Changes in the Professional Services Marketing Mix: Traditional vs. Online Marketing

More than 20 years ago, Phillip Kotler, recognized by many as the father of marketing, warned that “information middlemen providers (“metamediaries”) would emerge on the Internet and assemble and offer evaluations of different suppliers for a small charge.”

Kotler’s crystal ball predictions were not too far off.

In his book, Kotler on Marketing, Kotler describes the 4 Ps of traditional marketing mix: Product (service), Price, Place, and Promotion. Since then, the marketing mix has changed radically and grown in complexity.
Online Marketing for Professional Services: How to use online marketing to drive growth and profits

Key Trends Influencing the Mix

Online marketing continues to challenge traditional marketing. For one, online marketing can be much more targeted than traditional marketing techniques. Consider the following:

Technology has disrupted the field: Geographic proximity is less of a concern. Consider the example of an expat living in overseas. When seeking accounting services, that individual does not have to settle for a local accounting firm that has no expat expertise. By searching online, that expat now has access to the accounting firm with the best reputation, located in Washington, DC.

Word of mouth marketing is being transformed: There was a day when networking at the country club, church or local chamber event could connect someone with prospects, and prospects could quickly investigate the reputation of a provider. While that may still be true, service firms now need to worry about their online reputation—with social media being the new word of mouth.

“Searchers either find you, or they find your competitors” (Rebecca Lieb)

You aren’t relevant if you aren’t online: There is an expectation that going online and self-educating is possible for any topic. Professional services firms that join the online conversation are building their reputations and dramatically expanding their audiences. Google and social media continue to open new frontiers.

At the end of the day, a professional services firm needs to be reputable and visible online in order to have a strong brand. As Rebecca Lieb, a search engine optimization expert says, “searchers either find you, or they find your competitors.”

The New Marketing Mix

When you consider the online marketing landscape, it is important to recognize that many elements make up the new marketing mix, which complicates the process of developing a strong brand. Additionally, the new marketing mix must address both human and non-human online search ways of prioritizing information. Reputation and credibility are critical in attracting, engaging and nurturing prospects. The days of mass marketing with broad messages are being replaced by targeted marketing with specific messages delivered to very specific audiences. This intersection of technology, word of mouth, and information consumption by humans and non-humans is making the world of marketing more complex than ever.

The way people are attracted to brands has also been transformed thanks to technology. Today, most firms understand the need to have a website, but social media remains a mystery to many.

Thoughtful online content (thought leadership) can enhance your reputation, while social media can expand the reach of your reputation. To be relevant, you need to do both as you look to attract and nurture prospects.

The mechanisms to attract and nurture prospects have also evolved significantly. Back in the day, one could use something like direct mail or advertising (outbound marketing) to generate interest. These were expensive yet popular component’s of the traditional marketing mix. Now, one can use online marketing tactics such as email or webinars (inbound marketing) to generate interest. Online marketing is a more cost-effective alternative to traditional outbound marketing. With the average cost-per-lead substantially lower for inbound marketing. By some accounts, more than 60% less.

SEE ALSO: What Every Managing Partner Needs to Know About Content Marketing

Good inbound marketing requires valuable content. Valuable content is the candy that attracts humans and search engines to a website. When you offer a wealth of content on your website, prospective buyers can learn from you and grow comfortable with your ideas and approach, with no additional effort required on your part. When prospects are ready to buy, your firm will usually rise to the top of their list. In addition, people from all over the country—and the world—are able to find your content and learn about your firm.

To promote your content, targeted email campaigns are the preferred vehicle in the professional services industry. So keeping your contact database clean and properly segmented is a critical first step to any successful marketing program.

Also, to get the most out of your online marketing program, be sure to use analytics—and frequent reporting—to understand what is and isn’t working.

Selecting the Appropriate Techniques

Marketing is not about absolutes, but rather a myriad of variables are in play at any given time. You have to interpret what is going on. It’s through the educational content on your website that you’ll be able to attract more organic traffic. But it can take a good 6 months to see this traction begin. Until you know what is working for you, it is best to track more data rather than less.

Below are good online activities that build organic leads and nurture prospects.

  • Implement a solid content strategy: Creation & Share [Attraction and nurturing vehicles]
    • Flow content: includes frequent blog posts
    • Stock content: includes white papers, articles, and ebooks
  • Consider social media appropriately [Attraction and nurturing vehicles]
    • Set up social media channels for content distribution: Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc.
    • Roll out a social media plan and usage policy
  • Focus on link building (online reach) [Attraction vehicles]
    • Online public relations and relationship building through blogs and other content.
    • Offsite SEO (targeted link building to increase quality website domains linking to your website). More links equals higher ranking.
  • Develop video case stories (on website and for sharing through social media) [Attraction and nurturing vehicles]
  • Offer webinars as a mechanism for sharing educational content and building reputation) [Attraction and nurturing vehicles]
  • Email broadcasts (ideally using a CRM) to offer webinar, video case stories and other content [Attraction and nurturing vehicles]
  • Pay per click [Attraction vehicle]— While not an organic option, this costlier approach can generate some quick traffic.

Marketing is no longer static. Conversations are happening online and offline and through various channels, and for that reason your marketing needs to be fluid. Done well, each of these activities can enhance your brand strength and increase visibility in the marketplace.

Ultimately, which is better for your professional services firm: traditional or digital marketing? My answer is both.


Kotler on Marketing, by Phillip Kotler

The Truth About Search Engine Optimization, by Rebecca Lieb

Additional Resources

How Hinge Can Help

Hinge has developed a comprehensive plan, The Visible Firm℠  to address these issues and more. It is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth, and profits. This customized program will identify the most practical offline and online marketing tools your firm will need to gain new clients and reach new heights.  

Online Marketing for Professional Services Book: How to use online marketing to drive growth and profits


Author: Sylvia Montgomery, CPSM A Senior Partner and the head of Hinge’s A/E/C practice, Sylvia collects many shoes and wears many hats. When she’s not traveling around the country for speaking engagements or client meetings, you will find Sylvia creating marketing and branding strategies for clients, supervising her A/E/C team, developing new business, or working on her personal brand. With a 20+ year career spanning visual communications, strategy, and marketing, and over a decade working in the A/E/C sector, Sylvia brings a creative, business-focused approach to her client engagements.

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