Over the last 30 years, the internet has flipped the script on marketing —but what if there was value in digging back into the past? In 1984, the Harvard Business Review dove into the key marketing struggles faced by professional services firms. Businesses were wrestling with ethical and legal constraints, buyer uncertainty, proof of experience, and the ability to differentiate their services from their competitors.
Today, this still rings true. The rapid growth of the internet (and the affordable digital advertising that came with it) has made the professional services industry more cutthroat than ever. In 2021, startup firms can out-compete larger companies that have been around for years. A solo entrepreneur can build a competitive business quickly. It’s no longer just a challenge to establish your niche and prove your expertise; it’s a necessity.
In 2021, the top marketing trends among professional services firms focus on just that: building buyer trust through expertise.
#1 – Thought leadership is the king of content
While SEO content sustains long-term growth, a solid content strategy goes beyond that. In the world of professional services, thought leadership is a tried-and-true content marketing strategy that remains one of the industry’s most popular trends because it works.
According to an Edelman research study, 70% of decision-makers review thought leadership content to determine if an organization is competent; 75% admit that thought leadership has led them to convert. That’s a huge potential impact, . Since every business has a unique business model, professional services firms need to prove they excel at the intricacies, and that’s where thought leadership can help.
So, what does successful thought leadership strategy look like? B2B professional services firms can approach thought leadership strategy in several ways:
- white papers
- speaking engagements.
- op-eds in leading industry publications
The most powerful content makes technical expertise accessible. For example, Nolo, a service that helps consumers and small businesses get legal advice, has a successful content strategy because it’s client-minded and timely. They produce simple articles written by attorneys that explain the most commonly searched legal topics. Nolo also explains the legalities behind current events. This is great SEO and thought leadership strategy. Timely articles establish the brand as thought leaders ahead of the curve on society’s breaking legal issues.
#2 – Customer relationship management is critical
Professional services firms rely on repeat business. For example, a small business isn’t just hiring an accounting firm to file one quarterly tax return. They’re hiring someone to work with them indefinitely. This is why some of the most effective professional services marketing trends focus on customer relationship management (CRM).
We’re seeing an increase of B2B service businesses pairing CRM with their marketing strategy to deliver a more personalized customer experience. In 2021 the service industry increased personalized email marketing, which has a notoriously high ROI. As a result, popularity is gaining for CRM email marketing, which integrates CRM software with email marketing software (such as MailChimp or Salesforce). According to a 2021 Hubspot report, the personalization has paid off; a whopping 77% of companies saw an increase in their email engagement.
#3 – B2B customers want hyper-personalization
Personalization has been a priority for most B2B businesses, but in the realm of professional services, it’s become especially important. Firms rely on building a close relationship with potential clients and need to demonstrate extensive knowledge and expertise within a customer’s specific niche. There is no one-size-fits all option. Think of it this way: an architecture firm may design both offices and commercial retail space, but they aren’t using the same blueprint. They wouldn’t market to those clients the same way either.
Personalization is increasingly important to B2B customers. Research has shown that 90% of customers find personalized advertising appealing, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. For now, most of it can be automated with tracking cookies, which keep tabs on how a user navigates through the web. Marketers can also use them to:
- Target mailing list subscribers using automate emails based on several user actions like cart abandonment
- Serve dynamic ads that change based on a user’s internet history
- Offer automated sales and special offers that are dynamically attuned to the user
- Recommend services based on past purchases or browsing history
For example, if a user clicks through services on your website and leaves before making a purchase, you can remarket these services back to them in a Facebook advertisement or an email promotion. Since the user was already interested, you have a leg up in the lead nurturing process.
Right now, most marketers use tracking cookies for personalization, but that practice is poised to change as our culture increasingly prioritizes user privacy. It’s a catch-22; cookies help marketers create the personalized marketing messages that users love, but not everyone wants marketers to be able to see where they’ve gone online. Down the line, users will probably have greater control over their privacy. Time will tell how that impacts marketing strategies.
#4 – Extend reach with an omni-channel strategy
In 2021 it’s easy for a brand’s marketing messages to get lost in the noise. The more often business customers connect with your brand, the greater the opportunity to make a conversion.
To make this happen, service businesses must focus on an omni-channel strategy.
Omni-channel marketing delivers a consistent, personalized brand message across all channels on all devices. With omni-channel marketing, B2B services provide a seamless experience no matter what platform or device customers are using.
According to Google, 98% of Americans switch between devices every day. They’re checking their email on their phone while browsing social media on their iPad and watching YouTube videos on their desktop. When you use an omni-channel strategy, your message is unchanging even as your customers switch devices and channels.
B2B customers seeking professional services aren’t making a one-time purchase. They’re investing in a future. This is why professional services brands are focusing on thought leadership and personalization in 2021. These tactics built the type of long-term relationships that make a firm successful. Couple this with an omni-channel strategy, and consumers will know your business always has their back wherever they are on the web.