Why Are Professional Service Firms Still Afraid of Online Marketing?

Beady eyes? Check.  Quickness of breath? Check.  Pained expression? Check.

Am I describing a health crisis? Nope.  I’m describing a recent client meeting.

My professional services client wasn’t having a cardiac incident… he was having a typical industry reaction to our suggested improvements for the firm’s digital marketing strategy.

The main problem? Whether you are a lawyer or a management consultant, an engineer or an architect, the professional services industry remains skittish about the benefits of online marketing and “digital PR.”

To be fair, there are good reasons for that cynicism and anxiety.  Professional services engagements have big ticket price tags, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll convert a $500,000 retainer or project fee based on their latest study, a shiny website or SEO strategy.

So, instead, they opt for tried and true: more white papers, pricey advertorials, traditional sponsorship efforts, iffy podium appearances and (sigh) dubious award and ranking activities.

It’s time for the professional services industry to stop thinking of online marketing as optional.  Simply put, an integrated marketing program has the potential to add synergy and profit to rainmaking efforts.  They have to feed their sales funnel…not compartmentalize it.

My friends at Hinge Marketing also support the professional services sector.  They have a new ebook that examines some of the emerging opportunities that exist for services firms online.  Hinge was curious to hear my thoughts on some of the challenges we’ve both seen:

Q:  How does a firm go about prioritizing online channels and which tactics to pursue?

A:  It starts by understanding where your target lives online, and…where they don’t.  Too many firms start by deciding they need a platform – “We need to stand out on LinkedIn.”  Instead, do some research to identify where your audience is already active and engaged.  You can use a free tool like Netvibes Personal  or invest in a paid tool such as Sysomos. Hint: most firms have a geographic and/or industry focused structure – those same filters are an attractive starting point for your R&D.

Once you find your target, take a look at the social conversations and content sharing patterns.  What do they like to talk about? What topics get them excited? What kinds of content prompt them to share?  Use your deductions to influence your firm’s likely first steps online.

Q. How often do most professional services firms redesign their websites? How often do they update content on their sites on a regular basis?

A:  We are seeing an uptick in website development projects, particularly in the last 12 months.  My sense is that firms are willing to acknowledge that their existing website properties look “dated.” They are also willing to consider new approaches to packaging and formatting their marketing content and thought leadership.

 In contrast, Search Engine Optimization is still an embryonic effort for many law and consulting firms. Yet, the rewards can be significant.  An initial must have? Create actionable content that includes keywords that reflect stakeholder pain points.

Q. How does a firm’s approach to online marketing relate to profitability? Can a greater focus on online marketing lead to higher profitability?

A:  That’s always the big question – what’s the ROI for these efforts? The good news is that online efforts can be systematically tracked and assessed.  The quick and dirty starting point? Take a look to see if your current email campaigns correlate to spikes in travel to your website. Where do those visitors go? Are they spending time on the right intellectual capital and practice landing pages?  Google Analytics is your free and invaluable friend.

Do you work at a professional services firm? Notice any “beady eyes” lately? What do you think is the right amount of online marketing for a professional services firm?

Photo courtesy of on epSos.de on Flickr

Connect with Elizabeth:

Phone: 212.840.0017

Email: Elizabeth@blissintegrated.com

Twitter: @elizabethsosnow

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