Time is all we have.
That’s true for any business, but somehow those words feel even more apt for professional service firms, whose revenue is typically directly tied to hours charged.
It should therefore go without saying therefore that we must be relentlessly mindful of the impact of our time. The trouble is when it comes to marketing for a professional service company, there is just so damn much to do. So many channels to manage and metrics to monitor.
As ever, it all boils down to one word – prioritisation.
What channels and activities will we ensure always happen. Day after day. Week after week.
And this is where the mistakes typically begin. Despite being owned and managed by people who invariably pride themselves on their rational and commercial mindsets, the vanity appeal of social media usually takes precedence over the channels that are actually going to drive revenue. In particular, email.
Here are 3 reasons why email continues to be the absolute king of marketing for professional services:
- You own it – unlike other channels where you are borrowing or paying for time and attention, your email list is something that is entirely and exclusively yours. Yes, ongoing GDPR regulations may impact the specifics of how you need to manage and grow that list, but it will always be an asset owned only by your company. In fact, should you ever come to sell your firm, it’s your email list (in terms of size, engagement and segmentation) that will principally determined the digital value of your brand (at least assuming you are selling to a smart buyer!).
- It’s more likely to drive enquiries – accountants love to say “revenue for vanity, profit for sanity”. Well, when it comes to their marketing (or indeed for any professional service) they can replace the word “revenue” with “social media” and “profit” with “email”. In fact purchasing behaviour in just about every market, even in the consumer space, is more closely correlated with email marketing than it is with any other channel. After all, these are the people who know you and trust you. The perceptual barriers to purchase probably fell away months ago, even if they’re not an existing customer, so the only question is – will you still be talking to them when their next buying cycle begins? To be clear, this is not to advocate an overly promotional mentality. On the contrary, if you want the list to keep engaging with your content then you need to concentrate 90% of your efforts on adding value. For certain brands there is a significant overlap in promotional messaging and value (for example, you’d be a bit miffed if your email communications from Amazon weren’t highly product centric), but for most professional service brands the overlap is less obvious, so instead it pays to prioritise educational material with limited promotional messaging. Then, when you do push that call to action, you have an audience that will actually be paying attention.
- It helps you to increase your targeting on social – this point is slightly less guaranteed than the previous two as so much of it is dependent on GDPR regulation, but for now brands continue to be able to import their email lists into social in order to aid their targeting. This is particularly helpful for direct response campaigns where indiscriminate brand awareness is of limited value, and instead you need to be able to measure in tangible ROI, in which case laser specific targeting is everything.
So hopefully by now I have convinced you that email needs to be front and centre of your firm’s activity. Brilliant. But there are still a few more questions that first need to be answered if this channel is to fulfil its game changing potential.
What are we actually going to talk about?
In a perfect world the content of your email will flow from an overarching content strategy, complete with pillars targeting a range of topics of interest to your audience. For example, if your firm is hoping to engage with COOs within the technology sector, your content pillars may include topics like operational excellence, project management techniques, change management and advanced transformation technologies. Only when you’ve engaged them on their terms should you attempt to bring the conversation across to the things you really want to talk about. Namely, your proposition.
How do we cut through the noise?
Just because you’re talking about things of interest to your audience, does not mean they are paying attention. After all, there are probably 87 other firms out there also producing perfectly professional and relevant content for this exact audience. What are you going to do that ensures you stand out?
There is no one answer to this question. The only rule is that the more audaciously ambitious your goal, the easier you will find it to cut through the noise and engage your audience. Paradoxically, nothing is more expensive or inefficient in content marketing than mediocrity.
This ambition could take various forms:
- You may engage with high profile influencers among your target audience.
- You may partner with a non profit that you believe shares your vision and values, in a mission to help them achieve their goals.
- Perhaps you’ll publish a book and send a physical copy to the desks of every decision maker in your customer universe.
- Or maybe it’ll be some other left field idea so surprising, that people can’t help but take notice.
Whatever it is, it should reflect the vision of your brand and help you to drive that change you’re seeking to make.
From a person or brand?
Getting to the tactical stuff now, the question of person vs brand is a common one. The is really a question of your brand architecture. Is there a figurehead of the business that you’re looking to promote, because if there is this is a brilliant place to apply it. Personal emails will almost always achieve greater engagement than those sent from brands. This is particularly true for professional service firms.
However, for many firms, the last thing they want is to make one name synonymous with the brand. After all, what if that person leaves or falls ill? What if you decide to sell the firm and the buyer only offers 80% of the asking price because they claim too much of the perceived value is tied up in that one individual? These are really important considerations with long term implications.
Branded template or plain text?
Instinctively, most firms assume their email communications should be presented on a beautifully designed template, and there’s no question it helps portray a level of professionalism. However, it’s not without its downsides. For a start, it’s far more likely to get trapped by recipient spam filters. It also immediately communicates to the audience that this is an advert intended for a large group of people, rather than a targeted message designed specifically for them.
The general rule would be – if it’s coming from an overarching brand, use a branded template. If, however, it’s coming from an individual, use plain text. Yes it’ll look just like an ordinary email, but that is no bad thing at all.
What time of day?
Time of day is another big question. And honestly, I think it’s probably one people attach too much concern to. If people don’t want to engage with your email they will ignore it no matter when it arrives. And if they do they will find time to do so. Simple as that.
That said, it doesn’t hurt to consider their schedule and make their life a little easier. For example, if you know your audience typically gets into the office for 8:30, it’s probably helpful if the email has landed before then. Perhaps even a couple of hours before so they skim through it when they first wake up. However, it may also be that targeting them in the afternoon when they’re a bit drowsy from lunch and in need of a distraction could also work.
What’s more important than the exact time is that you adhere to a level of consistency. If you send it out at 3pm on a Thursday, send it out every Thursday at 3pm. Consistency helps frame expectations and reduce uncertainty in the minds of your audience, the significance of which cannot be overstated.
How targeted does the e-shot need to be?
From a marketing perspective, there is no such thing as “too targeted”, but operationally things are more complicated. Account Based Marketing has really been on the rise for professional service firms in recent years and for good reason, but it is a hell of a time investment. For most marketing campaigns, it’s okay to group people in batches, but just ensure there is sufficient targeting. So rather than simply sorting by sector, it should at the very least include both sector and job title. This level of targeting has profound implications on engagement levels.
This article has looked at a number of considerations, some strategic, some tactical, so I want to conclude by placing the emphasis on one particular point – before you do anything, ensure there is a clear overarching strategy for the content as a whole. Otherwise, you are going to work remarkably hard to achieve very little, not only on email but across every channel. On the other hand if you really pin down and refine that strategy, you’ll find that every channel, from email to social and webinars to blogging, will become an order of magnitude more impactful and with a fraction of the effort required.
If you’re looking for any more help with your marketing strategy, please contact us here for a free consultation!