Digital marketing tools have brought marketing a long way since the days of placing a phone book ad, and nowhere is this progress more useful – and more underused – than in the marketing of professional services. “Professional services” refers to those companies and people who sell their time and expertise, as opposed to a tangible good. Industries include, among others, architecture, engineering, law, consulting, and finance.
6 Digital Marketing Challenges
Unlike companies selling tangible goods, there is usually nothing potential customers can see or touch. The deliverable may be clear and vivid in the provider’s mind, but abstract and amorphous in the client’s.
Lack of immediacy
Unlike software-as-service or other technology, there is usually not an immediate result. There is no “installation finished” or “conversion successful” pop-up that appears within moments of hiring, for example, an architect.
Professional service fees tend to be more expensive than what people are used to paying for daily items. The cost of legal representation or of architectural services can easily be the same as the cost of a car, and without, in the client’s mind, anything to show for it.
No comparison shopping
Professional service fees are generally within the sole control of the provider, based on whatever factors are relevant to that provider. Overhead, educational debt, insurance, and licensing expenses all factor into what, for example, a lawyer charges as an hourly fee. There is more pricing flexibility than with a fixed good, and it is all but impossible to conduct “apples to apples” comparisons. Customers are forced to evaluate a matrix of factors and prioritize those that are most important to them to make a choice. One service provider may be more expensive, but does the extra certification they hold justify the price? The lack of ability to compare service providers by a single factor (price, or location) can frustrate customers and cause them to feel that they are being duped in some way.
Lack of knowledge about the service
A prospective client about to remodel their home may not know exactly what an architect does, but they’ve been told by friends or a homeowners association that they need to hire one. This can lead to unrealistic expectations, resentment over fees, and the client’s feeling that he or she could do the same thing and as well as as the architect for free.
Lack of knowledge about provider professional and educational requirements
Prospective clients are often unaware of the education, experience, and licensing that are required of professional service providers. This, too, can lead to the “but I can do that myself” syndrome, failure to see the value in the service, and resentment about the fees charged.
To every digital challenge, there is a solution
Every challenge, though, can be minimized and even overcome with good digital marketing. Here’s how:
Data is your new best friend
Digital tools can measure who’s coming to your site, what they look at, what people are searching for online, where your best client prospects are located geographically, and even what kind of device they use to access the internet. This hard data, combined with reasonable inferences, can give you a very specific, and qualified, audience to market to. This saves you the time and expense of marketing to people who are not likely to be good clients, and, for regulated industries, it can also evidence your efforts to follow the applicable rules about advertising. Data will tell you who is in the market for your services and the best ways to reach those people.
Tell people what you do
Professional service providers tend to think what they do is obvious, because they live it day in and out. I’ve also heard professionals protest marketing because “if I have to explain what I do then that person won’t be a good client.” Would that every prospective client innately knew the value of your services, but the reality is that they don’t. Use your website and landing pages to spell out what you do, how the client will benefit, why you’re qualified, and how you’re different from other providers in your industry.
Tell people who you are
You’re selling people the experience of working with you. It’s important that their expectations of what that will be like are both informed and realistic. The best way to set these expectations in advance is through your marketing. Include a short bio and a picture on your website. Use the design and content of your marketing to subtly tell people about your working style. For example, if you aren’t a people person and would prefer to accomplish the job with as little human contact as possible (and assuming you can’t hire someone else to be the client contact), use colors, typefaces, and copy that suggest stoicism and distance. Focus your biography on your professional academic achievements. If, on the other hand, you are someone who is generally upbeat and loves working with people, consider using bright colors, mildly effusive and generous language, and details about your non-work self (your hobbies, your influences, your pets) in your marketing materials.
“Digital marketing” doesn’t have to be unseemly or undercut your professional status. When done correctly, it can help grow awareness of your business to qualified clients, increase revenues, and help you stay afloat in times of economic downturn.