Professional services firms are a collection of experts highly skilled in, and remunerated on, particular disciplines. Seen in this way, firms’ organisation by service lines makes perfect sense. However, the corresponding alignment of marketing departments has resulted in lacklustre, firm-orientated content.
An effective content marketing strategy must reflect readers’ needs rather than a firm’s internal structure. This fundamental shift is probably the most important change in marketing communications. A radical rethink of existing output is almost always required.
Using audience profiles
Clients and prospects are likely to be the primary target audience for your content, but others, such as intermediaries, potential recruits and your internal audience, should not be forgotten.
Audience profiles or ‘personas’ are an excellent way to document and illustrate potential clients. These are normally short bios or narratives about a client, what they look like, what they want from your content and – most importantly – what you want to give them.
Creating audience profiles is often the job of the marketing and communications manager, who will need access to existing client feedback, research and knowledge.
The devil is in the detail
The more detailed the audience profiles are, the better. Profiles might be actual clients – perhaps private individuals who have used the real estate practice for years, but have little understanding of the breadth of services you could offer. Or they could be fledgling technology firms unaware of your specialism in their sector. Equally, they may be graduates looking for the right work-life balance, or intermediaries looking for the right telephone number.
Robust and accurate profiles will help to keep you focused on clients and their needs. There is no magic number as to how many should be used: there should be enough profiles to represent a wide range of clients, but not so many that they overcomplicate the development process. Generally three or four for each sector will be sufficient: it is not necessary to create profiles for every scenario, merely enough to paint a vivid picture of your main target audience.
Predicting profiles’ reactions to your content may seem odd at first but it will soon become second nature. Professional publishers will often have several distinct (usually fictional) reader personas for each publication. Some become so familiar with these ‘people’ that they casually refer to them by name when considering the impact of planned content.
Client profiles are useful tools for some of the more basic data such as sector, size, geography and job title, but the most useful information comes from interrogating those at the coal face: the partners or, where you have them, client relationship managers.
Triggers to purchase
Client relationship managers will be able to provide insight into the actions that trigger a purchase of your services: such as a change in personnel or a potential change in structure at a target company.
They can also highlight the real decision makers and the level of technical detail that will be needed. Are you talking to technical folk with a detailed understanding of what you do? Or an FD more focused on the impact of your services on the bottom line? The focus of your content will obviously change depending on the audience and where they are in their decision-making process.
Moving the focus of your communications from the firm to a genuine understanding of your audience and their motivations will bring you closer to clients and prospects.
Learn more about best practice content marketing strategy in the first of a series of guides we will be producing for professional and financial services firms. Our first guide, A practical guide to content marketing strategy for leading law firms, is available now.