Professional Services Marketing Part 11
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* You don't need the world's greatest outcome. You just need a very good outcome.
* Since you can't sample a service like you might sample a piece of gum, you have to rely on reputation, experience, and expertise as proxies for expected results.
* Price is a factor, but you'd rather not skimp when the outcome is important. (Side note: If I had said that Dr. McCoy's innovations enable him to charge less than half of what other oral surgeons charge, would you have been more interested in buying his services or less interested?) Innovation in the sense that the doctor does something different than others, or is somehow unique, by and large won't tip the scales of purchase preference in the favor of the innovator.
So what is it that clients are, indeed, looking for? In our experience and research, such as Wel esley Hil s Group and RainToday.com's benchmark report, How Clients Buy, most buyers want to tel service providers the fol owing: * Reliability. Do what you say you are going to do, and be on time about it. (This is first because it's so important. "If only the service providers I've worked with in my life were better at keeping their commitments . . . ") * Accessibility. Be there when I need you.
* Impact. Help me buy the most helpful and impactful services from you, and help me translate your services into success for my business and my industry.
* Fit. Be a good fit for the specific needs that I have. If you're not the best fit, help me find a provider that is. Don't shoehorn your service into something that, in the end, won't meet my needs as wel as something else.
* Importance. Make me feel like I am, as a client, important to you and your team.
* Service. Deliver great service as wel as great services.
* Prudence. Be careful and do your homework before you suggest a course of action for me.
* Research. Stay on top of the developments and trends in your industry and in mine.
* Listening. Understand my business, my team, and my clients or customers so you can come up with ideas relevant to me.
* Teaching. Help me understand what you're doing. I might not be an expert in your area, but I'm pretty bright and I make the decisions here. Help me understand what's new in your area of expertise so I can apply that knowledge in my business.
* Business management. Run an efficient operation and constantly improve so I don't pay for your inefficiency.
* Relations.h.i.+p management. Be pleasant and fair, and work with me through communication or other breakdowns on your end or mine. In essence, treat me like a person.
Different situations warrant different mixes and degrees of these client wants. For example, with many necessary services like Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, efficiency is important as wel as expertise. In contrast, buyers looking to hire product innovation consultants are likely to be less concerned about efficiency, and more concerned about the impact from the creativity and innovative thinking of your team.
One last question-how often do you think a buyers says, "I need to hire some unique, different than every other provider out there." In our experience, it's rare.
Some firms take the quest for being different literal y, creating spates of "we're different" messages. Consider a top law firm with the fol owing message: "At [firm name], we practice law differently. While our attorneys agree that results drive our business, building relations.h.i.+ps with our clients and providing value-added service are the keys to our success."
This firm might be amazingly good; and from what I know of its reputation, it is. However, results driving business, building relations.h.i.+ps, and providing value are pretty much par for the course from both firm goals and marketing copy standpoints.
Regardless of the mix of attributes that are most important to your buyers, you probably won't see many of them inserting this into the list of client wants: Unique. Be one of a kind, offering something that no one else in the market offers.
So be different: Stop listening to the continuous pleas from consultants, marketers, and textbooks to be unique . . . one of a kind . . . a s.h.i.+ning beacon of newness in a sea of same old, same old.
Focus instead on actualy delivering the value to the market that you say you deliver (which, in and of itself, can be uncommon, if not unique), and find ways to create a conversation with buyers around that message. Not only is it better marketing, it's less lonely than being unique.
Five More Branding Laws That Need Breaking "If [a law] is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law."
-Henry David Th.o.r.eau Along with being unique, there are quite a number of branding maxims tossed about in the marketing world. These maxims, accepted as unquestionable gospel and law, simply are not valid for almost al professional services. At least they are not valid for everyone and every business.
When we read any piece of business advice that confidently declares, "Always do this," or "This is true 100 percent of the time," or even "You should . . . ," the warning lights flash. The high priests of branding and marketing are particularly p.r.o.ne to heading down this al -or-nothing path. So, we thought we would throw in our two cents' worth and add to the list of branding absolutes: * Always seek to understand the underlying dynamics of your own industry and company before making decisions on how to brand your business.
* Never forget that, in the right situations, laws are meant for breaking.
Consider the folowing commonly held branding beliefs that may be meant for breaking for those of us in the world of professional services.
Maxim 1: Law of the Opposite "The Law of the Opposite: If you're shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader."
-Al Ries and Jack Trout33 The overal argument is that if you are not number one in your market and you want to hold the number two spot or below, a.n.a.lyze the company that holds the number-one spot, look for holes in its strategy, and position yourself as very different from it. The Law of the Opposite is a good example of what Terrel and Middlebrooks, whom we discussed earlier in the chapter, would cal "oppositioning."
Think about the positioning of the folowing types of companies that you know about: * CPA firms * Law firms * Financial advisory firms * IT consultants * Strategy consultants Of the companies in these fields, what are their positioning strategies? Are they directly opposite each other? Do you realy even care?
Here in Boston there are quite a large number of CPA firms. Sure, some are known to have a bit of a stiff personality, while others are somewhat more casual. Some are known to have strong practices in certain industries like education, nonprofits, and biotechnology. I would hardly cal having a personality or competent industry presence a "hard-hitting positioning strategy that differs significantly from a compet.i.tor's." Looking around at their web sites, no one is shooting for opposite.
As seemingly similar as many firms in actuality are (though we are sure some of them would argue otherwise), many of them are also quite successful.
Don't get us wrong. It's important to have a strong value proposition that resonates, conveys distinction, and is defensible (see Chapter 9). But the concepts of being different for difference's sake and unique sel ing propositions are just not helpful.
Maxim 2: Law of the Category "The most effective, most productive, most useful aspect of branding is creating a new category. In other words, narrowing the focus to nothing and starting something totally new.
That's the way to become the first brand in a new category and ultimately the leading brand in a rapidly growing new segment of the market."
-Al Ries and Laura Ries34 Imagine this conversation: IRS: Ms. Jones, this is the IRS cal ing. I have a question about the tax return you filed.
Ms. Jones: Yes?
IRS: Wel, we don't understand the return. The forms you sent in are unfamiliar to us. We also do not understand your calculations.
Ms. Jones: Oh, I'm not surprised. You see, I used a new category of CPA firm this year.
Do you real y want a new category of: * CPA to do your business taxes?
* Lawyer when you need to win a case?
* IT consultant when your server is down?
* Plumber when al you want is a promptly returned phone cal (as the water rises in your sink)?
Or do you just want a reliable, consistent, high-quality job done by trustworthy people who treat you wel?
Maxim 3: First Mover Advantage "There's one critical thing to know about position: Whoever grabs a position first pretty much owns it forever. Position is in the minds of the collective market. Reality hardly counts."
-T. Scott Gross35 Branding guru after branding guru echoes this "first mover advantage" maxim.
We ask you, who grabbed the position first and now owns high-quality investment advice in Boston?
John Hanc.o.c.k * Citigroup * Brown Brothers Harriman * Fidelity Investments * Charles Schwab * TD Waterhouse * TD Banknorth * Citizens Bank * RBC Dain Rauscher * Wainwright Bank * Eastern Bank * Sovereign Bank * Prudential Financial * Legg Mason * Merril Lynch * Morgan Stanley *
PaineWebber * Bank of America * Boston Private * Fiduciary Trust International * Edward Jones * A.G. Edwards * Goldman Sachs * Bank of New York Mel on * USAA * JPMorgan * Dozens of smal er banks * Hundreds of CFPs, CPAs, and insurance firms * Hundreds of others (Once again, we show our New England roots.) Does it matter who was there first?
Maxim 4: Word Owners.h.i.+p "If you want to build a brand, you must focus your branding efforts on owning a word in the prospect's mind. A word that n.o.body else owns."
-Al Ries and Laura Ries36 In industries where there is a limited number of players because of the nature of the industry (e.g., there are only so many car manufacturers), it is possible to own a word. Who owns safety? Volvo, of course.
In service industries it's different. There is typicaly an overabundance of providers of al sizes, and there are few generic words one can own: Achievement * Advice * Balance * Confidence * Control * Creativity * Execution * Fame * Independence * Influence * Integrity * Loyalty * Peace *
Performance * Pleasure * Power * Prestige * Recognition * Respect * Safety * Service * Smartness * Solution * Tradition * Trust * Wealth *
Wisdom37 Sometimes service firms use specific words that focus on need areas or hot b.u.t.tons. Among CPA firms these words might be: Advisor * a.s.surance * Audit * Cash management * Compliance * Estate planning * Family business * Forensic accounting * Internal controls *
International * Sarbanes-Oxley * Smal business * Transition * Valuation In your area, who owns any of these terms so much that other firms can't also a.s.sociate with them? Can't think of any firms? Or maybe you just think of a number of CPA firms that play in these fields. Even if you could own a word in a service industry, we suggest that it should be a side benefit of winning and satisfying clients, not a goal in and of itself.
Maxim 5: Being Number One in Revenue or Market Share "Your company doesn't belong in any market where it cannot be the best."
-Philip Kotler38 "Be number 1 or 2 in your business or get out."
-Jack Welch39 What CEO heads into his board meeting and says, "Next year our big, hairy, audacious goal is to become number 16 in our market!" You simply wouldn't hear it. Being number one is a natural strategic target to set, and it certainly sounds good. However, in service businesses, being number one is usual y neither a feasible nor a desirable goal to set. Revenue and market share are not necessarily the answer to greater success and higher profits.
Service firms should focus on client loyalty and reputation if they want greater revenue and profit growth. Publication after publication (however, not branding publications!) by wel -respected authors and academics, such as James Heskett et al. in "Putting the Service-Profit Chain to Work"
(Harvard Business Review) and Fred Reicheld in books like Loyalty Rules! 40 echo this mantra. For some reason the messages of these publications are not making enough of an impact on the hearts and minds of the advertising and marketing community.
The idea here is not to make the argument for client and employee loyalty. We merely want to point out that not everyone agrees with the "being number one" law-one of the most taken-for-granted laws of branding that business people blindly fol ow.
Be unique . . . be opposite . . . own a word . . . be number one . . . be first . . . create a category . . . the list goes on. These guiding principles are easy to remember (good job in branding, branding gurus) and easy to latch onto.
Take care, however, that you act only on the guiding principles that wil do the most justice to your business and the people that comprise it. In the end, it is up to you to know which laws apply to you and which laws are meant for breaking. Of course, as much as it pains us to say it, even the laws we espouse should be evaluated based on the particular circ.u.mstances of your own firm.
Building Brand and Marketing Messages The poet is the sayer, the namer, and represents beauty.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson Once you have a sense of the value you want to convey, you begin the task of announcing who you are to the market in a manner that is compel ing, distinct, and to the point. Unfortunately, too often, the fol owing is the result: If you're looking for a different kind of accounting firm, look no further than Smith and Jones. With our focus on specific client industries, our energetic and hardworking professionals, and our deep financial experience, we help our clients achieve what they truly need: results. While results are the goal, it's our commitment to building relations.h.i.+ps and delivering value-added service that helps our clients succeed and sleep better at night. At Smith and Jones, your success is our number-one priority. When it comes to your unique accounting needs, we have you covered.
You might be thinking as you read this value proposition: The book's authors visited my web site and used our marketing copy for inspiration! Those sneaky little devils. In truth, we did and we didn't. Over and above visiting service firm web sites every day for this book's research, we visited over a thousand web sites across professional services fields, including law, accounting, consulting, architecture and engineering, technology services, and others. For the most part (but not always . . .
read on), firms sound relatively the same from a brand promise perspective.
So should you hang it up and not bother? Hardly. You should spend serious time and energy figuring out exactly what you want to say. A core brand promise statement is essential as an umbrel a for the rest of your marketplace messaging.
Firms often develop messages that they believe are unique and potent because they worked so hard to get there. But they engage marketing message development exercises without understanding the special dynamics of messaging for professional services. What do they end up with? A "different kind of [insert service type] firm" that suggests their focus on relations.h.i.+ps, results, and trust-a firm you can depend on for your mission-critical needs-and a message that sounds like so many others.
We understand how firm leaders and marketers come up with this kind of wording. Ask 20 clients and hear the same comment about your firm as to what buyers find "different" and "valuable" about you, and-tah-dah!-insert into your messaging.
Whereas the concepts you include in your message might be what your research shows to be true about your firm, they're not always as helpful from a marketing perspective as people think they wil be. For example, 20 out of 20 clients might say that your attorneys, accountants, consultants, and the like are "different from other firms they've worked with because of the level of service . . . quality of people . . . delivery of results . . . on-time delivery." (True. You heard it.) The problem is 10 other firms in your s.p.a.ce asked the same thing, and that's what their clients said as wel . Once 10 compet.i.tors in the s.p.a.ce decide to hang their hats on "different because of the level of service" or "different because of results" or "different because of our people," the message of difference loses its potency. (Not helpful.) What's a firm to do, then?
How to Think about Brand Messaging We a.s.sume you have an understanding of your attributes of similarity, attributes of distinction, and attributes of experience. (If you don't, you're not ready to start crafting brand messages yet.) You know what it is about those attributes that resonate with buyers and are different from the other available options in the market, and how you can substantiate anything you claim to be true.41 (See Figure 14.1.) Now you have to take these concepts you know about your firm and combine them in the right mixes to create an overal messaging strategy and craft various marketing messages.
The first concept most firms need to grasp is how marketing messages cascade from most basic to most detailed and what's appropriate to have in each message type.
First, you have positioning messaging. This type of messaging should largely be used to establish initial fit and connection with buyers. For most firms, it can be used to set the stage for differentiation but, by itself, doesn't deliver diffentiation.
With your ident.i.ty-logo, firm name, and your corporate look and feel on web sites and in brochures-you can establish (or fail to establish) an initial connection. Buyers (and influencers, referral sources, and potential employees) make quick decisions as to whether you are in their league.
People can often tel from looking at you whether you are smal -time, big-time, or somewhere in between. They typical y know which they need. If you are in their league, but you don't look like you're in their league, you've got a large hurdle to jump.
Buyers also can tel the difference between a quality look and feel and a cheap or home-done look and feel. You can think of look and feel quality as s.h.i.+ning your shoes and wearing a nice suit. Show up to a client's office with old scuffed shoes and a wrinkled suit that doesn't quite fit, and you have an initial-impression hurdle to jump.
Why jump these hurdles if you don't have to?
Figure 14.1 Value Proposition Strength and Delivery At the same time, don't a.s.sign more weight to corporate ident.i.ty than is warranted. a.s.sume you show up to a client meeting with s.h.i.+ned shoes and a nice suit. You stil haven't gotten anything done for the client yet. Corporate ident.i.ty is similar. It's simply something that you need to do in order to put yourself in the right league and thus establish initial fit.
Corporate ident.i.ties often include taglines: brief phrases or slogans that serve to set a premise for a brand. Taglines are typicaly given too much weight in a professional service firm's ident.i.ty development process.
Can a tagline convey a key piece of performance resonance? Yes.
* Timex takes a licking and keeps on ticking.-Timex * When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.-FedEx * Engineered like no other car in the world.-Mercedes-Benz Emotional resonance? Yes.
* You are now free to move about the country.-Southwest Airlines * L'Eggo my Eggo.-Kel ogg's Eggo waffles * Just do it!-Nike Can a tagline make much of a dent in either performance or emotional resonance for a service firm? Not usual y. Unless you have a very large advertising spend, it's just not worth the effort (and the effort that can be excruciatingly painful) for a service firm to go through a long and involved process to develop a tagline.
"I firmly believe that unless you're spending over $100 million a year in media, you don't need a tagline."
-Mike Sheehan, CEO, Hill Holliday This is not to say we're anti-tagline. Do we think Ernst & Young wil be negatively affected by its "Quality in Everything We Do" tagline? No. But we hope the firm didn't spend too much on coming up with that one. Do we think KPMG is negatively affected by its "Audit Tax Advisory" tagline? No.
It helps to establish initial fit-an umbrel a under which the company can describe the rest of its services.
Even with smaler firms, taglines can often serve to help establish initial fit.
* Circadian Technologies: 24/7 Workforce Solutions ("We work around the clock at my nuclear power plant. I'm guess Circadian might be a good fit.") * Everon Technologies: Your Virtual IT Department ("I need IT help. I'm in the right place.") * Hol and and Hart: The Law Out West ("I live out west. I need a law firm for my business.") Taglines that focus on emotional or performance resonance don't necessarily do firms a disservice, either. But they often fal flat because the concepts behind them are so common (see the "Common Themes for Taglines" list).
A brand promise statement is a concise declaration that an organization, service line, or person uses to convey the essence of the value it delivers to clients. Companies often use this as the foundation statement about the firm. It's usual y a paragraph or two, but it can also be a short series of concepts, bul ets, or sentences that describe the firm. Brand promise statements are often accompanied by other "about us" - type blurbs with headings like "what we believe," "our mission," and "our values." They're also accompanied by overal firm descriptions, often referred to as one-pagers, and descriptions of service lines and industry specialties.
You can use any and al of these marketing-type statements to describe the essence of your firm.
Overal, these high-level, not in-depth communications serve more to position and describe your firm than anything else.
With these types of messages you establish your overal fit. Especialy as you get to the elevator pitches and one-pager types of descriptions, firms typical y address five W's and one H: * What you do.
* Whom you work with.
* Where you operate.
* When it's the right time to work with you.
* How you go about things.
* Why clients should care.
Professional Services Marketing Part 11
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Professional Services Marketing Part 11 summary
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