Everybody's Doing It (Content Marketing, That Is)
By Jason Mlicki
It's probably the hottest topic sweeping marketing these days -- in fact, according to Google, global searches about content marketing grew a whooping 133% last year alone. Content Marketing Associations have sprung up in the U.K., U.S., Russia and Poland. Regional, national and international conferences have spread at a mind blowing pace.
And, the majority of accounting firm marketers are getting in on the act. In fact, last summer, we analyzed the websites of 20 middle market accounting firms as part of a broader website benchmarking study and every single one had made major investments in the development and distribution of high value content. Many firms had invested in dedicated industry channels, multiple topical blogs and even large scale research initiatives. But, here's the thing -- all the firms we studied were based in the U.S.
Accounting Marketing: The Transatlantic Content Rift
From my conversations with Patrick over the past 12 months and from reading some of the articles on this site, I get the sense that content marketing isn't sweeping aross the U.K. accounting sector quite as quickly as here in the U.S. In fact, the first time we talked, Patrick described a meeting he'd had with a firm just that day where the principal looked at him and said, "that would never work at our firm." So, my question is why? Why are U.S. based firms jumping head over heels into this strategy whilst their U.K. counterparts remain a bit more reserved?
What's All The Fuss About Anyway?
The idea behind content-driven marketing is to combine the reach of the Internet with its microscopic searchability to share and distribute helpful, educational content that attracts clients to your firm. These combined forces have collapsed the typical geographic footprint of any professional service -- creating the potential to open up new markets and new clients no matter where they are in the country, or even in the world. Some firms have yielded terrific outcomes from this strategy. In fact, one firm in our survey of professional services marketers last October was generating 45% of its leads and 27% of its annual bookings online.
So, Why Are U.S. Firms Pursuing This Strategy More Aggressively?
While there are probably a lot of potential reasons for this, I'd like to offer two main drivers of this trend:
1. A Combination of "Mobility" and Geography
A major push has been under way in the States for some time to allow CPAs / accountancy firms to provide their services more freely across state lines. Coined "mobility," legislation has been passed in 49 states in order to reduce the burden of servicing clients in different states. As I understand it, firms can provide services to clients in most states with similar licensing requirements without being subject to additional fees and burdens. While firms can provide services in this manner they need to pursue licenses within most states in order to proactively market their services there.
That said, a content-driven approach to marketing applies a pull strategy to the market. Done properly, it pulls clients to you by aligning your useful content with their needs and pain points. Essentially, it can allow a firm to accept a client relationship from outside their local market without proactively courting it. Mobility essentially opens new geographic markets while potentially exposing firms to new out-of-market competitors. While similar efforts may be underway in the E.U., presumably the laws and regulations differ much more greatly from country to country than they do from state to state in the U.S. Put simply, it would seem that aligning potential clients with similar needs is a less difficult and less costly proposition in the U.S. right now than it might be in the U.K.
2. Marketing Automation
One of the compelling things about a content driven approach to marketing is that it can be quite inexpensive. Just about any firm can start an initiative with some basic open-source blogging platform, such as WordPress, a little bit of research, and a whole lot of hard work. That said, content marketing can become exponentially more powerful when you apply some new technologies to it.
At its core, marketing automation software can help your firm deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. Through a combination of user tracking and analytics, marketing automation can help a firm assess where a potential client is in the buying process based on their activities and behaviors, guide potential clients to the solution that's right for them, and make the firm's marketing effort more efficient and more repeatable. As it happens, most of the major marketing automation software firms are headquartered in the U.S. -- Optify, Marketo, Eloqua, Pardot, Hubspot and Act-On. So, while mobility and geography surely have a large part in this shift to content, a helpful push from some very good software marketers can't hurt.
Coming to A Shore Near You
If yours is a UK-based firm and you're just now exploring these topics, the good news is that it sounds like you're at the front of the curve. The better news is that you may have a whole nation full of mistakes and successes you can benchmark to make your effort that much more likely to succeed.
About the Author
Jason Mlicki is Principal of the U.S. based professional services marketing agency, Rattleback. Rattleback works with consulting, A/E and accounting firms to make client acquisition more effective and more repeatable.