Specialization has long been an effective brand marketing strategy to command premium prices, generate more leads, and close sales. And it’s growing even more important with the ubiquity of online communication. The “smaller” the professional world becomes, the more likely buyers will go online to look for specialists.
In this environment, the advantages of specialization are more powerful than ever.
Is this the end of the generalist? Are the specialists going to eat the generalists’ lunch? For more perspective, we should consider the different kinds of specialization, including the advantages and disadvantages of each as a brand marketing strategy.
1) Industry specialization.
This is one of the most powerful types of specialization, for a very simple reason. Generally speaking, industries as a whole are likely to remain with us for some time. They will always have challenges and issues, even though those challenges may change. As long as an industry specialist invests the time and attention to stay up-to-date on the issues of the day, they won’t have to worry about becoming obsolete—unless the whole industry disappears.
Of course, it is possible for industries to disappear. (If you chose to specialize in serving video rental stores 15 years ago, you might be in trouble now.) But industries are typically more stable than other anchors for specialization; you just have to choose your industry strategically. Pick the right niche, and you can adapt continuously as issues change within your marketplace.
2) Service type specialization.
Another brand marketing strategy is to specialize in providing a certain type of service across various industries. Examples of this might include specialization in social media consulting, succession planning guidance, or strategic planning. As a provider, you leverage deep expertise in a highly specific service to assist a wide range of clients.
This kind of specialization works well when you’re providing or introducing a new service area that not many people are familiar with. It can provide fuel for tremendous early growth while establishing your credibility in a burgeoning market.
There is, however, a snag. While this specialization may offer great initial brand marketing opportunities, once competitors recognize the demand for your signature service, the market may swiftly become flooded—if it hasn’t already.
In the past, the advantages of specialization to a region have been significant: it has allowed providers to understand the unique needs of a particular client-base. Say, the idiosyncrasies of local regulation. Geographical specialization can sometimes afford you a close-knit network of clients and prospects.
This style of specialization works as long as there’s an actual advantage to being local. But in today’s marketplace, there’s a clear trend away from buyers seeking only local options for specialist providers.
Many of today’s business challenges are global challenges. It’s also easier than ever for top specialists to communicate with clients around the world. For these reasons, it’s clear that geographic specialty is becoming a less powerful brand marketing strategy.
4) Specialization in a certain role within organizations.
With this type of specialization, you focus on working with a given role (or set of roles) within clients’ organizations. This might mean you provide management consulting specifically for CEOs, or work exclusively with heads of human resources.
This strategy can position you to deliver extraordinary insight on the needs and challenges of a particular role, helping them frame problems in a way based on extensive and focused experience.
This approach may seem to constrain your firm’s audience, but it has considerable brand marketing advantages—and those constraints aren’t always as serious as they seem. If you pick a role that is relatively stable, you can really focus on the needs of professionals in those roles, even across industries, opening your business up to a wider variety of potential clients.
5) Specialization in certain types of problems.
Depending on what type of professional services you provide, you may specialize in a particular problem that you solve through a variety of services offerings. This specialization style lends itself well to content marketing and lead generation.
By creating educational content on the problems you solve, you can demonstrate your expertise and specialization while helping potential clients to frame those problems in a way that aligns with your services. What might these problems look like? They could include productivity improvement, cost reduction, and dealing with post-merger integration.
This brand marketing approach has the advantage of strong resonance between the problem you’re solving and your specialty, but the challenge is that you can only work with organizations that have this problem—and have identified it as an issue.
If you choose this specialty, you’ll have to continuously pursue new clients, because once you’ve solved the problem…well, you’ve solved the problem.
Have generalists had their day?
Generalists probably aren’t going to disappear any time soon. But it’s clear the advantages of specialization are various and powerful, and these advantages will continue to give firms a competitive edge as the professional services industry becomes more global. The key is to make an informed decision with a thorough understanding of each strategy’s particular brand marketing benefits and challenges.
By carefully choosing a focus, you can differentiate your firm from the pack while building real expertise and credibility in your niche. Choose an area of the marketplace to focus on, and own that area. The specialization is likely to serve you well moving forward.
- Learn more about how you can identify a specialization to turn your firm into a high-growth, high-value firm in the full-length book, Spiraling Up.
- How do you develop a robust marketing plan that covers all your bases? Learn the secrets with our free Marketing Planning Guide for Professional Services Firms.
- Uncover your firm’s true differentiators and give buyers a reason to pick you out of the crowd in Differentiation, Positioning & Messaging through Hinge University.
How Hinge Can Help:
Hinge is a global leader in helping professional services firms grow faster and become more profitable. Our research-based strategies are designed to be implemented. In fact, our groundbreaking Visible Firm® program combines strategy, implementation, training and more.