Online marketing is growing in popularity – and importance. As we explored in our book, Online Marketing for Professional Services, changes in the demographics of the professional services marketplace are leading to the adoption of new strategies for building reputations, networking, and generating leads.
For a sign of the times, just look at the explosive growth of LinkedIn. To date, there are over 706 million LinkedIn members, compared to 467 million users in October of 2016. More and more of professional life is moving online – and the professional services world is no exception. Increasingly, the firms that succeed are the ones that learn to leverage online marketing effectively.
So what are ten of the top advantages of online marketing, and how can you bring those benefits to your firm?
Before we explore the strengths of online marketing, we have an important question to answer. What is online marketing?
Online marketing is the use of a diverse and evolving set of Internet based digital techniques to reach targeted audiences. These techniques include (but are not limited to) content marketing, social media, websites, search engine optimization, online video, email marketing, paid search, and more.
Many of these tools work best together: for example, publishing educational content on your firm’s blog and then sharing it to start a conversation on social media. Perhaps your blog post uses a YouTube video to illustrate a key point. If it’s successful, this piece might help drive up your website’s ranking for Google searches on the topic.
As you can see, effective online marketing is really a complex ecosystem of techniques that can help your firm achieve greater visibility and credibility. But let’s get even more specific. What are some of the most important advantages of online marketing for professional services firms today?
1) Online marketing gives you many ways to demonstrate and build expertise.
For professional services buyers, the single most important factor in selecting a provider is expertise. Often, the challenge lies not in acquiring the requisite talent, but projecting that expertise to the marketplace.
The web is such a powerful platform because it allows you to use content to get your message across and demonstrate expertise in topics relevant to your target audience. You can accomplish this offline as well, but online tools make it much easier to reach a wide and relevant audience. Blogging, social media, and webinars all allow you to educate your audience on topics that matter to them, illustrating your expertise in the process.
2) You can use online marketing to establish and build relationships more effectively.
Online marketing allows you to create new relationships in a targeted way that simply wasn’t possible twenty years ago. Email marketing, keyword phrase targeting, and other strategies can help you target a tailored message with laser precision to, say, the CIOs of the hundred largest businesses in your industry.
Beyond targeting messages, you can use LinkedIn Groups to network and converse with other industry leaders in an ongoing way. Online tools allow you to both meet new clients, colleagues, and influencers and strengthen relationships with those you already know.
3) You can target specific verticals or niches using online marketing.
Just as you can build relationships in a targeted way, online marketing empowers you to target a highly specific vertical or niche, delivering your message to a wide audience that needs your services. You can do this relatively inexpensively by targeting keywords in educational blog posts, or participating in groups or industry hashtags on social media. Online marketing allows you to zero in on a niche easily and efficiently.
4) Online marketing isn’t tied to geography or time zone.
Online marketing techniques can be used in an asynchronous way, meaning your audience doesn’t have to be constrained by geography. To meet a potential client or contact in person, you have to be able to travel and synchronize your schedules, with all of the expenses that this can entail.
Speaking at industry events, for example, can be a powerful way to build your reputation, and is often worthwhile – but it’s also a major effort that can significantly disrupt an entire day (or multiple days). Giving a webinar to a similar or larger crowd, however, may take no more than an hour out of your day at the office.
Another advantage of this asynchronicity is that it empowers your audience to engage with your message on their own terms. They can learn about your expertise at their own pace through your blog or social media presence, and when they’re ready to explore your services, they know where to find you.
5) Online marketing is less expensive to use.
A study by HubSpot found that inbound leads – leads generated online through sources such as blogging, social media, and search engine optimization – cost 61% less than traditional outbound leads. It’s not hard to see why. With online marketing, there are no travel costs, and you don’t have to pay for printing to distribute materials. Server costs, by contrast, are relatively low.
Some of your advertising costs can be replaced by online marketing tools, as well – and these online tools usually “pull more weight” by integrating with the rest of your online marketing program. Guest posts on industry blogs or publications, for example, can drive traffic to your site, build your reputation, and fuel conversation on social media.
6) The Internet is the most common way people check out your firm.
In fact, we conducted a survey of over 1,000 buyers of professional services for a more complete understanding of how purchasers check sellers out in today’s marketplace. We found that three of the top four most common ways professional services buyers check out firms are online.
Figure 1. How Buyers “Check Out” Professional Services Providers
Firms’ websites are the top method by far, followed by online search, friends and colleagues, and social media. All of these methods eclipse formal references, which are used by just over 55% of firms. On average, buyers use 3.2 of these methods – so most of their attention is typically online.
7) Online marketing allows you to be everywhere your clients look.
Today, it’s important for you to be where your potential clients are looking. More and more, that means your firm needs a robust and diversified presence online. From our research, we found that purchasers are looking for experts online in a number of ways, including in search engines, by reading online reviews, on social media, through webinars, and more.
Maybe your clients tend to ask their peers about the strongest firms in your field – but once they’ve learned a bit about you, if they search for you online, you have to be easy to find. If you don’t have an online marketing component, potential clients will go looking for more information about you – and they won’t find you.
8) You can use online marketing to reach influencers and “invisible” prospects.
There are many people who influence the selection process, even if they might not be the final decision-makers. Some of these individuals may be professionals within your target firms, while others may be well-respected industry figures.
By the same token, you may have unrecognized or “invisible” prospects out there of whom you’re simply not aware. You likely know that certain firms would be good matches for your service, but there are usually others who are equally promising matches – they’re just geographically distant from you, or don’t participate in the same industry events, or you just haven’t crossed paths.
By using content marketing, they can find you, even if you don’t find them. Posting blog posts on a particular set of challenges or opportunities – and including the right keyword phrases so search engines pick up on them – allows you to “plant a flag” in the topic, helping the right audiences find your work and your firm.
9) Firms that generate leads online achieve greater profits.
Our in-depth studies of lead generation strategies for professional services firms has found that firms with online marketing programs are more profitable, on average, than those that do not.
Figure 2. Profitability and Online Lead Generation
Until about twenty percent of leads are generated online, profitability stays more or less the same. But after twenty percent, profitability begins to rise steadily along with the percentage of leads generated online.
10) Firms that generate leads online achieve faster growth.
Similarly, our research shows firms that generate leads online grow at a faster rate.
Figure 3. Firm Growth and Online Lead Generation
We found that firms’ growth rates rise along with the proportion of leads generated online, up until the point where forty percent or more of leads originate online. Firms that generated between forty and fifty-nine percent of leads online grew at four times the rate of those with no online leads.
Online marketing provides a suite of powerful tools to help grow your firm’s reach and reputation – and ultimately, your firm itself. By fully leveraging the advantages of online marketing through tools such as content marketing, social media, email marketing, online video, and more, you can create a powerful lead-generating machine that puts your firm on the path to greater profitability and success.