There is a tendency for those in professional services to see marketing in a single dimension whereas it really is multi-dimensional.
Typically marketing is seen as being one of two quite different things – and neither are entirely right in themselves. It is either something “strategic” and broad and slightly fuzzy, that is about business branding, positioning, look and feel of a business – the “what it looks like and stands for aspects”.
Those who see marketing purely from this perspective tend focus upon creating great logo’s and tagline’s and company name’s. Of course this is part of marketing.
Others think of marketing in a much more narrow sense – oftentimes confusing advertising and sales tactics as BEING the entire marketing plan. A point that is often lost in the professionals thinking is that marketing and selling are quite different things, with quite different purpose and with quite different skillets required. Unfortunately because that point is lost they fall into the trap of believing that marketing does their selling, and therefore marketing is only about selling something.
So a quick recap: at it’s most simple level, Marketing is about creating the opportunity to sell. Sales is about converting that opportunity into a customer.
Marketing is fundamentally strategic. Differentiating the business and making it stand for something in a prospective customers mind is the first element. Therein lies a challenge in professional services of course: on the one hand we need to try and look different to every other business promising the same thing. But on the other professionals want to be seen the same as their professional peers. The result is they are trying very hard to look different while trying to look exactly the same. (check out the postscript for an example of this!).
How you execute your marketing strategy – the actions you will take to implement it – is the tactical part.
When thinking strategically we should consider marketing professional services three-dimensionally. There are the dimensions of breadth, height and depth. So we need to consider strategically how to use all of those dimensions.
Breadth to a large degree is about considering the stuff that consumers expect you to do. It is about your expertise and range of services.
For example, the consumer clearly expects the financial planner to be able to do financial planning, and all that involves. The insurance broker is expected to be able to broker a risk management solution. So on one level there is the element of simply having to position your business to meet the basic expectations of the consumer. In this space there is still opportunity for your marketing to promote differentiation though while doing what is expected, and sought, by the customer. This is where having a strong Unique Selling Proposition (USP) can be effective, or where broadening the services and expertise that get delivered alongside the basic expectations can add value and enhance your brand. Portraying the breadth of offering can in itself be a differentiator for the prospective customer when comparing the market.
Your marketing and brand can be enhanced further by building upon your core services through continual improvement or refinement of expertise. That is building upwards – doing the same things as everyone else, but being incrementally better at each piece of what you do. Being technically stronger, having (and showing) a greater understanding of particular market niches, providing better advice results than others in the same space, stronger/better professional standing, operating to higher standards voluntarily and so on are examples of building your brand and offer to higher levels, whilst still competing in the same broad offering that the competition do. The basic offering is similar to competitors – still doing the financial plan or finding the right risk management solution – but having better expertise, qualifications, positioning or solutions, or providing more consumer certainty and safety than competitors, and being able to demonstrate it adds another dimension.
The third aspect is not often considered as part of the marketing strategy, as it tends to get put into the “service” category. The depth of the customer experience is a vital element of the overall marketing strategy. At one extreme there may be a business model where the customer relationship is utterly superficial and transactional (think of direct insurance sales online where the business model clearly doesn’t provide for or offer any real depth of customer experience). At the other extreme is the adviser with has roughly 150 high net worth clients around the world, to whom the highest level of personal service and personalized financial solutions possible is provided. The depth of the customer service and level of personalization are themselves competitive points of difference that are integral to the marketing strategy.
So when revising the marketing plan for the next year (and beyond), think about doing it in 3D. Have a clear strategy that covers how you will be positioning yourself in the broader market, and how you will be able to differentiate in the first level of competitive choice, being width of offering. Then have a solution on how to build upon those base expectations in such a way that it provides higher value or greater safety for the consumer that they did not initially expect when first comparing their choices. The depth and quality of the customer experience when engaging you (not just the “after sales service”) is also a further critical element of the overall marketing strategy and should be used to your advantage.
(P.S. I thought I’d check out how imaginative professional service firms in New Zealand get with their naming & branding….here’s a snapshot. The number of companies using the following words in their name just in little old NZ:
Services – 43,155
Consultant – 18,710
Solutions – 10,953
Associate – 8,554
Financial – 3,450)
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