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Developing your digital branding strategy: What are you waiting for?

The time is long past when accounting firms could dismiss something that just a few, short years ago was considered a “nice-to-have” luxury: digital marketing. I mean, who has the time and money to focus on the narrow, digital niche when there are so many other, more significant marketing channels to be considered?

That was then. This is now. Approximately 70 percent of accounting firm selections are made using digital channels. The world has definitely gone digital, and if you’re not prepared to keep pace, you’ll be left in the dust.

Today, the internet, global communications and myriad digital channels all create a complex, sophisticated and multilayered digital marketing environment in which it’s critical to stake out a visible presence. Digital branding is here, and like it or not, accounting firms just like yours have to embrace it just as readily as the biggest consumer product companies. A digital branding strategy is now a “must-have.”

How your brand is shaped in the digital world is affected by online content — your own and content created by others: blog posts, web pages, e-books, webinars, videos and other tools used to present ideas, discuss topics and disseminate information. All of these methods of digital communication enable you to establish a meaningful connection with your target audience and increase your visibility.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. To get started, you need a cohesive digital branding strategy. There are six key steps to developing a meaningful, effective digital brand:

1. It starts with aligning your branding strategy with your business goals so that you can effectively measure your branding results by how successful you are in achieving your business goals. So, for example, if your firm is looking to pick up X number of new clients in a specific industry, did your digital branding campaign produce that number of clients in the appropriate size and revenue range?

2. Next, you’ll want to research your target audience to determine their specific wants, needs and preferences. Today the majority of professionals researching new products or services start with the web. It’s critical to have a solid understanding of the issues and topics that interest your target audience and the digital platforms they use to find answers. It’s surprising to know that even some of the most sophisticated digital marketers have only a vague idea of their ideal target audience, what they want, and where they look for it.

3. Once you’ve aligned your goals and established your target audience, it’s crucial to synchronize your differentiators and brand positioning. What are those? Your brand’s positioning sets your firm apart from the competition, while your differentiators are the unique features and benefits that define your firm. This step is key because if your digital positioning and differentiators don’t align with the rest of your brand, you’ll waste valuable time and money in unfocused and unproductive efforts to promote your firm. For example, if your firm is very traditional but your digital brand is informal and playful, you’ve got a big problem.

4. With the previous steps addressed, you’re now ready to create a consistent digital and traditional brand identity to create a unified appearance, online and off. One sure-fire way to do this is to create brand usage guidelines that cover not only visual elements such as logo usage and colors, but describe your brand’s tone and style, as well — what you say and how you say it — for written content as well as spoken presentations.

5. You’re almost there. Now it’s time to synchronize your content and brand strategies to prove your marketing claims are true and demonstrable. If you make a claim about your firm, your marketing content needs to back up that claim. For example, if you want to establish thought leadership around a specific topic, make sure you have valuable, relevant content to demonstrate your expertise. The goal is consistency in approach, competency and messaging — no matter where a prospect interacts with your brand.

6. Guess what? You’re just about ready to launch your digital marketing campaign! You’ll be happy to learn that digital brand building is exceptionally efficient and scalable, even for practices with limited resources, if you develop an effective brand-building plan. Studies by the Hinge Research Institute have revealed that it’s actually easier and less expensive to increase the visibility of your digital brand than it is to build your brand by traditional means. So consider networking on social media instead of spending time and money attending a live networking event. Not convinced? Then compare the cost of producing an online webinar versus an in-person seminar.

Once your digital marketing campaign is underway, it’s important to monitor and manage your plan. Many digital tools have built-in analytics to make tracking and control a snap. Want to track website visitors? How about social media engagement? No problem. A digital initiative launched in the morning will yield actionable results by afternoon. The immediacy of digital marketing makes it easy to gauge how your efforts are working and what needs adjusting to improve results.

There you have it. The six steps to creating an effective, efficient digital branding strategy. So what are you waiting for? The longer you wait, the greater the risk that competitors with a digital branding strategy already in place will grab your rightful market share while you continue to delay. So let’s get started.

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