Where we will go in this strategy series
There are dozens of books (and multiples more articles) on marketing strategies for every size and sector of the commercial universe. Well and good, but a successful online content marketing strategy must be matched to specific strategic objectives. This is moreso for service professionals – lawyers, accountants and all superannuation, insurance and finance professionals – who must balance the specific needs of clients for whom they also maintain a duty of care.
If you read widely about content marketing, it is soon clear that there are a multitude of views, in fact too many, often glaringly at odds with each other. Service professionals find this hard to comprehend because inconsistency is death in the world of professional relationships with clients. What we want is certitude, for ourselves in dealing with regulatory authorities, and for the advice we are able to offer our clients. But in the online world, a diversity of views is more easily explained and sometimes welcomed. Despite the desire of some to see online content marketing as an analytical tool, it is in fact essentially a creative enterprise. In reality the commentaries of “experts” should be more productively viewed as “creative suggestions”, and that is also true for search engine optimisation (SEO), whose practitioners often claim a more scientific approach.
The 50 strategies presented here, by a fellow mature professional, are certainly worth consideration, but always with an eye to the specific needs of your firm. If you are certain of your firm’s marketing goals, and understand the needs of your clients or prospective clients, you are already well ahead of most professionals in the strategy stakes.
Strategy One – Know your clients’ pain points
What is the essence of a good friendship? Shared views or political ideologies? The same religious outlook? Philosophical agreement? A particular genre of movies? Of course not. As anyone with brains and a heart knows, it is the extent of your ability to step into the shoes of another that defines a really successful friendship. In other words, empathy.
This may no longer be true for a younger generation raised in the age of social media, in which relationships (of sorts) can in fact be conducted in a virtual world where shoes do not exist. It does however illustrate the same problems and opportunities you face if you want to successfully communicate with clients and prospective clients on your firm’s website. One thing is for certain, no matter what strategy you adopt, you must offer useful information for your clients and prospective clients. Otherwise your website content is no more than an online brochure, and sadly for you that is no longer an acceptable online presence.
For service professionals, the ability to comprehend a client’s pain point is the greatest strategic advantage. This requires a professional knowledge of the issues that beset clients and prospective clients – legal, financial, bureaucratic, regulatory, emotional or whatever – and your expertise as the agent to alleviate those issues. Clients often express those concerns in terms of frustrated goals – what are your clients’ goals, and what can you do to help them achieve them?
So as a first step, ask yourself honestly, “do I really understand the goals of my clients, and can I properly articulate them?”
Many psychologists and biologists ascribe all human behaviour to the evolutionary imperative to avoid pain and maintain pleasure. So what are your clients’ pain points? What do they want to achieve when faced with a problem? In what ways can you help them avoid problems or prepare for the future? Is there an overarching aim that characterises your clients’ needs? Do you understand a client archetype? Have you developed a shorthand that quickly deciphers those needs because the client fits one of those archetypes?
For instance, at times it is clear that the client has a straightforward goal – perhaps they want assistance to make their business more successful. That may appear to be a one-dimensional goal, but all professionals understand that it will encompass a larger and more complex set of aspirations. That’s why all professionals learn to recognise the signs of a hidden client agenda. Once you read those covert signs – words like “hope’, “wish”, “family”, “respect”, “need”, “future” – you can readily adjust your advice to meet those goals.
The same is true for your website content. In what ways can you meet the spectrum of needs of your client base? One of the advantages of website content is it’s ability to meet multiple client needs, often achieved with open-ended questions. This works because it mimics the essence of a good client interview, and competent professionals have those techniques ingrained by years of everyday client interaction. Some basic strategies of web content marketing will help you translate that accumulated knowledge to your website content.
Strategy Two – Speak your client’s language
Do your clients say, “I need to invest in a managed fund to ensure a lower risk but substantive return strategised by a professional and pooled with like-minded investors?” Is that the way they talk? Of course not. What they tell you is “I’m wondering about a managed fund as a safe investment that suits my needs”. Given those needs, which they will articulate in response to your expert questions, you will be able to tell them the short and long term prospects for the investment; the tax implications; the cash flow required to support the investment; the merits relatives to other investments; the opportunity costs. And much more.
This all coalesces into one essential strategy – do you speak your client’s language? Are you able to convey this understanding in the information on your website? Can you communicate in a way that allows them to believe, without the benefit of a face to face meeting, that you are on their side? Will they come away from your website with a belief that a first interview is likely to be a worthwhile investment of their time and energy?
Strategy Three – Know who is not your client
Professionals who venture into website content marketing often aim too wide. This is understandable. You have a lot to say, you want to tell everyone about your wonderful firm, you want to demonstrate the breadth of your expertise. There is a place for some of this, and that’s the About Us profile page of your website. Content marketing for professionals is about the client, not you – that’s why it’s called “marketing”, but you’re not marketing to yourself! Content marketing is most successful when it is targeted to the needs of your client base, not the world at large. Not everyone is a potential client, nor should they be if you want to get the attention of the ones who might take that step through the front door of your office.
Strategy Four – Create an effective website
A cursory look around the web is enough to know that many smaller professional firms have inadequate websites, or have been fooled into a belief that the only workable website is going to cost them far more than they are prepared to spend. In part the business case for content marketing and a reasonable spend on web design must be explained to reluctant participants, but they must also understand that bigger is not always (in fact very often not) better.
Clients want information that is clearly presented to showcases the expertise of the firm, written in plain English. They rarely interact with a website as a “consumer”, at least not in the same manner as a retail customer. Clients and prospective clients are far less likely to be impressed by whizz-bang technology, flash animations and image dominated interfaces, in fact they may instead wonder why their fees are being used for such silliness. What they want is:
- A well written and informative “About Us” page
- Comprehensive contact information
- Lots of up-to-date information
- A well written FAQ page that answers and anticipates client queries
- Ongoing information, usually a blog and/or newsletter
- If possible, a “responsive” theme that is optimised for mobile and loads quickly (very important for mobile users)
These features can be economically fulfilled, in fact it is possible to do it on your own using WordPress.
Strategy Five – Create something new
Of course you don’t want to take a wayward path that sets you on a radically different course than your professional peers, but if all you serve to your clients or prospective clients is the same content recipe as your competitors, you will not achieve much in the way of “marketing”.
The reality in advertising is that no one “needs” anything. Do we really need twenty brands of washing liquid? Do we really need ten versions of the same basic Windows PC? Why is the new model of any product so much more attractive than the original, especially when the improvement is largely cosmetic or marginally better? How important is it to buy a “revised edition” of a book that might only have tweaked a single chapter from the first edition? The answer is “marketing” – and content marketing is what separates your website content from the other service professionals. In the world of content marketing, never underestimate your ability to tell your story in a compelling individualistic manner that grabs the attention of a reader.
Strategy Six – Make the client feel special
We all want self-esteem, and that includes your clients. In this regard professionals need to be careful not to underestimate the intelligence of their clients or prospective clients.
Some professionals have a tendency – although less so over time – to deal with clients from an apparently ascendant position. Mature professionals or older clients can remember a time when the advice of an esteemed professional was sacrosanct. Those days are gone, in fact one of the consequences of the internet age is the democratisation of professional advice. Nowadays clients who access online information will not be patronised. In part the solution is to write in a conversational tone, but it also important to be genuinely interested in a communication between equals. That is the true nature of online client support.
To address any perceived professional-client imbalance, it’s important to have a well constructed FAQ page. This is not just a way to anticipate the objections of prospective clients, but also a means to show that you care about their needs. Mean it – don’t fake it, because it will be obvious and negate your marketing efforts.
Strategy Seven – Have a well-judged opinion
Professionals frequently earn a deserved reputation for blandness. Hopefully that’s not you, so separate yourself from the herd with a viewpoint. You don’t need to set yourself up as a focus of controversy, instead be a decisive voice with a definitive view that is buttressed by your professional experience.
If part of the rationale for effective content marketing is the replication of “word of mouth”, then a well-founded opinion will help this effort. Professionals need to do this with an eye to a red line that should not be crossed.
[Data] shows that controversy increases likelihood of discussion at low levels, but beyond a moderate level of controversy, additional controversy actually decreases likelihood of discussion (Jonah Berger and Zoey Chen).
Where is that red line? It’s certainly productive to create a blog post that questions the stringent rules associated with superannuation investments, but it will hurt your efforts if you extend the argument to the need to protect the wealthiest members of society. That may be your opinion, and even reflect your client base, but it is also a dubious view that may find it’s way beyond your website and into the wider community.
But sometimes it’s productive to undermine a sacred cow. “Why industry superannuation funds are stealing your money” is a reasonable headline if followed by a reasoned explanation in favor of self managed superannuation. This can lead to a discussion of the value of self-determination and highlight your ability to guide clients in that direction.
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