As 2014 draws to a close, I look back at the most important lessons Hinge has learned about professional services marketing during the past year in order to guide you on how to best use marketing to increase your firm’s visibility, growth, and profitability in 2015. 

1) Becoming or Developing a Visible Expert Positively Impacts Your Brand, Growth, and Profit

According to our research on Visible Experts — professionals with high visibility and a reputation of expertise in their industry niche — having such a person within your firm can build your brand and enable your firm to grow faster and be more profitable. 

For instance, Visible Experts at the highest level can have billing rates 13x higher than average professionals.

Hourly rates firms will pay for Visible Experts

Through our interviews with 128 Visible Experts and survey of 1,028 buyers of professional services, we discovered:

One example of a Visible Expert is Joe Pulizzi. As the creator of The Content Marketing Institute, he attributes his success to finding a niche and distinguishing himself. Now, his company is not only able to exist, but excel. In addition to an increase in leads and partnership opportunities, Pulizzi was able to increase his billing rates by 1000% over the last three years.

2) Strong Brand Differentiation Leads to High Growth

Your professional services brand is the combined product of your reputation and visibility (reputation x visibility). So brand differentiation means just what it sounds like: making your firm’s brand different.

There are some folks who say that brand differentiation doesn’t really matter. After all, most firms within the same industry offer pretty much the same services anyway, right?

Not so fast. In our research on high growth, high value professional services firms, we found that high growth firms were almost 3x more likely to have a strong differentiator.

We explored 21 distinct approaches to differentiation that work for many professional services firms and discovered 5 steps to find and own your firm’s differentiators.

3) Firms that Generate Leads Online Grow Faster and are More Profitable

According to our research on the effect online marketing has on professional services firms, firms that generate at least 40% of their leads online grow 4x faster. And firms that generate at least 60% of their leads online are twice as profitable. 

Firm Growth and Online Lead Generation Profitability and Online Lead Generation

This year we discovered:

4) Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the Most Effective Tool for Online Lead Generation

Search engine optimization (SEO) lies at the heart of online marketing. In fact, research has shown that SEO is the single most effective tool for online lead generation.

Effectiveness rating: high growth vs. average growth firms

If you want valuable prospects to find your firm online, you need to understand how search engines work, such as:

5) Content Marketing is the Backbone of Successful Online Marketing

professional services visible expert thought leadership marketing bookWhen it comes to lead generation, not only is content marketing less expensive than traditional outbound marketing, it also works. Thanks to content marketing, your firm will:

  • Demonstrate its expertise to both prospects and competitors
  • Get found more easily on search engines
  • Qualify and nurture more leads
  • Become more transparent and relatable to clients and followers
  • Save time, because your content is always working even when you aren’t

Developing a strategy is the best way to keep your content creation on track and organized. Determine your topics alongside an editorial calendar to make sure you’re always prepared with fresh, new content. Creating content in conjunction with specific lead nurturing campaigns can also work wonders on your conversion numbers.

6) LinkedIn is the Most Effective Social Media Channel for Online Lead Generation

According to our research on how professional services buyers evaluate providers, prospective clients use social media to “check out” providers more often than they consult references. As shown in the chart above, LinkedIn was found to be the most effective social media channel for online lead generation for high growth firms when compared to Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

With over 329 million members belonging to its network, LinkedIn has many options for marketing and business development, including connecting with valuable contacts and demonstrating your individual professional background and experience as well as that of your firm. In 2014 we discovered how to develop and execute creating an effective LinkedIn strategy for you and your professional services firm, including:

7) Cultivating Media and Partner Relationships Leads to Increased Visibility and Website Traffic

Establishing and expanding relationships involves taking advantage of the already existing audiences of relevant publications, blogs and partners in your industry. By pitching and writing compelling and educational articles for media sources that have a similar target audience to yours, you can gain visibility and drive more traffic back to your website.

Similarly, partnering with prominent firms allows your firm to leverage their relationships to build more traction online. By demonstrating support for one another publically, you can reach each other’s target audiences at the same time. Consider hosting an event together, conducting a research project or sharing content to each other’s audiences.

8) Email Marketing Can Be Highly Effective, But There Are Many Traps To Avoid

Email marketing is one of the most sophisticated tools in the online marketing toolbelt. When used effectively, email can form the backbone of a successful online marketing campaign, generating and qualifying inbound leads while maintaining an ongoing (and measurable) line of communication with your audiences.

SEE ALSO: 10 Email Marketing Tips for Tech Firms

Unfortunately, many professional services marketers aren’t making the most of email, treating it like a simple direct mail campaign that just happens to be digital. Some are even actively undermining themselves, using poorly conceived strategies that alienate their audiences with off-target messages.

This year we provided you with a guide to taking full advantage of everything email marketing has to offer – without falling into the same traps that many service providers do, including:

9) Measurement of Online Marketing ROI is Possible with the Right Metrics and Tools

Many professional services firms often ask “what is the return on investment for my marketing expenditures?” However, the ROI for traditional marketing investments is notoriously difficult to measure.

In contrast, online marketing offers opportunities to track ROI as well as prospect interaction and engagement down to individual clicks and page views thanks to tools like marketing automation software, Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, and social media monitoring software.

What marketing lessons have you learned in 2014? What will you do differently in 2015 based on your new knowledge? Share your thoughts by commenting below.

Check out The Visible Expert book to learn about our latest research on the benefits that industry stars bring to their firms and how to become or develop one.

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