Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 9: The Role of Traditional Marketing Techniques

By Aaron Taylor

In previous issues in this series, I've described the components of a modern marketing program. It is grounded in research on your target audience and fueled by giving away (in exchange for an email address) useful educational content, building your firm's credibility and establishing trust. You stage the content on a high performance website, which allows you turn leads into customers. And you promote your content through search engine optimization, social media and email marketing. It's a proven system, and as many real-world professional services firms can attest, it really works.

But what about all those traditional marketing techniques you've been using all these years? They're still bringing in business. Are they chopped liver?

As a matter of fact, they are still very important. After all, professional services marketing is all about establishing trust — and face-to-face networking and personal referrals remain incredibly powerful ways to build a firm. In fact, our own research shows that firms with the highest growth rates devote anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of their marketing efforts to online marketing. That means (you guessed it) the other 40 to 60 percent is spent on tried-and-true techniques such as referrals, networking, sponsorships, trade shows, public relations and advertising.

Are there successful firms that have gone all digital with their marketing? Certainly. But we've found that this 40 to 60 percent sweet spot — a mix of modern and traditional techniques — produces the highest rates of growth. Which traditional techniques do we recommend? That's a tough question to answer because the effectiveness of specific marketing techniques vary by firm and industry.

For instance, many government contractors get excellent results from tradeshow marketing because that is where many federal agencies expect to meet potential partners. Tradeshows, however, are a much less efficient way to develop business in many other professional service industries.

So with that caveat in mind, here's my perspective on a few of the more popular traditional techniques still in play today.

Networking — Networking events can range from a dependable source of new business to a colossal waste of time. If you are a skilled, instantly likable networker who chooses your events carefully, networking events can be a gold mine. Many people, however, don't have such great results. Be sure to select events that will be attended by the sorts of people who might hire you. Often these are industry-specific gatherings. As you talk to people, try to uncover their business challenges, then offer helpful advice. That's how trusting relationships are built. And remember that networking is not always about making a sale. It can be about cultivating referral sources, too.

Direct Mail — Expensive and difficult to measure, direct mail has lost tremendous ground to email and social marketing. However, firms that like to zig when others zag may find that old-school direct mail gets more traction today simply because there is less junk competing with it in people's mailboxes. But well executed online marketing can be very effective, so experiment with direct mail lightly before committing wholeheartedly to it.

Print Advertising — People still read print magazines, journals and newspapers, so advertising still has its place. In the professional services, it is most effective for building brand awareness or positioning your firm in the marketplace, so don't expect great short-term results. Advertising can be extremely expensive, especially when you understand that an ad needs to run many times to be noticed and make an impression.

TV and Radio Advertising — Similar to the print advertising, TV and radio spots work best to build awareness. You'll need a big budget and plenty of patience to see a return on your investment. If you need to target a specific demographic, you can probably find a program or time slot that will reach your intended audience.

Public Relations — PR can take many different forms. If you simply want to place press releases on the wires, you can do so relatively easily. But if your goal is exposure in major publications, blogs or on TV, you'll need to plan for an extended campaign and enlist the guidance of an experienced PR pro.

Public Speaking — This is still a great way to establish credibility. When you stand up to speak in front of a crowd you position yourself as an expert. You can start with small local events and work your way up to national conferences as you build confidence and your reputation. The more you speak, the better your credentials look and the better known you become.

Writing a Book — Writing, and writing a book in particular, is one the very best ways to grow your personal reputation and, thanks to the halo effect, the reputation of your firm. It positions you as an expert and gives people a reason to hire you, invite you to speak and recommend you to potential buyers.

Sponsorships — Typically these are as much about building community relations as building business. Like advertising, they are a vehicle to promote the awareness of your brand. Since they are a passive medium, it is difficult to assess their value to marketing. We suggest that you pursue these if you have a specific social, humanitarian or business reason to do so. Otherwise, you may want to spend your money elsewhere.

Chances are you are using at least some of these techniques to solicit business today. But if you are like most firms, referrals from existing clients are the most valuable tool of all. So why not do yourself a favor and strive to be an outstanding partner and resource for your clients? This behavior encourages repeat business and promotes a continuous stream of warm prospects.

If you take an even a moderately successful traditional marketing program and enhance it with modern online marketing tools, you will have a formidable business development machine. Of course, you will have to make hard choices. Some of the old will have to go to make way for the new. But if you choose the best of the old and use analytics to discover what online techniques are delivering the best results, you can't help but grow.


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