One of the things I look forward to each year is attending the Association for Accounting Marketing’s annual Summit. The Summit serves as a great way to gauge how accounting marketing is changing and adapting to a new world of opportunities and challenges.
This year was especially interesting. For the first time we were equipped with a new source of insight – a detailed benchmarking study of CPA firm marketing budgets.
In addition to the insights the study offered, it also stimulated many interesting conversations and new perspectives.
Accounting Marketing Today and Tomorrow
I’ve thought about what it all means for accountant marketers and their firms and boiled it down to a short list of key trends. Here goes…
- Content marketing is coming of age. Last year it was a new trend that was just getting rolling. A lot of the discussion was centered on ‘whether we should.’ This year it has clearly moved into the ‘how do we do it’ phase. We are implementing it. Now how do we make it work?
The most frequent concern is around how to generate the content. The one thing that is very clear is that simply asking practice leaders or subject matter experts to generate engaging content has not been yielding great results.
Another important development seems to be the increased need for new tools and techniques to managing the process and monitoring the impacts (more about that later).
An encouraging development is that this trend seems to be gaining acceptance and support among partners and staff. Why? It seems like anecdotal feedback from clients and prospects are key drivers.
- Niche marketing is finally taking root – sort of. After many years of data it seems that niche marketing strategies are gaining acceptance. The language is changing and more firms are focusing on distinct niches.
The ‘sort of’ qualifier is important, though.What many firms are doing is simply designating a long list of industry and service niches without putting in the required effort and focus to make them real.
This proliferation of ‘faux niches’ is limiting the effectiveness of the strategy. Hint: you shouldn’t have more niches than you have partners in your firm! Just renaming a service or an industry a niche doesn’t make it one.
If your potential client isn’t learning something from you that they don’t already know about their industry, then it’s probably not a real niche. Throwing up a web page and adding a contact name doesn’t translate into thought leadership.
- The race for talent is heating up. Demographics are destiny. With the continuing wave of retiring baby boomers and feeble numbers of new graduates, there is an increasing need for recruiting and training. A growing number of accounting marketers are getting pulled into the action.
What is the strategy of your ‘employee brand?’ How can promising talent be trained in the necessary ‘soft skills’ of business development and client retention? While some firms clearly place these responsibilities in the human resources function, there is plenty of action to go around.
Marketers are using Facebook to drive and communicate firm culture and developing recruiting campaigns. There also seems to be more and more impetus to add business development training to the mix.
There are also other forces at work to drive the integration of marketing and business development.
- Analytics and automation are gaining ground. As soon as you start to measure the impact of marketing you are compelled to examine the full business development cycle. As marketing automation tools become more essential to manage content marketing it also becomes easier to measure and analyze marketing and business development. (Remember, I said easier, not easy.)
Not too surprisingly, this is a long-term effort. But what has changed is that the marketing side of the equation can now be more effectively tracked. Tracking content downloads, social media activity and web analytics are becoming more and more routine.
As more accounting marketers are gaining more experience, the questions are becoming more sophisticated and the answers more compelling. Slowly, but surely, these results are driving the discussion.
- Traditional spending patterns are being challenged. With the release of the new AAM-Hinge Marketing Benchmarking Study, there is some new data to drive discussions among partners and marketers. Already there were stories of partners reacting to the results. Learning that some firms are growing faster while spending less on marketing is certainly an attention grabber.
Accounting firm partners are very used to working with benchmarking data. Now they have meaningful data on marketing budgets and results. While the immediate impact may not be large, the long-term impact could be very significant indeed.
Where does all of this leave us? I believe these developments move us down a road that naturally leads to a larger, more meaningful role for accounting marketing. It is shaping up as a very good year indeed.