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How should a generalist accounting firm approach digital marketing?

How should a generalist accounting firm approach digital marketing?

By Jim Thompson

How should an accounting firm approach digital marketing? To answer that you need to first look at how an accountant should approach digital marketing.

Well, it’s not by casting a net into the sea and hoping you find something edible among the by-catch.

This is akin to trying to be found on the first page of Google under a search phrase for something like “Accountants Melbourne”, and hoping to attract a high-quality client from among the “mum and dad” tax returners.

Your website is probably designed to appeal to everyone and therefore generic in nature, fundamentally the same as everyone else’s but a different colour and left to the whim of subjective decision making.

You don’t want to be there, that’s a mug’s game.

So, how should you approach digital marketing?

The effectiveness of digital marketing is dependent upon your ability to be highly targeted to a specific audience, which is at odds with the typically broad client base of a generalist accounting firm.

So, in an effort to stay relevant to everyone and not irrelevant to anyone, most traditional marketing effort and thinking is based around broadly based brand messages that support a referral network.

The problem is further compounded by the internal administrative and political impracticality and associated high cost of any narrow positioning and targeting.

Before going further it’s important to understand that positioning is a fundamental principle underpinning digital marketing and can be viewed from 2 core perspectives;

At a whole of firm level

This means the whole firm is positioned around a particular area of expertise (i.e. Insolvency) and/or sector (i.e. Transport).

At a specific problem level

This means positioning yourself as experts in solving a particular type of problem for a particular type of client through demonstrable expertise (i.e. a particular financial model for running a freight business).

But what works best for a generalist accounting firm?

Typically, a generalist accounting firm organically positions itself around attracting and growing clients through the provision of integrated advice across multiple service lines and areas of expertise.

As discussed, making the switch to a narrow whole of firm-level position is not realistic for the larger firms for purely practical reasons, plus the existing legacy of “generalist” branding.

This then creates a problem, because undoubtedly when push comes to shove, the highest value clients are going to be attracted by your ability to differentiate your firm based on your expertise, not your brand messaging.

Don’t lament because this is where real digital marketing comes into its own and it doesn’t matter how big the firm is, because the ability to target in the digital environment is not dependent on firm size or firm position.

So how does this work in a practical sense?

The starting point is at the creation of digital game plan which has the following elements:

  1. Identifying a specific target audience with a problem that you can demonstrate expertise in solving.
  2. Methodology and tools to attract interest by identifying the problem to the target audience in a way that is compelling enough for them to sign on to a nurturing program.
  3. An educational based content marketing program designed to nurture your prospect through your marketing funnel to the point of conversion.
  4. Multiple conversion points and messages designed to move your lead from prospect to client.

A client won this way, as opposed to coming by referral, typically comes to you already sold, educated and not looking for competitive quotes or pitches.

If that sounds good the added sweetener is that today’s marketing automation platforms allow you to cost-effectively run several different game plans at the same time in a hands-off manner and every step of the process is highly measurable.

At the end of the day does it really matter how you attracted the client in the first place (i.e. from a specific problem) when you can still do the cross-sell after you’ve won them and not before?

To Summarise

Generic brand messaging is becoming less and less relevant (if it ever was) in the growing digital sea of noise particularly when your messages are fundamentally the same as everyone else’s anyway.

The capability for a generalist accounting firm to differentiate itself in this environment is not an option and things are not going to get any easier – have a look at the retail sector, it would be a fool to think that the accounting sector is immune to the same forces.

Now is the time for action, not complacency, because before you know it, the rest of the world may have passed you by and trying to catch up to a train that has already left is no easy task.

Take the opportunity to get a jump start now while the others are asleep at the wheel or too scared to act.

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