From September to November, 2018, Two Shape surveyed leading businesses in the professional services sector with the aim to uncover their prevailing marketing practices and challenges. We coupled the findings with a literature review of best growth marketing practices and emerging trends from around the world. From the insights mined, we develop a growth marketing model designed to help professional services providers distinguish themselves from the competition. Above all is to ensure they do not slide down the slippery slope of price and service competition.
The objectives of the survey were three-fold:
- Identify the application of social and digital media marketing in the sector
- Identify the growth marketing challenges businesses in the sector experience
- Recommend a growth marketing strategy built on Value Innovation
What did we find?
1. Referrals still dominate business development
9 in 10 businesses rely on referrals and networking as a source of business. Relationships, reputation and goodwill dominate the landscape. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these, but they cap the business’ potential growth. With the incidence of online sourced businesses hugely small, it can be hypothesised social and digital media marketing’s contribution to business growth has not been fully exploited.
2. Time and resources continue to hinder progress
Time is the most often cited marketing challenge. It’s time to plan and do it well. Almost 2 in 5 feel time is an impediment. In addition, 2 in 5 business owners / partners / CEOs of SMEs undertake this task themselves. Add to this, over 1 in 2 assign it to employee(s) who have other non-marketing responsibilities in the business. With other tasks and responsibilities and a lower importance, it will be difficult to develop effective marketing.
3. Value innovation needs to be at the forefront
Most companies focus on matching and beating their rivals. As a result, their strategies tend to take on similar dimensions. What ensues is head-to-head competition based largely on incremental improvements in cost, quality, or both. The professional services industry is highly competitive – small areas of differentiation will not set you apart. There needs to be a shift in focus to value innovation.
4. Thought leadership & developing influence will set you apart
Establishing Thought Leadership is more than just differentiation. It is to establish your business as the only choice, provided the value innovation will make a positive impact on the lives of your target audience. Businesses who think deeply about the value they provide to the customer and methodically share value will continue to win.
The future looks bright for the professional services sector. Growth is coming at a time when artificial intelligence, the millennial generation and transnational outsourcing dominate boardroom conversations.
Value Innovation – what it is not
“Most companies focus on matching and beating their rivals. As a result, their strategies tend to take on similar dimensions. What ensues is head-to-head competition based largely on incremental improvements in cost, quality, or both.”
– Harvard Business Review, Value Innovation: The Strategic Logic of High Growth, W.Chan Kim & Renee Mauborgnee, July-August 2004
As one can conclude from the above, a non-value innovation can be costly with little, or no guarantee of return. But more importantly, it may not take the business to its North Star.
What is Value Innovation then?
“path to value innovation requires a different competitive mind-set and a systematic way of looking for opportunities. Instead of searching within the conventional boundaries of industry competition, managers can look methodically across those boundaries to find unoccupied territory that represents real value innovation.”
Cross pollination of ideas is a centrepiece of Value Innovation. It adopts and adapts the best practices of different industries. Add technology into the mix, and a digital transformation is in the works.
Is this feasible in the professional services sector? Until XERO came along, it was difficult to see the demise of bookkeepers. But they are far and few in between now. In the legal industry, artificial intelligence and machine learning are inching into the chambers. And in the finance industry, venture capitalists are using artificial intelligence to spot promising startups in Europe.
“A London-based venture capital firm that uses artificial intelligence to find promising start-ups across Europe said on Tuesday it had raised 53 million euros (£46.6 million) for its biggest fund to date.”
– Channel News Asia, Venture capital firm uses AI to seek out start-ups across Europe, 12 February 2019.
Making a positive impact in the lives of the target audience is a strategic imperative of Growth Marketing. Looking for the breakthrough from existing boundaries may not throw new light.
In 1996, Bill gates wrote “Content is King.” How precise he was. From the novice to the expert social and digital marketer, this advice sits right at the top of the recommended marketing things to do.
However, what most of them miss is this “Who or what is the Kingdom?” Your content has to be king of a kingdom, ideally, one you have created (see above What is Value Innovation).
“Marketing specifically for lead generation, lead conversion and brand awareness are each important and play different roles in fulfilling business goals. In the end, in my opinion, thought leadership is the most powerful type of content marketing at every stage of your brand’s growth.”
– FORBES, How To Make Thought Leadership The Best Part Of Your Marketing Strategy, Megan Groves, 31 May 2018
Establishing Thought Leadership is more than just differentiation. It is to establish your business as the only choice, provided the value innovation will make a positive impact on the lives of your target audience.
XERO made every business a bookkeeper, and possibly accountant. Spreadsheets and shoe boxes were intimidating to some in the past. Not now! There are no longer spread sheets or shoe boxes to deal with in tracking the books. XERO is not about good accounting; it is about running good businesses. It is more than just a cloud-based accounting tool. XERO has digitally transformed how businesses scrutinise their financial state of health. That’s digital transformation. Technology was just an enabler to get it done.
Sphere of Influence
Content for content sake is undermining the potential of social and digital media marketing. Contextualise and content to establish your sphere of influence is vital.
It is not difficult to piece a string of blogs, articles, White Paper or eBook. With Fivver, Freelancer and Upwork, you can populate your online presence with them. It’s a not-to-be-thought-twice effort if you have set aside a marketing budget.
Like all else in Growth Marketing, establishing your Sphere of Influence is a strategic decision. Think of it as spreading your ideology on a subject matter. It has to be: