What is advertising?
Is it the Mad Men-style brashness and slick straplines of the 50s and 60s? Is it the no-expense-spared photo shoots on pristine desert islands excesses of the 70s and 80s? Or is it the lad and ladette-focused soundbites of the 90s?
In 2015, advertising and marketing are probably none of those things. And haven’t been for a very long time. But you wouldn’t know it to look at some accountants’ websites.
And that’s because there’s been a fundamental change in the underlying approach to how you should market your business – and plenty of accountants just haven’t caught up with this quintessential change in approach.
The old-school approach
The old approach to marketing your accountancy practice owed a lot to the bad old days of advertising. If there was a maxim for advertising at the end of the 20th century then is was almost certainly this: ‘Under no circumstances actually tell the truth about this product’.
The key to all advertising and marketing was to lie to people, to promote an untruth or to create positive associations with your product or service that bore very little relationship to their actual qualities. In short, it was about spin.
And this idea of spinning the truth to increase sales inevitably bled through into the corporate and finance worlds too. Professional ‘business speak’ proliferated and the world of accountancy was awash with people harping on about ‘blue-sky thinking’ and painting their services as being based on ‘365 profit drivers’ and similar nonsense.
Marketing your practice was about painting yourself as some kind of Gordon Gecko figure – all red braces, two-tone stripy shirts and professional over-confidence. You and your team were financial colossi bestriding the twin worlds of corporate high finance and cutting-edge business.
And your marketing was there to reinforce this ‘professional’ image of the finance expert who was far too busy to talk to you face-to-face and could only spare five minutes on the phone. In a nutshell, it was very much about you and very little to do with the client.
Why old-style marketing sucks
But there’s a problem with this old-school, practice-focused approach to marketing yourself:
- It’s not real.
- It’s not honest.
- And it isn’t what most small business owners are actually looking for.
What a business owner wants is a nice, friendly person who they can sit down with over a coffee and talk through their business issues – someone to help them sort out their accounts and guide the future growth of their business.
So there’s a disconnect between what accountants think their marketing should be and what small businesses actually want from their accountant and adviser.
The new way of marketing
If the old maxim was ‘Never tell the truth’ then the new approach to marketing is the antithesis of this. It’s based entirely on the honesty and truthfulness of your customer interactions. And that can be quite a challenging prospect for a practice that’s been used to wearing a ‘I’m a distant, aloof professional’ hat for many years.
If the previous incarnation of the archetypal accountant was someone who kept their cards close to their chest and gave away very little about their own personality, then the new style of accountant has flipped that stereotype completely on its head.
In 2015, the way to attract small business clients is very much about being yourself.
- No mask of professionalism.
- No blinding people with business speak and jargon.
- No red braces either – very definitely, no braces.
And the key here is that your practice marketing is no longer about marketing a corporate, ‘professional’ ideal. It’s about:
- Building meaningful, long-lasting relationships
- Being a nice, genuine person
- Listening to your client’s issues
- Having the right expertise to help people
- Offering a customer experience that has clients coming back for more – out of choice.
For many business owners, dealing with the accounts and the financial administration is a necessary evil. It’s something they know they have to do, but they get very little joy out it. And that’s where you come in.
You’re the guy/girl that loves the numbers, knows all the best processes and can help them turn around their business. And you do all of this with a smile, a friendly demeanour and a desire to provide stellar customer service.
Time to start using the new approach to marketing
So, if you haven’t already spotted it, there’s a core difference between the old and new approaches:
- Bad marketing puts your practice at the centre, talking about ‘our world-renowned experts’ and doing it’s utmost to sell your products come hell or high water.
- Good marketing puts your client at the centre, and focuses on explaining how you can help, how you’ll listen to their business issues and how you’ll provide solutions to their problems.
The days of the clichéd strapline, the aloof finance professional and the stereotyped marketing angle are over. And, if you haven’t already, it’s time to start putting your client at the centre of your marketing strategy.
Put yourself in your clients’ shoes and walk a few miles. Meet them regularly and talk to them – and make sure you really listen to what they’re saying about their business issues. Be approachable, insightful and chatty, but give them the right advice and help them find the finance solutions that will help them make a true success of their enterprise.
And for heaven’s sake get rid of those braces…
If you’re looking to refresh your marketing, take a look at our outsourced marketing services. Or just go for it!