more with recipients, leading to higher engagement rates.
The rise of voice-activated devices is changing the way people search for information. Professional services firms are adapting their digital strategies to accommodate voice search queries, focusing on natural language and conversational content.
Best Practices for an Effective Digital Marketing Strategy
To navigate the dynamic world of digital marketing successfully, professional services firms should follow these best practices:
Define specific goals, whether it’s increasing lead generation, expanding brand awareness, or improving client retention. Clear objectives guide your strategies and provide a measurable framework for success.
Clients go through distinct stages before making a decision. Create content that caters to each stage, from awareness and consideration to decision-making, ensuring you’re addressing their needs effectively.
Data-driven decisions yield better results. Regularly analyze metrics such as website traffic, engagement rates, and conversion rates to understand what’s working and what needs adjustment.
The digital landscape is ever-changing. Stay updated with industry trends, algorithm updates, and new technologies. Adapt your strategies accordingly to maintain a competitive edge.
Future Outlook of Professional Services Digital Marketing
As we look ahead, the role of digital marketing in professional services is poised to expand even further. The rapid evolution of technology, coupled with changing consumer behavior, will drive innovation in strategies and tools. Firms that embrace agility and stay committed to providing value through their digital channels will undoubtedly thrive in this dynamic environment.
Digital marketing has transformed the way professional services firms connect with their audience. From content marketing to SEO, social media engagement to digital advertising campaigns, these strategies are redefining how expertise is showcased and services are offered. Despite challenges, firms that master the art of digital marketing will not only survive but also excel in an increasingly digital world.
(And, yes, true confessional: I used AI to help me craft this article, shaping the outline and refining the piece for persuasiveness and conciseness. Boom! Thank you, R2-D2, Hal, and Robbie the Robot for your trailblazing.)