Thursday, 8 December 2011

How to do it in 3D (Marketing that is...)

 by Tony Vidler.

Advisers typically are focusing their attention on next years marketing refinements about now.   Rightly so, as marketing is everything. The only thing that gets in front of marketing your business is the hand to hand combat of acquiring actual paying customers.

When talking about the issues with advisers it seems they often see marketing as being one of two quite different things - and neither are entirely right. It is either something "strategic" and broad and slightly fuzzy, that is about business branding, positioning, look and feel of a business - the what it looks like and stands for aspects.   The focus inevitably turns to having a clever logo and tagline.  Of course marketing is partly about that.  Alternatively they think of marketing in a much more narrow sense - oftentimes confusing advertising and sales tactics as BEING the entire marketing plan. A point that is often lost in the adviser thinking is that marketing and selling are quite different things, with quite different purpose and with quite different skillets required. 

So a quick recap:  at it's most simple level, Marketing is about creating the opportunity to sell. Sales is about converting the prospect (opportunity) into a customer.  Marketing is about how the battle is to be fought and deploying the right resources, in the right place, at the right time and in the right way to achieve the objectives.  Sales is hand to hand combat, and is where all the smoke and explosions and noise are.  To consider the entire marketing strategy then one has to step back from the cut & thrust of daily business.  

When it comes to marketing strategy for professional services firms it is usually considered in a single dimension. An enormous amount of time and effort is spent trying to differentiate the business and make it mean something in a prospective customers mind - but only in the context of making it look different to every other business promising the same thing.   Financial advisers make a lot of effort to try and look different to other financial advisers - whilst offering the same core value proposition, delivered the same way, to the same target market as their competitors.  The result is they are trying very hard to look different while trying to look exactly the same. (check out the postscript for an example of this!)

What if you thought about marketing professional services three-dimensionally though?

In the 3D marketing mindset there are the dimensions of breadth, height and depth.  Your marketing thinking should extend to all 3 dimensions, and consider strategically how to use all the dimensions.

Breadth to a large degree is about considering the stuff that consumers expect you to do.  It is about your expertise and range of services. For example, the consumer clearly expects the financial planner to be able to do financial planning, and all that involves. The insurance broker is expected to be able to broker a risk management solution. So on one level there is the element of simply having to position your business to meet the basic expectations of the consumer.  In this space there is still opportunity for your marketing to promote differentiation though while doing what is expected, and sought, by the customer. This is where having a strong Unique Selling Proposition (USP) can be effective, or where broadening the services and expertise that get delivered alongside the basic expectations can add value and enhance your brand. The thinking around breadth of offering is how to add on services & skills that are valuable to the customer that they didn't expect when first comparing the market.

Even if you do not extend services or have a USP that customers can place a value upon,  your marketing and brand can be enhanced by building upon your core services through continual improvement or refinement of expertise.  That is building upwards - doing the same things as everyone else, but being incrementally better at each piece of what you do. Being technically stronger, having (and showing) a greater understanding of particular market niches, providing better advice results than others in the same space, stronger/better professional standing, operating to higher standards voluntarily and so on are examples of building your brand and offer to higher levels, whilst still competing in the same broad offering that the competition do.   The basic offering is similar to competitors - still doing the financial plan or finding the right risk management solution - but having better expertise or solutions choices, or providing more consumer certainty and safety than competitors, and being able to demonstrate it.

The third aspect is not often considered as part of the marketing strategy, as it tends to get put into the "service" category. The depth of the customer experience is a vital element of the overall marketing strategy.   At one extreme there may be a business model where the customer relationship is utterly superficial and transactional (think of direct insurance sales online: nothing wrong with it but the business model clearly doesn't provide for or offer any real depth of customer experience).  At the other extreme is the adviser (I know of) who has roughly 170 high net worth clients around the world, with himself and 6 other people (together with outsourced experts) providing the highest level of personal service and personalized financial solutions possible to the chosen few. And their clients pay a lot for that personalized financial planning expertise.  The depth of the customer service and level of personalization are themselves competitive points of difference that are integral to their marketing strategy.

So when thinking through and revising the marketing plan for the next year (and beyond), think about doing it in 3D. Have a clear strategy that covers how you will be positioning yourself in the broader market, and how you will be able to differentiate in the first level of competitive choice. Then have a solution on how to build upon those base expectations in such a way that it provides higher value or greater safety for the consumer that they did not initially expect when first comparing their choices. The depth and quality of the customer experience when engaging you (not just the "after sales service") is a further critical element of the overall marketing strategy.

If you can combine all the elements into a 3D offering you will be able to create a "WOW" customer experience. And people pay more for, and stay longer with, superior performers who exceed their expectations.

(P.S. I thought I'd check out how imaginative professional service firms in New Zealand get with their naming &'s a snapshot. The number of companies using the following words in their name just in little old NZ:
Services - 43,155
Consultant - 18,710
Solutions - 10,953
Associate - 8,554
Financial - 3,450)

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