In the opening keynote address to the annual American Institute of CPAs’ Practitioners Symposium and TECH+ Conference and the 2012 Association for Accounting Marketing Summit, author and marketing expert Sally Hogshead urged attendees to focus their marketing efforts on what sets them apart, and to understand themselves better in order to fascinate their clients and prospects.

Hogshead, the author of Fascinate and “chief fascination officer” of Fascinate Inc., described fascination as “a powerful emotional state” where others are fully engaged and receptive to your message. She pointed out, however, that the time frame to fascinate a potential client has shrunk—along with their attention spans—down to nine seconds, and so CPAs and accountants need to be able to quickly engage prospects.

She also warned that people often resent having their attention taken without any return. “If you take someone’s time and don’t show how you’re different, you’re taking their attention for nothing,” she said. “It’s better to avoid introducing yourself than wasting their time with a weak introduction.”

Based on research involving over 100,000 respondents, her company has identified seven different fascination “triggers”—power, passion, trust, mystique, prestige, power, alarm and rebellion—that mark an individual’s approach to fascinating others. Everyone  uses two triggers primarily, she claimed, one on top and one that underlies and supports the first trigger. Pursuing these, her company has identified 49 personality types created by these combinations; “The Guardian,” for instance, combines power as a primary fascination trigger with trust to create an impression of stability, trustworthiness, and genuineness—Warren Buffett would be a good example, she suggested.

Identifying your personality type allows you to focus your nine-second bid to fascinate, and more generally to know and play to your strengths in marketing yourself, building your career, and staffing your firm. For instance, Hogshead noted that while she is passionate and creative, "my biggest gap is following through on details,” so she specifically hires staff who fill that gap for her.

Fascinating Firms
Just as individuals need to be fascinating, so, too, do firms.

“You can either have the biggest [marketing] budget, or you can be the most fascinating,” Hogshead said. "If you don’t have the biggest budget, you have to find something different about you so people can notice and care.”

Firms should avoid spending money just to keep up or to show that they’re on par with other firms. “That’s a waste of money,” Hogshead said. Instead, they should identify and spend money on something that is “unique and distinct” about them.

“Don’t market the thing that makes you the same as everyone else,” she said. “Find just one thing about your firm—the way you send invoices, your hold music, the way you greet clients at the door—one little thing that captures who you are, that people will remember and associate it with you.”

“Your messages should be intelligently polarizing,” she said. “Weed out the clients you don’t want and focus on the message for those you do.”

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