1. Get to know your market

“To maximise the effectiveness of your marketing strategy, you need to first establish a clear understanding of the market in which your firm is operating.”

To maximise the effectiveness of your marketing strategy, you need to first establish a clear understanding of the market in which your firm is operating. Investing time and resources into researching the accounting industry may seem tedious, but in the long run, it will pay off. To make things easier, let’s break it down: 

Business analysis

The first step in any marketing strategy is to get to grips with your own business. It may sound silly, but a surprising number of accounting firms are operating without a clear understanding of ‘why’ – and your clients will always be the first to see through this. To ensure everyone within your accounting firm has a thorough understanding of your business, start by answering the following:

  • Why does your firm exist? What problem are you helping to solve? Who is behind the business? Why should people care? 
  • What are your organisational values? Have you documented them? Are all of your employees aware of them? Are they embedded throughout your accounting firm?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? Is there one thing that you do better than anyone else in the industry? Can you identify any opportunities or threats? 
  • What is your company vision? Have you set long and short term goals? 

Audience analysis

Creating a marketing strategy without first understanding your target customer is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute: you just shouldn’t do it. To engage your audience and make your marketing strategy successful, you need to ensure you have an in-depth understanding of your target customer so you can tailor your marketing towards them, providing solutions that fit their specific needs. The key to success is relevancy.

You need to be thinking of your audience as your best friend as opposed to a business opportunity. By developing a deeper understanding of your clients, you will form more meaningful relationships, which in turn, will help to improve your retention rates and encourage word-of-mouth recommendations. Think about answering the following:

  • Who are they? Where do they live? How old are they? 
  • What’s their occupation? What industry do they work in? 
  • What are their likes and dislikes? What is most important to them?
  • Where are they most active? How might you connect with them? 

Competitor analysis

Completing a competitor analysis will not only help you to identify niches in your market, but will also provide an invaluable learning opportunity for your accounting firm. If there’s something one of your competitors is doing that you think is particularly successful, think about why it works and take inspiration. Equally, if you identify any obvious mistakes or weaknesses, use it as an opportunity to develop a strategy that will ensure you avoid doing the same – it will not only save you time and money, but will help to keep your reputation intact, too. Lastly, use it as a chance to spot new opportunities; are there any areas your competitors are neglecting? Or do you feel you can offer significant value where another firm is failing? 

Broader market analysis

Once you have a solid understanding of the above, you need to be looking at the bigger picture. Being aware of trends and changes in the accounting industry will better equip you to deal with the impact they might have on your firm. This could be anything from the introduction of new technology to changes as a result of political factors, for example, the replacement of EU-adopted international accounting standards with UK-adopted IAS as a result of Brexit. When analysing your market, it’s good practice to use PESTLE (political, economic, social, technological, legal, environmental) to assess the external factors that may affect your business.

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2. Building a strong brand

“Today’s B2B buyers are more concerned with who they are doing business with as opposed to simply what they are buying.”

There’s a common misconception that B2B marketing should focus on functional benefits because buyers in this market make purely rational decisions. Of course, this is untrue. Like their B2C counterparts, today’s B2B buyers are more concerned with who they are doing business with as opposed to simply what they are buying. Emotional factors play a key role in purchase decisions (whether your customer is wearing a suit or not) so shifting your focus from features and benefits to stories and culture will give your brand an edge and ensure your accounting firm makes an impact. 

Not only will it help to drive sales and build stronger, more meaningful relationships with your clients, having a strong set of values which are reinforced throughout your firm will also offer you a competitive advantage. There are thousands of accounting firms providing the same services for similar prices, so the real differentiator is your core competency: what is it that sets your accounting firm apart from the rest?

If performed correctly, your business analysis will allow you to clearly define your core competencies. To really nail them, you need to be addressing the following: 

  • What are your defining strengths; the thing (or things) that set you apart from any other accounting firm?
  • What matters most to your target customer?
  • Are there any niches in the market or areas you feel are being neglected by your competitors?

Your core competencies will provide focus and clarity throughout your firm, and enable you to cut through a crowded accounting market. Traditionally, your core competence would focus on one key area, but due to the market being so saturated and the competition incredibly high, you need to be bringing together two or three complementary traits to really set yourself apart.

Next, you need to define your ‘why’ (the purpose of your accounting firm) – and it needs to be authentic, or your clients will see straight through it. Again, if you have completed a thorough business analysis, this will be very straightforward. Think about what your firm is trying to achieve (i.e. what problem are you helping to solve) and how you will be benefiting your clients. Your purpose should provide a vision for your brand and guide your business decisions, creating ambition and clarity throughout your firm.

Now you can move on to creating your brand identity. To ensure you are covering all areas, it’s useful to use a framework such as the one created by David Aaker outlined below: 

Brand as a product

This is where you’ll want to focus on the functional/ rational benefits of your brand. Think about the key features and benefits that define the services offered by your accounting firm; these benefits can be broken down into three categories: emotional, self-expressive and rational. 

Brand as a person

To personify your brand effectively, you need to be getting down to the nitty-gritty. Think: if your business was a person, what would they look like? How would they act? How would they speak? At the end of the day, people buy from people, and what better way to humanise your brand than quite literally turning it into a person. Defining the personality of your brand will not only allow you to connect with your audience on a much deeper level, but will also provide consistency throughout your communications by establishing a clear tone of voice.

Brand as an organisation

This is where your company values should be defined and embedded throughout your business. You should also consider the organisational attributes that best describe your brand; this could be anything from innovation to trustworthiness.

Brand as a symbol

When you mention branding, this is what will spring to most people’s minds: your visual identity. It includes everything from your typeface and colour palette to your logo and user imagery. Although most commonly thought of as the core of branding, your visual identity usually comes last and should only be focused on once you have clearly defined the above elements. 

After establishing the above, you can define your value proposition; this is essentially what will tell your audience why they should do business with you. Here, you should communicate the key benefits of your firm, whether functional, emotional and/or self-expressive. To enhance your value proposition, you will need to build credibility to support it. This can take the form of things such as case studies published on your website.

Lastly, to communicate your brand identity and value proposition, you then need to consider where you want to position your firm in the market. The simplest way to think about brand positioning is: what you do and who you do it for. While the ‘what you do’ has been addressed by your core competencies, you still need to define who you will be doing it for. Thinking back to your audience analysis; is there a particular industry you want to focus on or are you segmenting your audience more on company size, for example? Your brand positioning will not only help to reinforce your core competencies, but will also give your firm a competitive advantage and provide even more focus and direction to your strategy.

3. Creating a powerful content strategy

“The only way to consistently grow in B2B is to be better than very good.”

Seth Godin, Founder and CEO of Do You Zoom, once said: “The only way to consistently grow in B2B is to be better than very good” – and he was right. This is particularly true when it comes to content marketing. These days, almost every accounting firm has a blog, so to cut through the noise and differentiate your firm from your competitors, you need to be thinking really big. 

To optimise the performance of your content, you need to devise a powerful strategy that will provide purpose and guidance to everything you create. Start by reviewing your customer research, ensuring you have a clear understanding of who you will be communicating with and what is most important to them. If your audience doesn’t feel your content is relevant to them, they won’t bother reading it. So, having a clear understanding of them is fundamental for success. The easiest way to overcome this issue is to put yourself in the shoes of your customer. Think about what topics matter most to them and whether there is a particular area you feel you can provide significant value in. It’s all about showing your audience how useful you can be for them. To ensure your content is relevant to your audience and company goals, you should devise 3 – 5 content pillars to guide every piece of content you create. They could be anything from payroll advice to tax guidance. Once you have established your pillars, you can begin creating content that fits into each; this can include anything from eBooks and blog posts to podcasts and explainer videos. 

Another key part of your content strategy is the content audit. This will allow you to see what content you already have, assess whether it needs updating or can be repurposed and identify any areas you have missed that your audience may be interested in. Content audits will not only help your firm to become more efficient, but will also help you to optimise your conversion rates by assessing what content is performing well (and why) and identifying underperforming topics that should be avoided moving forward.

Content calendars are an effective way to manage your content; they should include the type of content (for example, blog post or eBook), the audience, the purpose and when/where it will be published. Lastly (and arguably most importantly), you should be using analytics to assess how your content is performing. If you identify any underperforming pieces, establish why so you can develop your strategy accordingly and make note of what to avoid in the future. 

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4. Distributing your content

“Distribution is Queen. And she wears the pants.”

While content will always be king, in the words of Jonathan Perelman: “Distribution is Queen. And she wears the pants.” In short, it’s all very well producing great content, but if it isn’t distributed correctly, there really is no point. Again, this is where your customer research comes in. We are going to explore a couple of specific channels later on in this guide, but in general, some important things to note are: 

  1. Who do you want to reach? Different channels will be useful for targeting different people, so it’s wise to segment your audience and be specific about the channels you use for each group
  2. What are you trying to achieve? Remember, different channels have different purposes, so focus on the ones most relevant to your content objective 
  3. When is best to publish? To maximise the effectiveness of your content, you need to know what days (and times) your audience is most active on each channel

5. Mastering your website

” Just as your eyes are the windows to your soul, your website is the door to your business.”

Your website is one of the (if not, the) most important marketing channels for your firm. Just as your eyes are the windows to your soul, your website is the door to your business; it’s the first port of call for your customers, so it’s essential to get it right. To create a strong first impression, you need to ensure your website is regularly updated, easy to navigate and most importantly, offers value to your audience. From clear calls to action to insightful blog posts, everything on your website should be created with your audience in mind and contribute to the achievement of your business goals. For full details of how you can optimise your site’s UX, be sure to read our ‘Ultimate Guide to User Experience’ here. 

6. Search engine optimisation (SEO)

” Search is the biggest driver of traffic with 93% of online experiences beginning with a search engine.”

Did you know that search is the biggest driver of traffic with 93% of online experiences beginning with a search engine? It’s all very well having a nice website, but the numbers speak for themselves; if it’s not displayed on the relevant search engine results pages (SERP), you will be missing out on a lot of opportunities. So, how do you overcome this issue? SEO. 

SEO (search engine optimisation) is the process of optimising your website to improve its ranking on the SERP to help drive organic traffic to your site. Typically, SEO is separated into two categories: on-page (for example, keywords, alt text, content and internal linking) and off-page (including backlinks, social media presence and domain authority). Driving traffic to your site will naturally increase your number of leads, but did you know the quality will improve, too? Organic search leads boast a 14.6% close rate (that’s 9.59% higher than the average conversion rate for the finance industry)! For a more in-depth discussion of SEO, check out our ‘Ultimate Guide to SEO’ here.

7. Paid advertising

“Although organic growth is essential for your firm in the long run, it can take months for a new SEO strategy to take effect. PPC will deliver results almost instantaneously.”

There are a range of paid advertising options your firm may want to consider, but let’s start by looking at pay-per-click and retargeting advertising. Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is primarily used to drive new traffic to your website and is a good way for your site to gain visibility in the SERP while you are working on improving your SEO. Although organic growth is essential for your accountancy firm in the long run, it can take months for a new SEO strategy to take effect, whereas PPC will deliver results almost instantaneously, making it a great solution for the meantime. Additionally, PPC is cost-effective as you are paying for clicks rather than impressions, meaning you have more control over your performance and budget. To find out more about PPC marketing, check out our ultimate guide here.

Retargeting advertising is used to help improve conversion rates by ensuring your firm is recalled by prospective customers when they come to making their purchase decision, encouraging users that have previously visited your site to come back at a later stage in their decision-making process. Retargeting ads are also an effective way to increase brand awareness and reduce loss by re-engaging with past visitors. Additional forms of paid advertising your firm may want to consider, include social media ads, search engine marketing (SEM) and video advertising. 

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6. Connecting with social media

“One of the more understated benefits of social media in B2B is the ability to establish and foster expertise within a given industry or niche.”

Brian Solis once said: “One of the more understated benefits of social media in B2B is the ability to establish and foster expertise within a given industry or niche. The same tools and services that new influencers leverage to construct prominence and demonstrate awareness are also readily available to anyone with wisdom and vision to share.” For this reason, more and more accounting firms are embracing social media and making it a key part of their digital marketing strategy. People are now looking beyond the superficial (and outdated) stereotypes and realising the power of social media for building relationships, generating leads and increasing brand awareness. 

Some examples of how your accounting firm can use social media include:

  • Sharing helpful tips 
  • Responding to FAQs
  • Publishing insightful infographics
  • Promoting new blog content 
  • Showing your company culture 

7. Sending your email marketing to the next level

“Email marketing can have an ROI of up to 3,800%”

According to HubSpot, email marketing can have an ROI of up to 3,800% – so it really is worth the investment! Along with being cost-effective, email marketing is also a great way to build relationships, drive traffic to your website and increase sales. When it comes to creating an effective email, start by considering first impressions; this means the address your communications are sent from, your subject line and the preview text. You also need to be thinking mobile-first, with almost 50% of emails now being opened using a mobile device. 

Additionally, it’s important to segment your audience to ensure every email they receive is relevant to them; you can segment your contacts into categories based on their industry, location or the size of their business (to name a few). Segmenting your audience will help to improve open and click-through rates and reduce your number of unsubscribers, and according to a recent report, it can also increase your revenue by up to 760%. Remember, the more relevant your content, the better the results. 

7. Performance analysis

“To assess whether your strategy has been successful, you need to set clear goals and ensure everyone in your firm knows what you are trying to achieve. “

To evolve and construct the most impactful strategy over time, it’s fundamental for your accounting firm to understand what has been successful (and why), what hasn’t met expectations (and why) and how you can implement your findings to improve your future performance.

To assess whether your strategy has been successful, you need to set clear goals and ensure everyone in your firm knows what you are trying to achieve. Start by defining your ‘North Star’, which as the name suggests, is your guiding light; the thing that is most representative of success for your accounting firm. This is what will provide direction to all of your strategic decision making and should consider the following:

  1. Is it representative of the value your clients are receiving from the services you provide
  2. Does is indicate future and present revenue
  3. Is it aligned with your core values and purpose

Next, you can move on to establishing your ‘Magical Moments’; these are the actions that will drive your North Star. 

Once you have clearly defined your North Star metric, you can begin devising SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) goals to provide structure to your strategy and make the achievement of your business objectives more realistic. To track your progress towards achieving these goals, you will need to develop a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) which are specific to each goal. And it doesn’t end there. Taking things a step further, you will then need to set targets for each KPI; for example, for click-through rate, your target could be 2.5% for search ads. 

When it comes to KPIs, it’s easy to get caught up by vanity metrics or obsess over data that has no real significance to the achievement of your goals. Thus, to ensure your firm is tracking only the most relevant metrics, you must devise your KPIs with your short and long-term goals in mind. For more on how to master your KPIs and reporting process, check out our ‘Ultimate Guide to KPIs and Reporting’ here.

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