One of the curses of marketing is that so much of it is bounded by what was done yesterday. Never mind that todays circumstances are different than were yesterdays. The people are different, the problems are different, the needs of the audiences and markets are different. We wonder then why what worked yesterday, or what was done according to that article we just read, should have worked as well today, but simply didnt. What went wrong?
Except for the one thing thats at the core of everything in marketing understanding the target audience and its needs the answer is different for each marketing activity. Lets look at some of them.
All that money and time and manpower spent, and nothing happened. All of it by the book, too, and all of it using plans and devices and gimmicks that worked for other people and no impact on the market. Possible reasons why
· The plan started with what you have to offer, and not with an analysis of the market. Its the Melancholy Baby Syndrome -- the piano player wholl play anything you want to hear so long as its Melancholy Baby. Marketing works when you base the plan on four points
o Know your market. Who are they and what do they want and need? This is the most important facet of marketing and the one thats most often ignored.
o Know your service. Not just the fact that youre a lawyer or an accountant, but what you have to offer in terms of the needs of the prospective clients. Dont be like the storekeeper who says, I bought a load of this purple cloth, and thats what Im going to sell you, whether you need it or not.
o Know your tools. The tools of marketing the devices we use to market are finite. In the past two or three decades, only two new ones have been added for professionals telemarketing and the Internet. The other tools, such as advertising and publicity and direct marketing, existed before, and are now simply adapted by the modern firm. And everybody has the same tools in the arsenal. Youve got to know what each one does, and how each contributes to the whole, and which ones are best to use for your particular outreach for your service to your prospective clients. Its not the same for everybody, and each must be added to the mix thoughtfully, not just automatically because thats the way its always been done. When everybody has the same message, and the same tools, you compete successfully by choosing the right tools, and then using them more artfully than your competitors do.
o Manage your tools. There is no such thing as spontaneous marketing. Somebody has to make it happen. Somebody has to do it. Unfortunately, in professional services marketing, the professional marketer can only do part of it. Ultimately, the professional who performs the service is going to have to participate in the sale. Marketing professional services is different from marketing a product. Nobody hires a lawyer or accountant from an ad or a press release or a brochure. The sale must be made by the people who are going to perform the service.
· Professionals tend to forget what business theyre in. Peter Drucker, the noted consultant and business philosopher, pointed out that the purpose of any business and the professions are certainly businesses is to get a customer. Few professional firms seem to know what most successful corporations know -- their purpose is to get a client. The professional practice is how we serve that client. The professional firms that understand this thrive.
· There is rarely such a thing as the big splash. The Edge Groups Gerry Riskin makes the point that the difference between the leading firm and the one behind is a small increment. Find or make that incremental difference, and hammer that.
· Know that since 1977 and the Bates decision that first enabled professional firm marketing, the world has changed, and keeps changing. The clients are different, the practice is different. The effects upon the professions of competition, since 1977, has created a whole new climate of practice. The firms that understand this are the ones who have survived and thrived. This is not your fathers profession anymore. Its yours.
· While the events of September 11 made an impact of magnitude, the fact is that its major sustaining effect on the professions was to slightly accelerate the trends that started long before the events of that tragic date. As the great philosopher Satchel Paige put it, Dont look back. Something may be gaining on you. The future of the professions is ahead, not behind.
Less than a decade ago, the managing partner of one of the leading Big Eight accounting firms, said that his firm would advertise only over my dead body. That same firm, only a few years later, and even before its merger with another Big Eight Firm was spending millions on advertising. Some of it was marketing groping Lets throw it to the ceiling and see what sticks. The problem is, how do you advertise competitively when you cant say, We do better audits? Or We write better briefs? But as the firms got the hang of it, some of the advertising campaigns were great. What made the difference?
· The successful firms began to understand the difference between focusing on a single service to a single market, and what we call institutional advertising. Institutional advertising says, Law firms are good for you and ours is a great law firm. Single service advertising recognizes that the nature of professional services is that most prospective clients generally cant tell the difference between one firm and another. But when a firm says, Our rate of successful real estate closings for major institutional lenders has propelled us to leadership in the field, and advertises it to institutional lenders, then the target gets hit with meaning and impact.
· They did market research. They know their audience, and what their audience needed. Then they recast their services to address the needs of that audience.
· They didnt rely on just advertising, which became one tool of many in their arsenal.
· They understood positioning, one of the most important (and misunderstood) concepts in marketing. Positioning is not as simple as it looks, but its not mystical, either. It means working very hard to understand the prospective target audiences needs, demonstrating that you understand those needs, and focusing you message on showing that you understand and can meet those needs. The difficult fact is that no professional firms can successfully be all things to all businesses. Positioning is the technique of focusing and honing your message to a pin point precision. In successful positioning, lasers work; baseball bats dont.
· The didnt get hung up on fads, like branding. By focusing, their prospects and target audiences learned who they were and what they could do. Law firms and accounting firms aint Wheaties, and dont get talked into thinking otherwise. And dont confuse name recognition and reputation as branding. Three different things, and not to know the difference can cost a lot of time and money with little to show for it.
· They, and the agencies that worked for them, knew how to write ads that work that achieved the ads objectives. They knew that a good ad campaign starts with a theme that focuses on the perspective clients problems or opportunities. They understood positioning. They know how to write headlines that are not only catchy, but relevant, and stem from the position. They write copy thats not only easy to read, but that fulfills the promise of the headline.
· They used professionals. Advertising in fact, most of marketing is like tight rope walking. It looks simple when professionals do it well. Amateurs need a net, because they most frequently dont always know how to do it. Somebody once said that if youre a lawyer or an accountant youre smart enough to write your own ads. True. Youre also smart enough to learn nuclear physics. But being that smart doesnt make you a nuclear physicist.
Theres a lot more. For example
Publicity, the communications part of public relations (which is an entirely different thing), is one of the earliest devices used by professional firms. We were doing it for accounting firms and law firms well before Bates. And like everything else in the professions, it too has changed. Not better, but changed. It used to be all press releases and buttering up editors. Still is, but to a sharply diminished degree. Richard Levick, who runs what may well be the best public relations firm serving the legal profession, says that his firm rarely uses press releases. (Click here to see his article)
Publicity, in fact, is no longer simply a matter of getting your name in the paper, as it was in the days of the infamous Walter Winchell and the gossip columnists. If your publicist doesnt know the difference, you can find yourself seriously messed up.
· Publicity has to be about something. It has to report news. Not just something you want to see in print (or in any other medium), but something that persuades the gatekeeper of the medium the editor, producer, or publisher that the news is genuine and valuable to the readers. Publicity, then, doesnt begin with the press release, it begins with the news.
· News cant misrepresent the acoustics of the marketplace are too good, and falseness or shallowness will soon be found out. Publicity can clarify and present reality, if sufficient skill is used. Skill without integrity, by the way, rebounds badly. Its the acoustics again.
· Image is a myth. It implies that if you dont like reality, you can manipulate symbols to change the perception of reality. Its not so. As the old saying goes, What you are speaks so loudly I cant hear what you say you are. If you dont like the way youre perceived, change the reality, and the perception will follow quickly.
· Even journalism has changed, which means that the long standing practices of public relations may include a lot of obsolete things. The fabled four Ws that were supposed to be in every lead paragraph (who, what, when and where) went out even before dress down Fridays came in. Just read the front page of a newspaper like The New York Times or The Washington Post, and see for yourself. And remember, every publicity presentation competes against every staff journalists story for the same space or air time (or Internet time, now), so the presentation had better be good professional journalism, not merely good professional public relations. The motto, remember, is the publicist proposes, but the editor disposes. (This, by the way, is why publicity is not free advertising.)
· Publicity doesnt work when you confuse a press release with an ad. A press release is a news story, and should be written in a style that would fit comfortably on the front page of The New York Times, no matter what paper the release is going to. Remember, youre competing against the mediums staff -- not other publicists for limited space or air time.
· News cant be manufactured, but news making activities can. Newsworthy stories cant be manufactured out of whole cloth, but the newsworthiness in a story can be focused and highlighted and presented clearly.
· In the past few decades, print media has been joined by broadcast media, and now internet media. The journalistic styles are different, as are the techniques of dealing with journalists. Long gone are the days of the roll of nickels and the phone book and the Rolodex. Now are the days of media as a target audience, and new ways to deliver news. What was once as unacceptable as smoking in a public place is today, is now as acceptable as going to the opera in a turtleneck shirt. Ah, me.
· Publicity and public relations go wrong when the publicist loses sight of its role in a total marketing program, and the need to focus on the client , and not the firm. In publicity, as in all marketing, think you, not we. Think in terms of the mediums needs, not yours.
Okay, this is a start. In future weeks well expand this to include newsletters; responses to RFPs; direct mail; brochures; presentations; internal communications; strategic planning; selling; and networking.