Proving the Digital Experts Wrong
Much has been written over the last few years about the role of digital marketing and social media for business, yet the subject remains one viewed by most executives with skepticism bordering on derision. Like any other new channel to market, there are plenty of myths and equal measures of hype surround the subject, with an as-yet poorly defined roadmap for how companies might navigate the medium for commercial benefit. This conundrum becomes less clear again when applied to the B2B categories and professional services firms in particular. Our own experience four years ago was consistently sage advice from the experts that social media simply wouldn’t work as a driver of new business inquiries for a professional services firm in our field of brand strategy and design. There was a firm view expressed to us that the nature of the projects we worked-on, and the investment required which is typically in the tens of thousands of dollars meant that there was little benefit in investigation the resources and budget required to implement an ongoing social media strategy. Thankfully we had a firm belief that this commonly held view was incorrect, and our experience with social media as a business acquisition tool has proven to be a positive one in every sense of the word.
How far we’ve come
Looking back to 2008 I can see how far we’ve come in developing a digital marketing strategy that has become the basis of our new business acquisition strategy. In trying market conditions that have seen revenues in the marketing, brand and design industries drop by 50-80%, many agency have dramatically shrunk or worse, we have increased our share of the new business opportunities.
When we first began we decided to give our simple brand blog and Twitter strategy twelve months to see what happened. From day one we were very active with both our posts and being members of the digital communities, engaging in as many conversations as possible through comments on our site and through Twitter. Our first post was read only by our own staff and their friends, and our first tweet was read by exactly no-one. But through constant refinement of our approach and sheer ‘sticking at it’ we have built a new business machine that has transformed our agency.
Today, new project inquiries that come to us as a result of our online strategy are our greatest source of leads, equal to all other sources combined. Whilst we don’t have the same success rate with these unqualified opportunities, those projects we win provide a greater revenue with a higher fee per project than any other source. We’ve watched these numbers steadily grow to a point we’d never have dreamed of back in 2008, and today see no reason for that growth to change.
The success of our own social media marketing strategy means we now commonly recommend it to our professional services and business to business clients.
Our category – brand consultancy – was regarded as not being suited to a social media marketing strategy due to the complexity of our service offering, the cost of our projects (typically $20k+), and the drivers of the decision making process. The assumption was those factors would mean few quality clients would search online for a branding agency – they would more likely rely on recommendations from peers. Our experience has been that these assumptions are not accurate. We’ve been continuously surprised by the number and quality of new project inquiries we receive through our online/social marketing, with projects of all shapes and sizes, and some of our favorites included.
We have put-in a considerable effort over the last four years to develop and implement our strategy, learning along the way and building expertise as we go. We continue to refine our efforts and to try new things, focusing on increasing the flow of opportunities with only a modicum of science. Having said that, we don’t prescribe to the approach of SEO link building, Google code beating, mass pay per click campaign. Our strategy is all about high value IP sharing to grow reputation and awareness.
Our ‘aha moment’
The penny dropped when we realized that the drivers of reputation were shifting. Where previously reputation came primarily from word-of-mouth from first-hand business peers, in the new digital world, word-of-mouse was gaining credibility, and business peers could be anyone who worked in business and shared their view openly and honestly online. In-short, CEOs, company owners and brand managers were turning as much as their peers to the internet to gauge the reputation of firms to engage for their branding projects. And-so our digital marketing strategy become focused on building our reputation through a high degree of IP sharing in a manner that enabled the market to then further share that IP amongst their peers.
Our strategy is based upon high quality content (and plenty of it) on our Truly Deeply blog which we attached to our web site. All client facing members of our team blog consistently so we have five new posts each week on the subject of brand strategy, brand identity, digital, integrated marketing communications and design. In our world, and in our competitive market place, five posts a week is significant. We have the second most active blog in our space in the world, only pipped by the hugely resourced Brand Channel – a part of global branding firm Interbrand’s own digital marketing strategy.
Our content is driven by the desire to create articles of interest to our clients and potential clients, to lead the thinking in our space by writing about what excites us, interests us and amuses us. We unashamedly include news about our agency and profiles on our new projects – but they are secondary to the content we consider of high value to potential clients and their peers. By the very nature of the subjects we cover, our writing is laden with pro-active buying phrases such as ‘brand agency Australia’, ‘brand strategy consultancy’ and ‘brand language’, etc. This content helps the type of people who are seeking our services to find us through organic Google searches, as often they are using our industry specific language within their business roles day-to-day.
The core of our digital strategy is relatively simple – as we say to our clients; ‘if an agency of 12 staff can create this level of impact in our market – imagine what you can achieve with the resources you have available’. Everything revolves around our site and our Truly Deeply Madly blog that it includes. Our site continues to grow in popularity with more than 200,000 visitors expected this year, roughly half from Australia and the rest from the US, Europe and Asia. We post each day’s blog and several old posts to Twitter each day – we have a twitter account under the name @brandamentalist with more than 10,000 followers who account for around 25% of our site traffic, but are particularly influential beyond that in spreading the good oil. We have a monthly electronic direct mail (edm) newsletter with more than 1500 subscribers. The newsletter collates around eight articles that we choose as representing the agency best and emails out to our database of subscribers who are heavily weighted towards marketing and brand managers. We also post blogs to our individual LinkedIn accounts and our Truly Deeply facebook page.
The cumulative effect of those activities has built over time. We have published more than 700 posts on our blog which as content receive between 0-20 visits each day, meaning our site traffic is rising from an average of 500 visitors each day last year, to around 580 visitors each day this year. Google loves content that people love. Which means our site has become a valued source of brand related content over time. If you Google any one of our 50 SEO terms you are likely to find us in the first half dozen agencies listed through organic search, and often at the number one position.
Not only has this fed our reputation and the ensuing new project inquiries – we are now regularly invited to speak at conferences on brand, judge awards, write for and have our work included in design publications from around the world. The quality of these enquiries varies greatly from clients with only a few thousand dollars to spend, right up to one inquiry that led to two contracts worth $400,000 annually.
A business acquisition strategy for every business
We believe for business to business and even for the tougher end of professional services this strategy represents a highly valuable element of any new business acquisition strategy, but perhaps the greatest benefit of all is the professional development of our staff that occurs through the process of writing articles. Our key staff have all had to develop the skill of selecting a topic, researching and drawing insights, clarifying a perspective and expressing that clearly and evocatively. The acquisition of those skills, developed and honed over the last four years, along with the experience of researching and writing on a range of relevant subjects has been the single greatest professional development initiative we’ve ever instigated.
As we’ve found, in the tough world of professional services and business to business, a well considered and executed digital reputation strategy can make a significant difference to your business. It is not an quick fix, or an easy path to walk, but the return on effort and investment has the potential to change the nature of your business.