Once upon a time, simply having a Web site signified a bold step forward in firm marketing. Nowadays, in the age of blogs, LinkedIn, Twitter, and much more, the options of how to best represent and market your firm may seem endless.

With this influx of new tools, it can prove difficult to know which to focus on (assuming your firm is open to such things at all). But more than any specific instrument or trend, perhaps the most important marketing tool is a desire to adapt, and adaptation starts with you.

We sat down with four marketing experts who offered essential advice for firms looking to revamp their marketing strategies and outlook in the digital age. And while our panelists' methods differed, the underlying theme remained the same: Be adventurous.

As Katie Tolin, director of practice growth at Top 100 Firm SS&G, summed up, today's marketing is about "constant evolution, continuous improvement. Try something new, step outside your comfort zone and see if it works."

 

MUST-HAVES

On the subject of essential tools -- no matter the size of the firm -- our experts varied on the specifics, but they all agreed that a firm's presence online, and the content therein, is a surefire barometer in modern marketing.

"Your reputation is strengthened or weakened by your online presence," said Art Kuesel, president of Kuesel Consulting Inc. "Each channel requires its own tool and approach to demonstrate [the firm's] expertise. How else is a client going to assess if they know what they're talking about?"

"I think the engine of marketing has to be valuable content, which sounds easy, but it's hard to get a sustained program," said Eric Majchrzak, shareholder and chief marketing officer at BeachFleischman. "[Firms] need social platforms; it's a must in order to be relevant."

Firms have conversations with clients in the real world all the time, Majchrzak explained, and if they're not represented appropriately online, they cannot have the same conversations in the digital space. "To me, it's the equivalent of ignoring clients; they need a delivery system [online]. Most firms don't have one or have a stale site."

On the other hand, Dawn Wagenaar, principal at Ingenuity Marketing Group, suggested a more direct method of content delivery for today's busy professionals.

"I know this might be different, but it's more about simplicity and less about content," she said. "People are overwhelmed with content, so firms should make it easy for them to get to know you and what you value. Clients also do well with short informational videos -- [something] very short and to the point. Videos stand out; they show the personality of an expert, and they're easy to digest. I'd rather watch a video than read an article."

 

WHY INVEST?

As successful firms have built their reputations on the marketing of yesteryear, some may not see the need to invest in new tactics. But as our experts stress, an investment today is all about staying ahead of the curve tomorrow.

"Clients are consuming info where they want to consume it," said Majchrzak. "If firms aren't adapting, they're going to lose [them]. Wayne Gretzky has that quote: 'I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been' - you want to anticipate where clients are going to be. I got into Twitter as an early adapter and it was phenomenal -- no other firms were doing it at the time."

Katie Tolin agreed: "To reach the next level of success, you need to invest in new tools. We have to recognize that each firm is unique, [but] firms have to experiment and make the investment. Test and monitor the results and ask, 'What works for us?'"

 

OUT WITH THE OLD ...

While considering the multiple tools available for today's marketing, it's also important to identify any unessential tactics that your firm still might be employing. Even if you're not quite ready to plunge head-first into digital marketing, cutting or changing ineffective tactics can prove to be just as useful.

"I think marketing tools went to marketing tactics," said Tolin. "It's a matter of understanding how things have changed. I question the effectiveness of direct mail, unless it's done right, and many people do it wrong. It's no longer relevant as is, because the discussion happening online is bigger than print. If you're still doing it the same way you we're doing it 10 years ago, you're doing it wrong."

"The majority of things have some value," Majchrzak added, "but cold-calling is so unnecessary with social media and LinkedIn - you can ask a common connection. We have the ability to map relationships now; that's the beauty of living in this marketplace."

Kuesel also emphasized knowing one's audience, as different types of marketing can be more effective for different clients.

"While it is easy to discount the current and future value of outreach by a simple letter, for example, many buyers today still consider this to be a relevant and effective way of communication," he said. "Alternatively, this buyer may not be active on Linked-In -- so [a letter] was actually the best way to reach them. While these kinds of buyers are dwindling, it demonstrates the challenge of reaching a diverse audience in ways they prefer to be reached."

 

A GROUP EFFORT

Some firms may be fortunate enough to have specialized marketing experts, whose sole responsibility is to sell the firm and its services. But why stop at only a handful of active marketers when you can have the whole firm involved? According to our experts, all levels of the staff can sell, particularly if everyone adheres to their strengths.

"It doesn't require a lot of money, but it requires an effort," Wagenaar said. "If someone is a client service master, they're probably awesome at cross-selling, but they may need training in how to talk [to clients]."

"Everyone is an absolute necessary tool in today's world," Kuesel stressed. "As a member of the community, you're an ambassador of the brand. The most underutilized tool in firms I encounter today is the latent power of personal marketing, except for one or two rainmakers. At a recent partner/manager growth retreat, I asked the managers how many of them had been on a sales call in the past three months. Two people raised their hands in a room of 20! Firms need to do a better job of tapping into the interest and power of more people in their firms that are capable [of] marketing."

"This should be the No. 1 source of growth for firms," Kuesel continued. "To be effective personal marketers, [professionals] need training and support. The best place to start is client development training - everything from developing a bulletproof relationship with your client to listening for clues and triggers within conversations. Ultimately, [you're always] trying to cross-sell the firm's services."

And while some professionals might have forever steered clear of terms like 'sales' and 'marketing,' our experts believe that making a sale is simpler than you think.

"In marketing, you're identifying a need and fulfilling it," said Majchrzak. "If [professionals] see it as fulfilling their clients' needs, it demystifies [it]. Everybody has different comfort levels and skill sets. It's important for management to know the skill set of their folks. Instead of focusing on the same old activities, listen to, and encourage, people's strengths."

"Your people are boots on the ground," reiterated Tolin. "If you have 50 boots on the ground and they're sharing different messages, your message doesn't get across."

 

MOVING FORWARD

As firms venture into a more creative, technology-oriented phase of marketing, representing your firm online has become not a question of "if," but "when." The Web simply must be factored into a firm's marketing plan to at least some degree, as its future role in sales has already been cemented today.

"We're moving into the age of individualization," Wagenaar suggested. "We're only paying attention to things [we] can digest quickly. Identify who your market is so you can market to them."

"I would say the past eight to 10 years, firms were focused on building separate social media channels. They need to integrate them now," Kuesel stated, pointing to omnichannel engagement -- in which the same conversation is carried across all media branches -- as a means of creating a single cohesive message. "Clients might engage you in one channel, but you have to continue the conversation on the other channels. [It's about] being able to deliver your content across all your social channels -- digital and mobile," he said.

"The most innovative companies -- either firms or other companies -- will have an entrepreneurial culture, and won't be afraid to take risks," said Majchrzak.

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