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How to future-proof your firm’s marketing

Discover the 5 keys to helping your firm stand apart from the competition.
By Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D.

At this year’s AICPA ENGAGE conference, AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon noted that futurists have predicted an “almost incomprehensible” increase in the pace of change and technological development. These changes, he said, are going to force the accounting profession to adapt if it is to succeed and grow.

Even the way buyers find and select accounting services is evolving as more and more companies look online for reputable firms. Today, business professionals are just as likely to turn to Google for accounting information and services as they are to use it to find a new restaurant. In fact, research has revealed that high-growth firms tend to generate a much higher percentage of their leads online than firms with average growth.

The potential impact on your accounting marketing plan and your firm is clear: If your marketing strategy doesn’t involve newer techniques such as online search, marketing automation, and social media, it needs to. And quickly.

So what does future-focused marketing look like?

The 5 keys to future-proofing

To future-proof your marketing, you need to hold five core values:

A focus on expertise,

A balanced approach,

An eye on talent acquisition,

A thirst for data, and

Flexibility in the face of change.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

A focus on expertise

One of the top criteria companies look for when choosing an accounting firm is expertise. In fact, three-quarters of accounting services buyers say that a candidate firm’s expertise was what tipped the scale during the selection process.

Of course, it’s not enough to have expertise alone. Expertise itself is invisible. The key is to make it highly visible so that prospective clients know about you even before they need to hire a CPA.

How do you promote your expertise? A proven approach leverages a resource you have already: your professionals. Here’s how it works. Help one or more of your most experienced experts to raise their public profile—encourage them to speak in front of your target audiences, write articles, put on webinars, and blog frequently. They should focus on educating your audience and share their expertise freely. Over time, they will build a sizable, loyal following, some of whom will seek out your firm when they are ready to buy. High-visibility experts like these come with a bonus: They typically command higher than average fees.

To support these efforts, you’ll need a number of skill sets: content development, search engine optimization (SEO), graphic design, social media, and publication and speaker outreach. Each of these skills addresses a critical aspect of online marketing, continually expanding your firm’s visibility and building critical credibility in the minds of buyers at every stage of the business development funnel.

A balanced approach

Savvy accounting marketers realize that the best performing firms are using a combination of online and offline techniques to deliver consistent growth. Strategic networking and public speaking are just as important as SEO and blogging. But what ties it all together is great educational content. Content marketing is the most effective platform to drive thought leadership and visibility. Your marketing team should be driving a diversified content marketing program that touches prospects everywhere they are—online and offline.

An eye on talent acquisition

At the ENGAGE conference, Melancon and Kimberly Ellison-Taylor, chairman of the AICPA board of directors, identified staffing as a top challenge at accounting firms of all sizes. They explained that the profession needs to change how it recruits and retains employees to achieve optimal staffing levels.

Finding good people is no longer the purview of human resources alone. After all, prospective employees are as interested in a firm’s reputation as anyone else. And promoting a firm’s reputation begins with marketing.

Your firm needs to develop compelling recruiting materials, starting with the Careers section of its website. Firms that want to attract and retain talented people will also look to marketing and HR to build a compelling employer brand—a mélange of culture, policies, and messaging that keeps employees engaged and intrigues prospective hires.

A thirst for data

Marketing is more measurable than ever, so modern marketers need to be adept at collecting and using data. From SEO to email marketing to web analytics, you should be trying to squeeze more performance from your tools. And with a marketplace that is always in flux, you need to monitor the psychographics of their audiences, too. In fact, there is a clear correlation between firms that research their target audience and high growth.

Flexibility in the face of change

Alas, nobody can predict for sure what the market will look like tomorrow. Or what amazing new tools will transform the marketer’s craft. So one of the most important—but least tangible—skills a future-proofed marketer needs is the aptitude to adapt to a changing world. It’s remarkably easy to succumb to complacency and assume that the tactics that built your business in the past will continue to work in the future. How many of today’s CPA practices are still being built on the golf course? Not so many.

Today’s accounting profession is undergoing a profound transformation, and to adapt many firms need to rethink the way they market themselves. Forward-looking CPA marketers understand what clients are buying—expertise—and they are retooling their marketing strategy and skill set to accommodate the way modern buyers find, vet, and select their firms—today and into the future.

Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D., is managing partner of professional services firm Hinge. To comment on this article, email senior editor Courtney Vien.

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