Build your digital presence as a professional association by being a member resource as well as strategic with your marketing visibility. In this video for association marketing, Principal Dawn Wagenaar talks about four ways that professional association leaders and marketers can ramp up their outreach to existing and potential members.
It’s more important than ever to be visible to your audience online. Learn how.
Read the video transcript:
Association marketing is an exciting and challenging place to be, whether you are new to associations or a longtime leader.
The race to attract and retain members has ramped up. Many associations have also had significant leadership changes. The technology for marketing has also changed.
This presents an opportunity. And I want to introduce four ideas for you to consider in your association marketing.
The first is a digital ad campaign. You have to approach it a little bit differently compared to print ads, but digital ads can work really well for attracting members.
For example, consider a LinkedIn ad campaign where you offer a valuable article or white paper when they click your ad. You can capture emails when the downloadable content is really enticing.
The second idea is DIY toolkits. Send an email that introduces a valuable toolkit to prospective and current members. The toolkit should help them navigate a common need or issue in their industry.
Here are two other ideas that kind of link together. It’s about going virtual.
You can set up virtual coffee meetings with potential members, and send them a coffee card to sweeten the deal. Or, expand your reach from a traditional conference or tradeshow and optimize virtual events. Take questions prior to the event to ensure livelier engagement. Book virtual “rooms” for small group discussion.
These are just a few ways to get creative with your association marketing. Call me at Ingenuity if you have questions or need help.
See this related blog post about fostering brand loyalty. Don’t miss the link at the end!
Brand loyalty is up for grabs. It’s rare these days to do business with a client for a lifetime, but there are things you can do to inspire your clients to work with you for a long time. It is not enough to do everything right or to simply not make them want to leave. You need to take your communication and connection to the next level.
It probably goes without saying but providing the highest quality customer service and making your clients feel valued is one of the best things you can do to create brand loyalty. This is a great foundational start but now you want to see that loyalty expand to create a community of raving fans for your brand who refer others. Here are a few ways to help you do that.
Provide timely updates about changes that affect your clients and prospects. If you have a robust CRM, you can segment your contacts based on their industry or niches, their role in their organization and what you know they are interested in. You wouldn’t send a manufacturing tax update to a prospect in healthcare. By segmenting your lists to provide relevant information, you show your audience that you care about what interests them. This can make the information appear personalized to them and foster their loyalty to your brand.
Create opportunities for individual connection and make it personal. If you are keeping notes about your clients and top prospects, you likely know a few personal facts about them. Perhaps you know they just took a family vacation or that one of their children graduated from high school. Asking about these events during the beginning of a call or email is a great way to get the conversation going. You can then bridge into the business at hand, but remember to always show an interest in them personally.
Thank your clients for working with you. You may be thinking that this is an obvious one and, yes, most everyone is good at thanking their clients for their business around the holidays. However, when was the last time you sent a client a thank you card at a random time of the year or a gift card to a coffee shop? Perhaps they just got through a challenging audit or completed a coveted development project. Sending a gift when one is not expected is when you will stand out and, even more importantly, it will make them feel special. We aren’t saying you should forgo the holiday gifts but sending a thank you at an unexpected time will stand out.
Fostering brand loyalty is something that begins with a prospect and continues throughout the client relationship. Once someone becomes a client, it doesn’t mean the work ends. This is when the relationship can truly grow and thrive.
One word you might see a lot today regarding business culture and marketing is authenticity – defined as something or someone “entitled to acceptance as authoritative, genuine, true or correct.”
You may also hear a lot about the term personalization — defined as “to render personal rather than impersonal or purely professional, to make or alter so as to meet individual needs, inclinations or specifications.”
This is the preferred approach to service delivery. Be a professional who is authentic and who personalizes the experience for every client. Perhaps it always has been this way, which is why professionals are in a great position to deliver what today’s clients expect.
Here is the challenge: with limited time, how do you create that personal and authentic experience for every client — and, just as importantly, every potential client whom you haven’t met yet?
In reality, it’s a people challenge and a technology challenge.
Why Digital Marketing Matters
Qualified potential clients usually want to interact with your firm or organization online first. They will gather a sense of what your firm cares about and represents through your website, bios, social media profiles and your public relations. It’s not just about the messaging. It’s also about how easy they can navigate your site and find up-to-date social posts about issues they care about.
On social media, people respond much more frequently and positively to a post about someone winning an award or working a booth at a tradeshow (with a photo or video!) than they do to a news item or a link to the firm’s services.
Also, if your posts include real people, then real people will respond to it! See the difference in these two posts — one about a new employee and one linking to a blog post.
If your articles include real stories about how other clients navigated a common problem, then your key points will hit home much faster than if you simply state the problem and the solution.
For example, we were working with a client that wanted to reach out more personally to prospects, but didn’t have time to meet with each prospect in person right away. To get more responses, we suggested using the personal touch of “virtual coffee” by sending a coffee gift card by mail. The invitation to prospects — using their first name and personalizing the message — was much warmer than a generic email or postcard, and our client actually heard back from people!
In the same way, your firm’s online presence has to be deeply personal and rooted in what your firm is at its core. When prospects see consistent messages from your firm that reflect a set of values resonant through all levels of what you actually deliver, it builds trust and makes them want to work with you.
What are your values? It’s not services, quality and years of knowledge. Authenticity requires an emotional and human connection that builds trust. Have you looked at your firm’s values and brand loyalty lately? Maybe it’s time for a refresh.
Try these ideas as a way to personalize your firm’s values and experiences with clients and potential clients.
Explore your organization’s core values. As a different type of marketing exercise, come up with a list of cars, celebrities or songs that are distinctly a bad fit. Now talk about why they don’t fit your organization. In the negatives, you’ll learn a lot about who you really are and why you’re different from your competitors.
Repeat great client experiences. Use a great client as a composite profile of more clients you would like to attract. Identify why the relationship works so well. Interview them about ways that you have built trust and personalized the relationship. Practice those skills with prospects and other clients. Just asking these questions can build more trust with your clients.
Be human. Clients and prospects are looking for a way to connect. Take photos of fun times or “real” times with your team and share them. Celebrate new babies or anniversaries. Send a card if a client is sick. Stop the shop talk if you sense that your client needs someone to just listen.
This process of blending professional aspects of your business with personalization may not be easy at first. It requires being a bit vulnerable and less focused on the work sometimes. But in a service-based business, people care just as much about how you make them feel as they do about how you help them succeed.
There are three big reasons to create and use personas — and to update them. They focus your marketing, assist with prospecting and train your team on client service. All of these areas affect your brand positioning because potential clients or members need to quickly know that you understand them and can help them better than anyone.
1. Personas for Marketing
Effective marketing campaigns offer solutions for the potential buyer. Personas should include a description of your target buyer(s) that includes challenges, pains, goals and desires. These descriptions will help you focus your marketing messages on how your services bring solutions and support goals. By articulating how you best serve the buyer, you are differentiating your brand.
Whether you are writing blog posts, creating an ad campaign or writing website copy, personas will help you create content that fits the buyer. You will avoid the common problem of writing all about you instead of what buyers really want to know. Can you help them, and what should they do about their issue?
If you aren’t sure of your target buyer’s pains, interests or desires, interview your current clients or members and find out how you solve their problems and help them. It will clarify your brand positioning. You can include that feedback in your persona description!
2. Personas for Sales
When having sales conversations, one rule of thumb is to have the prospective buyer speak two-thirds of them and to actively listen to their answers. To get them talking, you need great questions. But don’t just ask any question. Ask a question related to your brand; convince them that you are the best choice.
A persona description will help you develop sales questions that relate to your target buyer to qualify them, but also to get them talking about what’s most important to them in a professional service relationship.
For example, if you solve the challenge of training, ask a sales question like, “How important is it to you that your [professional service relationship] supports a well-educated team at your company?” It’s likely that the right buyer will say that it’s very important, which gives you an opportunity to ask about types of education they seek, and then talk about your service offerings.
The persona description helps you prepare for these conversations with confidence and consistency.
3. Personas for Client Service
Once you attract a new client — or a new member in the case of associations — you can use your persona descriptions to address how to deliver great client service. The descriptions can be used to train your staff on client service expectations, how you solve problems and how you make a difference.
You can even create persona descriptions for referral sources and influencers. Help team members understand how to develop industry connections that can refer new opportunities to your firm or association. Everyone can take ownership of your brand positioning with the right knowledge. Personas are just one way to do this.
How to Make Testimonials Part of Your Marketing Strategy
Most professional service marketers have heard the old adage, “People buy with emotion and justify their decisions with logic.” And yet, many professionals who sell an intangible service don’t know which emotions they are provoking and why anyone buys from them.
Why do people buy from you?
Quality service emerges as a compelling reason why professionals believe their clients buy from them. Interestingly, we have discovered that what signifies quality to a practitioner and what signifies quality to clients are often two different things. Professionals tend to focus on professional designations and internal process as measures of quality. Clients tend to focus on timeliness, impact, proactive communication and relationships.
The way to find out why your clients buy from you is to ask them. One of the first things we do with any new client is to call up some of their customers and have a good chat. We ask why they chose you, what they would say about you to a friend, if they would refer you to others, what you are best at and how you can improve. We ask them if they have worked with other firms in your field and what those experiences were like. We ask them how long they have worked with your firm and if they have ever considered switching.
At the end we have a transcript of the conversation and some juicy sound or word bites you can use on your website or in proposals. This gives you the opportunity to clearly understand your value proposition (sales-speak for what makes you unique and why people should buy from you). Your value proposition tells you how your clients feel about you. The conversation with your clients also gives you a chance to address any issues before they consider leaving.
Testimonials not only explain your unique-ness to the world in an independent voice, but they also build your confidence by taking a minute to bask in all those wonderful compliments. Every professional, and every firm, needs such affirmation to help strengthen conviction in the brand and value proposition. It makes you understand why you go to work every day, too!
Practical Testimonial Writing
We have learned some best practices over the years, as well as a few things to avoid when undertaking a testimonial-gathering effort.
Here is our checklist for curating high-quality testimonials:
Consider using an outside party who is good at drawing people out. Your clients will tell you that you are “great” but “great” is hardly compelling sales copy. They will be more expressive with someone they do not know. Make sure your interviewer has done this before; it is an art to draw people out and get the language that persuades.
Tell your clients who will be calling them and why. A heads-up from you means they will be much more comfortable with the interviewer.
Always use the telephone or in-person interviews. If you ask folks to write a letter, the letter will almost always be stiff and formal. Again, that’s not compelling copy. When you interview them, you have the chance to craft the words. Clients appreciate word crafting as long as it’s still accurate to the tone of their experience.
Craft a variety of testimonial quotes for use in your promotional campaigns.
Send each quote you might ever consider using to the client and get approval. Make sure they know it may be used on your website, media releases, proposals and for a variety of promotional uses. A testimonial template is helpful in this process for written documentation of their approval.
Whenever possible, use the person’s full name, title, and company. “Pat Z. in Wisconsin” sounds like a late night, diet-aid commercial. “Patrick Zuber, President, HealthCore Company, Madison, Wisconsin” is more credible.
Keep a file of testimonial approvals for future reference as you develop marketing materials and campaigns.
Send a copy of brochures or newsletters where the quote is used to the client. Most people like seeing their name in print.
Read This Final Referral Tip
One huge advantage of a persuasive testimonial is something called the second person referral effect. Most people choose professional service providers from personal referral — in other words, a referral from someone they know and trust. A testimonial is from someone your prospect may not know. However, this stranger does know you and is willing to brag about the intangible — how it feels to buy from you — in print. While not as powerful as a personal referral, it carries more weight than you saying the same thing. Finally, if your brochure claims your service is wonderful, it probably sounds to readers like common advertising fluff. If a real person testifies in detail about how it feels to work with you, the resulting impact will be much more persuasive. Having a file full of testimonials will enhance the quality of all your promotional material. Of course, testimonials also help you understand just why people buy from you. Plus, these tales of loyalty will help you build confidence to go out there and tell your story.
Is your firm struggling in other markets? Does your brand awareness seem to fall flat in some markets but thrive in others? Dawn Wagenaar, principal at Ingenuity Marketing Group, shares four steps to take to align your brand strategy across multiple markets. Learn brand positioning best practices for your firm, how to assess your competition and where you may have some gaps in your current positioning. Implement these steps to better align your brand across multiple markets.
As your firm becomes known for a niche industry or service, you rise above the competition and are hired for that knowledge and your connections. The niche becomes part of your brand.
Niches can also attract and retain talented young professionals for the partner track.
For example, one of our accounting clients has built two-thirds of the firm’s practice in government consulting, a deep niche that is attracting non-CPAs with health care backgrounds as well as accountants. Another client focuses exclusively on pharmacies, and now has a national market. Yet another client has success with a large niche in buy here pay here auto dealerships that has contributed to double-digit firm revenue growth.
From these examples, it’s clear that niche development is going deeper than before, requiring a focused niche marketing strategy to stay visible to a narrower audience.
How to Deepen Your Niche Market
Which clients do you already serve in an industry? Can you grow a deeper niche for which you are better known than any competitor? Can the niche expand nationally?
You have to discern if the niche is sustainable as a growth industry, the level of competition and the potential to gain a significant portion of the market without being the lowest cost provider. Market research goes a long way toward defining your true niches.
If you don’t yet have a niche or if your firm is small, you can still develop a narrower niche within an industry. One professional services firm exploring new opportunities in manufacturing started to focus just on software developers because of the number of those firms in its region and the fact that no other comparable firms served them. It had a few clients and knowledgeable staff and was able to grow the niche through referrals and strategic marketing.
Create a Firm Within a Firm
Speaking of your niche team, select someone as the lead or spokesperson who has the respect of other partners and can facilitate niche objectives. Organize the team like a company within a company. Build in administrative and marketing support, job descriptions, a budget, and incentives for participation.
Ideally, you want a mix of established and new staff on the team to fuel ideas and momentum. Without this organization and commitment to growth, team members can be pulled in other directions — lacking time for focused business development and niche client services expansion.
Choose Your Messages
Work with the niche team to identify its value proposition. Why do you service the clients exceptionally well? Why is your experience important to their everyday business? Decide what sets your firm apart in this area and what values and expectations you want people to associate with your team.
Helpful hint: To support niche visibility, your online presence should look like the people and industry that you serve. Update your images and messaging to speak to their pains, interests and desires.
One of our clients recently asked us to develop team member bios that reflect their niche-specific experience. These bios can be used on the website as well as in proposals, presentations and speaking engagements to create more niche visibility and growth.Other firms develop partner-marketing events and send out industry briefs to inform niche clients and potential clients about their knowledge.
Remember that niche market development is not a rapid process. It can take years to establish your expertise. Make sure when identifying a deeper niche that it has internal champions with established industry connections and knowledge, a target market with growth potential, and synergy with your firm’s vision.
After working with professionals for many years, we’ve heard a lot of the same promises. Most firms claim to provide great service, technical excellence or expertise, high quality, and so on. Words like “service,” “excellence,” and “quality” have lost their meaning. You want to stand out from the firm down the street.
The branding process is a work in progress comprised of
What you say you are or aspire to
What your community knows about you
What your clients depend on
What your competition does not own
Our clients are focusing more and more on their brand positioning in the marketplace. When we create a set of themes to distinguish their firm from competitors, we start by listening to four audiences: the firm itself, clients AND prospects, the competition and the community at large. Addressing these four groups with brand research and objective interviews will lead to clarity about your firm’s competitive differentiators. The results may surprise you.
Brand Research and Client Messages
Sometimes the messages we hear from clients and from firm leadership are very different. For example, a CPA firm might focus internally on their knowledge and expertise in a niche industry, but this isn’t what their clients remember. For one firm we worked with, the firm’s most treasured niche client revealed that “I chose to work with Joe because he is always accessible, answers my calls promptly and clearly understands my financial situation. I know that, no matter how busy he is, I am his most important client.” As a result, we focused the firm’s new brand messaging not just on niche prowess, but also on responsiveness and paying attention to client details.
Client interviews should be conducted by an experienced brand consultant. This provides more objective and detailed feedback because the viewpoint is fresh. In addition, your best clients hold the key to discovering how to attract more clients of that caliber. Asking the right questions can bring out open and honest feedback, which helps you align your message with how your clients view you.
At this point you can also talk to prospects about what they’re looking for in a firm. You may know prospects who are willing to talk to you, or you can ask your brand consultant if they can locate prospects in your key industry to interview.
This phase ends with a list of all the feedback and messages about what your firm values internally, what your clients value and what prospects assume is your value in the market.
The second step in the brand positioning process is to conduct a competitive analysis. To do this, look at competitors’ websites, advertising and social media, as well as information that came up about competitors in the client/prospect interviews. You can also hire a secret shopper of your competitors to find out how they talk about themselves. Often when we’re researching competitors in an industry, we find that there are messages shared by multiple companies. For example, a recent competitive analysis found these messages flooding an industry: “agile,” “strategic,” “proactive.” Those phrases are from three different competing firms! Take these competitor messages and put them side-by-side with all the messages that came out of your firm leadership and client interviews. Eliminate any message that is already overused by competitors. This does not mean that you cannot use the phrase if there’s a value that’s strong for your firm. If you really do have exceptional customer service, come up with a new way to speak about the service you provide and how it thrills and delights your clients. Share some customer success stories to demonstrate this brand message.
Lastly, competitive differentiators show up in your community. Some firms are already known for a level of charitable participation, a landmark building, an outrageous personality or some other unique feature of their community involvement. If you’re working on your differentiation internally, you may already be aware of what your community knows about you. Is it consistent with the messages from clients and prospects and your leadership? Is there something new to add?
Using Brand Positioning
At the end of this process you should have a list of three to five elements that distinguish you from your competitors. State them as phrases that are easy to remember. The end goal isn’t to have some words that your people parrot out at networking events, but for each person to remember the core ideas that define the brand of your firm. For example, at Ingenuity one of our consultants might say, “We market people, not products,” while another might tell you, “I know that your ability to promote your knowledge directly impacts the growth of your firm.” These are two versions of the same idea – one is less personal but catchy and might be used as an introduction to a large group; the other version creates a personal connection. When you give people core ideas, they can customize these to fit the situation they’re in at the time. The same ideas can be represented on your website, in public relations and community participation and also in the ways your clients talk about you when giving referrals.
In an information-flooded world, the beauty of clearly stated key messages leads to consistent branding and client expectations. If you want to be positioned for growth, all of the people associated with your firm need those messages on the tips of their tongues.
The number one reason that clients leave a professional service firm is that they don’t feel valued, and therefore don’t perceive value from the relationship. Leah Spielman gives her tips and tricks for building a client relationship and keeping it strong even when you handle multiple accounts.
A big anniversary is approaching. The number doesn’t matter as much as the nagging feeling that you should do something to promote and celebrate it. The problem: how to prioritize business anniversary marketing in the midst of other important marketing work.
Some firms will let the opportunity pass by or maybe have a nice employee party and call it good. But they are missing the power of demonstrating longevity — particularly after the Recession when so many companies do not survive due to insolvency or an inability to adapt to rapid change.
A few years ago, a professor at Yale, Richard Foster, noted that the average life expectancy of companies in the S&P 500 has dropped to just 15 years.
Now do you feel like your anniversary is a big deal? It’s a great opportunity to reinforce brand loyalty.
You don’t have to plan your anniversary celebration alone. Many firms work with an outsourced marketing group to support both internal and external business anniversary marketing. There are so many ways to celebrate an anniversary, and it depends on your goals, audience and resources. Start with a plan.
Here are some tips to leverage your business anniversary:
Assign a team.
Ask why your anniversary is important. Come up with two or three reasons.
Discuss your unique firm story and how to tie it to your anniversary with key messages.
Create a list of potential activities to promote your anniversary to internal and external audiences. Anniversaries can be a great source of pride and engagement for employees, so don’t miss this piece of the plan.
Discuss how your anniversary can stand out visually: with a special logo or icon, a website history timeline, photos from the past and present, a video, special event invitations and advertising campaign.
Identify media or associations that will share the news of your anniversary. Use it to create an anniversary PR plan.
Plan and host a few small events or one big event, inviting clients and influencers to celebrate with you. Event planning, promotion and management are time-consuming and need their own team.
Consider a commemorative item to give as a gift to clients and referrals to thank them for supporting your longevity. You may also dedicate something for your office or building such as a piece of art.
Develop a timeline and identify champions to carry out the anniversary activities. An activity can happen each month or each quarter. Just make it consistent.
Use social media to share the results of your celebration as appropriate.
As you can see, business anniversary marketing has many details to consider. It helps to plan at least a year in advance of a pending anniversary. Larger firms should plan even further out to organize people, processes and also the budget.
After considering all of this, do you think you’ll need help planning your business anniversary? Get started by talking to us at Ingenuity. We’ve helped many firms celebrate a milestone by supporting planning, visuals, event development and more.