TEN MYTHS THAT IMPEDE MARKETING SUCCESS
What We Think We Really Know About Marketing -- But Dont
1. We know what business we're in
We're in the Accounting Business? The law business? The consulting business? No. Maybe in other times, but not now. In today's competitive climate, we're in the marketing business, and practicing accounting or law or consulting is what we do to serve our markets. And until we know these things about ourselves, we can't even think about marketing successfully.
2. What works for marketing products works for marketing professional services
There may be a thousand people behind the manufacture of a tube of toothpaste, but the interface between the manufacturer and the consumer is the tube of toothpaste. The interface between a professional firm and the client is the individual professional. And this is one of many reasons why marketing professional services must be done differently, in a great many ways, than marketing products. If you know the difference, then you can make marketing work for you.
3. The marketing director can do it
For a product, maybe, but not for a professional service, like accounting, law, or consulting. Nobody ever hired a consultant from an ad or a press release. People and companies hire accountants, lawyers, and consultants, not marketing programs. The marketing director can only do those myriad things that afford a professional the context and opportunity to sell to a prospective client. The professional who learns how to sell from the context of the marketing program is dynamite.
4. Marketing is selling
No, marketing is the total process that uses a broad spectrum of tools, all designed to bring the professional and the prospective client into a context in which the professional can do the selling. To understand the difference, and the nature of the tools of marketing, is to learn how to use the tools of marketing effectively, and to build a firm that competes successfully.
5. We need a brochure and a newsletter
We need a brochure only if we don't expect it to do our selling, and only if we consider it as just a small tool in a larger marketing program, and only if we can figure out a way to describe our firm so that it doesn't sound like every other firm, including the platitudes and the clichés. The same is true of a newsletter -- but add, "only if we really have something valuable to say to the readers." Used alone, without other kinds of marketing support, the brochure and the newsletter are nothing more than an ego salve for partners. The brochure that's used as one of many tools of marketing, and the newsletter that serves as a tool in a larger, more substantive program, are both effective and cost-effective.
6. PR is free advertising
No, it isn't. An ad is your space, to fill with whatever you want to say. The reader accepts or discounts the message, because he or she knows you paid for it. In public relations, we propose, but others -- the editors -- dispose. The advantage, though, is that when the public relations message gets through, it has the aura of the independence and the imprimatur of the publication. A newspaper story or an article that demonstrates your expertise in a specific subject can get the phone ringing off the hook.
7. Advertising brings 'em in
Advertising informs, and may even persuade. But only accountants, lawyers, or consultants bring clients into the fold. But advertising that informs and persuades, and is supported by other marketing activities, can add up to a really powerful marketing program.
8. Our budget for marketing should be a percentage of our sales
Budgeting for marketing as a percentage of sales only works for products. For a long list of complex reasons, it doesn't work that way for professional service firms. One reason is that the nature of professional service firm marketing is such that the return on the marketing investment is over a longer time frame, and responds to a larger number of factors. What does work is to budget by project or activity -- by specific objectives and realistic expectations.
9. Be nice to the press
Be nice to everybody. But you don't have to be nice to dishonest reporters, reporters with their own agendas, reporters whose integrity or ability is questionable, and reporters who will be unfair to you no matter how helpful and straightforward you are to them. (Fortunately, most reporters aren't like that.) Understand that life -- and the press -- aren't always fair. Offset unfair press coverage with increased press relations with the more impartial press outlets.
10. Quality is a good marketing tool
One of the definitions of professionalism is quality performance and service. It's a given. To promote quality as something special is to suggest that it might not normally be part of your practice. Not to supply quality work, however, is to self-destruct as a firm. You get no credit for doing it right -- nor should you (it's what you're paid for) -- you get hell for shabby work. Assume quality as a basic concept, because it pays off in client relations and repeat business.
11. Reputation sells
Reputation is a platform for marketing. But nobody embraces an entire professional firm by reputation alone, as one might buy any product because the quality of the product is known to be consistent. The only reputation that comes close to selling is a reputation for a specific capability. A firm with a reputation for integrity and skill in human resources work can't depend upon using that reputation to sell its risk management or actuarial abilities. Still, reputation isn't what's doing the selling -- it's simply a context against which to sell. Sustain your reputation, but don't reside in it as a competitive marketing tool.
There is also a myth that reputations outlast campaigns. Unfortunately, nothing is more fragile than a reputation, no matter how positive; no matter how entrenched. It's like a hoop. As long as you keep beating it with a stick, it keeps rolling. The minute you stop, the hoop falls down, and denies any distance it may have traveled. To sustain a reputation, you have to keep beating it with a hoop.
12. Close fast and early
That's O.K. when you're selling vacuum cleaners, when the vacuum cleaner stays and the seller goes. In selling professional services, you stay. Moreover, the greater the depth in the selling process, in terms of having both the buyer and the seller understand the real nature of the problem and the real nature of the solution, the greater the depth of the newly established client-consultant relationship.
13. Partnership is forever
Partnership and the collegial structure was great in the old, noncompetitive days. In today's competitive market, professional management is essential. The collegial partnership structure doesn't cut it anymore. That, plus such external factors as personal liability and the need for capital for growth, are rapidly destroying the validity and foundation of the old partnership structure. Don't look back -- look ahead.
14. Image matters
Only reality matters. Image may be the original marketing myth. Image implies that if you manipulate the symbols, then the perception of the firm will improve. The problem is that the perception of reality is almost invariably -- and ultimately -- reality itself. If you want to change the perception of your firm, then change your firm -- the perception will follow.
15. Marketing is a science
Marketing is an art. The art is to take the basic tools and techniques, and to use them artfully, imaginatively, innovatingly, to serve marketing objectives. There are rules, and there are no rules -- if bending the rules accomplishes the marketing objectives. Look at any successful ad, and see how it violates the rules of copywriting. The rules of marketing are predicated on a large body of experience. But that same experience tells us that, because marketing is ultimately an art form, rules can be thoughtfully and intelligently broken. That's what art is all about -- new frontiers.
17. You can't introduce new products (services) to a new market
This is textbook doggerel that's disproved consistently. New products -- and new services -- must be introduced to new markets more often than not. In fact, the greatest likelihood is that it's the new market that creates the demand for the new service, particularly in the new market-driven environment.
18. Planning doesn't concern marketing
Planning is marketing. What are you planning, except what your firm is going to do in terms of the markets it serves or wants to serve?
20. There are only ten myths that serve to impede effective marketing
Marketing, unfortunately, is one of those practices that look easy on the outside, like successful tightrope walking. To anyone who hasn't done it successfully, marketing is more comfortably seen by the myths than by the reality. In fact, marketing, particularly marketing professional services, is an art form, tempered by skills and training and technique and experience.