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Online Marketing Strategy Gone Wrong: The Case of the Frozen Marketing Director

Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. There is a good reason why that is true.

As human beings we have both rational and emotional motivations. In some cases we act rationally. But as the behavioral sciences have proven, we are primarily driven by emotions.

But that is not the problem.

The Problem with People

The problem is that we also have a strong tendency to use our cognitive ability to “explain” or justify why our emotional decisions are actually rational ones.

We are all familiar with the middle-aged executive who buys a new sports car because of its “handling characteristics.” Marketers have used this knowledge of human psychology for decades.

One unfortunate consequence of this all too human tendency is that we can make the wrong decision and convince ourselves that it is the right one. This is especially true when the topic is one that generates fear or anxiety because it is unfamiliar.

Making Bad Decisions

We can end up making decisions that are harmful to our firm because they somehow feel “safer.”

I was reminded of this tendency recently when responding to questions following a webinar on the topic of online marketing strategy. The individual asking the question was obviously troubled at the prospect of implementing a program at her firm.

Here is a sample of what she said over the course of the discussion.

Our audience wouldn’t go online to search for an accounting firm. 100% of our clients have come from conferences, speaking engagements, and referrals. None have come from online search.”

Here is the problem with this conclusion. Since the firm has done none of the work that would make them findable online, of course they are not getting leads from online search.

This argument is logically equivalent to someone who does no networking, and consequently gets no new clients from networking, then concludes that networking doesn’t work for their audience.

While the logical absurdity of the objection is obvious to an outside observer, the marketing director had convinced herself that her audience was somehow different. Our research on 500 professional services firms (see Figure 1) shows that 77% of firms already generate new business leads online. This includes accounting firms.

 

As a matter of fact, I’m personally familiar with the audience she is targeting and know from personal experience with several of our clients that the audience she is targeting is very active online. Her online marketing strategy is based on a false assumption.

Here is another concern she raised.

In the webinar there was a statistic that firms that generate 60% of their leads online are 2x as profitable as firms generating 20% or less. I can only conclude that these are firms with a broad audience. Ours is very narrow.”

The data that she was referring to is shown in the Figure 2. From the figure you can see that the result she cites is accurate. However she then goes on to conclude that those firms must be very different from hers.

 

In fact, they are not. The audience she is targeting is very suited to online marketing. If anything, a narrow niche is easier to attract than a very broad, untargeted one.

So once again the conclusion, although deeply felt, is simply wrong. Building an online marketing strategy based upon it will put her firm at a competitive disadvantage. It will very likely cost her firm money in lost profit.

Unintended Consequences

Now my point is not to pick on this poor marketing director. I suspect that she has anxiety around trying something that she is unfamiliar with and may be concerned that the partners at her firm will not accept her recommendations. She may also be fearful that her online marketing strategy will fall short and she will be blamed for it.

While all of these concerns may be legitimate, they are having unintended consequences. Instead of dealing with them directly and working toward a solution, she has convinced herself that the research and experience of other accounting firms doesn’t apply to her situation.

Frozen in Place

The net effect is that she is frozen in place. Her firm is suffering from what could become a long term disadvantage and is forgoing significant growth and profitability. That is a pretty stiff price to pay.

We are all human and have our own fears and anxieties. The problem arises when we don’t recognize them or understand how they influence our behavior. This prevents us from evaluating promising new options and addressing our concerns directly.

It’s OK not to move ahead with new opportunities. Just don’t kid yourself about why.

If you would like to look into the data behind some of these conclusions, click here for a free download of Online Marketing for Professional Services.

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Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D. Who wears the boots in our office? That would be Lee, our managing partner, who suits up in a pair of cowboy boots every day and drives strategy and research for our clients. With a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, Lee is a former researcher and tenured professor at Virginia Tech, where he became a national authority on organizational behavior management and marketing. He left academia to start up and run three high-growth companies, including an $80 million runaway success story.

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