Marketing strategy is one of the critical factors separating high-growth accounting firms from low-growth firms. But according to BKR International, a global public accounting association, it's not necessarily the amount of money firms spend that distinguishes winners from losers when it comes to marketing strategies. It's how they choose to invest their marketing dollars.
To compete, high-growth accounting firms do spend more money on average for in-house marketing staff, but their marketing budgets aren't much higher than those of low-growth firms. That's because high-growth firms are better at strategically investing and spending that money differently â and with better results, said BKR International Executive Director Maureen Schwartz.
BKR International recently looked at the winners and losers in accounting marketing tactics, forecasting what high-growth firms will pursue in 2016. Here are the three marketing tactics that BKR-member firms will likely spend more on next year.
1. Websites and SEO. According to the Acquity Group's annual State of B2B Procurement study, 94 percent of business buyers do some form of online research when buying services. High-growth accounting firms have mobile-friendly and modern-looking websites. They are using search engine optimization (SEO) to get prospects to their sites and are making updates to their webpages to keep them coming back.
Low-growth firms, by contrast, have not leveraged their websites to support sales or recruitment.
âShifting their focus to online marketing, they stumble on how to leverage the technology to draw in visitors and get them to take action,â Schwartz said. âIf they are producing content or posting on social media, their efforts can be wasted if they are not tracking it for a specific sales or recruitment goal.â
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BKR noted that high-growth accounting firms are also much more interested in analytics that show how traffic is getting to their websites and what visitors are doing once they get there to support lead generation and nurturing. Google âauthorityâ â that is, how much power Google is giving a website in search results and how to boost authority â should be a top concern for savvy marketers in 2016.
If you follow the Google analytics behind your website, you can tell, for example, the amount of time a visitor spent on a particular page.
âIf that page is set up based on a campaign, you can gather real numbers that show whether or not people took action on the content or offer that was sent to them,â said Delene Taylor, marketing director for Louisville, Kentucky-based DMLO CPAs and chair of BKR International's Marketing Practice Group. âHigh-growth firms are interested in those numbers because they plan their marketing around efforts that actually convert to clients, not just return on objective. Applying this mindset to recruitment also helps them keep pace with client growth.â
Similarly, Taylor said, firms can also see the URL addresses that sent visitors to their websites.
âA Twitter follower that regularly refers to your content could turn out to be one of your best referral sources, and you wouldn't know unless you were monitoring referring pages,â she added.
2. Content. Most accounting firms understand that adding content will help boost their visibility and credibility in the markets they want to serve. High-growth firms are taking content a step or two further.
These firms are varying the format of content on their websites and are making it ridiculously easy to share and engage that content. For example, UK-based firm Cassons has posted holiday greeting videos the past two years on its friendly, Pinterest-style home page. The videos continue to live on Cassons' website to promote the firm's culture. The firm's client stories are also visually interesting and easy to find.
Blogs â done well with key phrases and easy navigation to increase time on-site â are also supporting visibility and lead generation. Canton, Ohio-based Hall, Kistler & Co. LLP features different levels of staff authors in its blog, with a structure that encourages social media sharing, as well as easy links to the next blog post or a specific author's other blog posts.
Content effectiveness in 2016 will require a much more strategic focus on analytics so firms can understand which topics are attracting the most search activity (for recruitment and leads), then gearing new content toward those topics.
3. Networking in associations. Of course, your prospects aren't only online â they're active in narrowly focused associations.
âHigh-growth firms are definitely engaging in international association membership to increase their resources for clients across the globe and their access to peer-to-peer intelligence,â Schwartz said. âMarket exclusivity is critical to ensure that members feel comfortable sharing ideas and referrals.â
In addition, high-growth firms are being very selective about membership in industry associations to connect with prospective clients. They often pursue allied memberships in industry associations. On its website, the real-estate team of DMLO lists its real estate and construction association memberships alongside targeted articles of interest to the real-estate community.
Targeted, person-to-person networking will continue to be a vital strategy for high-growth firms that have researched clear niches.
âThe best niches are those that allow firms to offer multiple services,â said Jennifer Hughes, CPA, partner with DMLO and a BKR Americas board member.
On the flipside, here are the three marketing tactics firms are expected to spend less on in 2016, according to BKR.
1. Advertising. The average person receives 81 emails per day, 15 to 24 texts per day, and 12 to 15 pieces of mail per day. After receiving such a large amount of content, it's becoming less likely that a prospect will stop and read your firm's ad, or even find it, BKR officials say.
2. Sponsorships. High-growth accounting firms are being more selective with sponsorship opportunities. They consider important questions, such as: Is this event putting the firm in front of key decision-makers or referrals? Does this sponsorship elevate the goodwill of the firm or individuals at the firm? If the answer to these questions is no, the sponsorship isn't the right opportunity.
3. Noneducational events. Events that offer little or no educational value are getting less time and resources from high-growth firms for the simple reason that every marketing tactic needs to provide return on investment (ROI) beyond a nice gathering.
While client appreciation events are still important, they often include an interesting speaker or activity that builds the goodwill and credibility of the firm. Baltimore-based Gross Mendelsohn, for example, regularly participates in educational seminars and forums targeted to its prospective client base, promoting these events on its website and social media.
Jolene Colant, marketing director for Hall, Kistler & Co., suggests firms use the following strategies to capitalize on their educational events and secure the ROI they want:
- Regardless of the event format (online or in person), address an issue that you know is a challenge for your clients.
- Plan your content by keeping in mind what you are trying to sell the audience.
- Emphasize the benefits of solving the challenge and make sure to leave time for questions.
- Offer a bonus link, whitepaper, or additional information that gets them to your website.
- Track website visits to that page and follow up with warm sales calls to the attendee list. Do this for every event to increase your leads and conversion.
Due to the competitive nature of accounting worldwide, BKR members note that marketing budgets in 2016 will remain at similar levels. High-growth firms will focus on ROI-only marketing, throwing out any tactics that don't produce new relationships or clients.
However, a recent pulse survey of accounting marketers by BKR alliance member Ingenuity Marketing Group LLC found that only 8 percent of respondents planned to streamline their marketing strategy through ROI-only marketing. This means high-growth firms may continue to be an elite group, BKR officials say.