Generating new clients is a big challenge for every professional service firm, but accounting firms have an especially hard time differentiating themselves from their competitors. Firms are stuck trying to market themselves as a “me-too” firm with so many direct competitors that prospects don’t know which firm they should hire.
The problem doesn’t lie with your clients—they’re out there and they’re searching for you:
The problem is your CPA firm marketing strategy—or lack thereof. If your potential clients can’t find you on the marketing channels they use, then you’re already out of the running when they want to hire a firm.
What Is a Digital Marketing Strategy?
A digital marketing strategy is a blueprint that outlines the audience you hope to reach, the marketing campaigns you’ll run to meet them, the goals of those campaigns, and how you’ll measure their success.
If you’ve read our Free Positioning Guide, you know that a great digital marketing strategy should marry together your deep expertise, your unique perspective, and your proven experience. It should also fall back on reliable data to help you focus your marketing campaigns and find your customers.
What’s an Example of a Digital Marketing Strategy?
Let’s get one thing straight: describing a “one size fits all” digital strategy is a fool’s errand.
The specifics of your digital marketing strategy should always be unique to your firm and custom tailored to meet your goals. Copying and pasting someone else’s strategy and expecting it to work is like grafting their leg onto your body and expecting to walk. You may all laugh at this statement, but we have a lot of firms all marketing their services in identical ways. When’s the last time your firm has set aside an experimentation fund? Chances are never.
If you still really want to see an example, you can check out this digital marketing plan template by Smart Insights. However, you should note that this template isn’t tailored to you—or CPAs or professional service firms, for that matter—and you’re better off only using it as a point of reference. (We’re working on one of these for you to utilize soon).
Marketing Tactics for CPA Firms
Instead of pitching other people’s strategies at you, I’m going to take a different tack. By Drawing on Smart Insights Survey of over 1,500 marketers, I’m going to run through a list of digital marketing techniques proven to have the most commercial impact in 2016 and beyond.
Take this list and then ask yourself: which tactics will benefit my firm, and which belong on the cutting room floor?
1. Marketing Automation
Marketing automation is the new hotness, especially among cutting-edge CPA firms. While the technology isn’t new, it’s only recently been getting serious attention. Functions of good marketing automation programs include:
- Data gathering and analysis – your program should measure user metrics and score qualified leads based on their activity on your website.
- Progressive form filling – filling out the same information twice in a row (or more) is a pain in the ass. You can automate that process so visitors only need to supply their data once.
- CRM integration – your program should seamlessly integrate with your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to help you nurture new leads.
- Email marketing – some marketing automation programs can create forms and landing pages, but the only area they really excel at a few types of content right now, such as email creation and distribution. Of course, you’re going to need a good copywriter for this or you risk losing your human touch.
- Social media marketing – automation programs can also help you manage your social media profiles by targeting specific followers and posting updates at regular times.
Popular marketing automation platforms include Pardot, Eloqua, Marketo, ActOn, and HubSpot. If you’re a large firm, you’ll want to stick to the first three options or find something comparable. Before you go jumping in to full blown marketing automation make sure that you have a list of at least 5,000 active contacts in your database. If your firm has less you’ll be better served utilizing a solution such as MailChimp. It becomes increasingly difficult to see meaningful ROI with smaller contact lists.
We worked with one firm to revive dead leads in their marketing automation solution and the results were outstanding. They saw a 40% increase in email interaction and they grew their pipeline by over $500k. These are the results you can expect when you spend the time to create effective automated campaigns.
2. Content Marketing
Content marketing is a buzzword that every business knows, but most suck at implementing. As the name implies, content marketing means creating content for your CPA firm and then using that content to attract more clients to your website.
Your content can be anything from blog posts to email campaigns to videos, but the best content Accounting firms tend to offer solve client problems without requiring them to walk through your door. Easy-to-use mortgage/tax calculators, tax guides, and FAQs are all examples of this content.
Note that when content marketing works, it works really well, but it’s a massive commitment that requires its own strategy to be successful. After all, it’s not enough to simply create content—you need to do research to find topics that appeal to your clients, promote your content ruthlessly, and then continue to create new content so that your users keep coming back for more.
Your firm should be striving to create 5,000 words of insights across a variety of content types (infographics, blog posts, press releases, deep dives, white papers, etc) and than pair that content with a new gated asset every quarter to drives leads. I also highly recommend breaking free of the “tax update” blog posts. everyone is doing these and they are rarely unique unless you’re properly focused.
For more information, check out my post on why most CPA firms fail at content marketing. Or, if you’re sick of hearing about how content is king, you might like these 10 digital marketing tactics that require little to no content.
3. Customer Insight & Predictive Analysis
If a partner asked you what asset drives the most leads could you answer? What about your websites conversion rate? Are you getting at least a conversion rate of 2% (industry average)? Do you know which event you should be investing in again next year? The answer for most accounting firms is NO.
Your firm is probably great at analyzing financial data, but it’s time to take that critical thinking and start digging into your own marketing analytics. You can work with an agency like ours to help benchmark your firm against your competitors to see how your marketing is actually stacking up. If you can’t answer the questions above we can help determine what information your prospects are most interested in and which offers are creating the best leads and which offers you should cut loose. We’ll than utilize this data to formulate a plan of attack to determine what you should be focusing on next with your digital marketing strategy.
“Big Data” is a fancy way of saying “gather as much information as possible.” By measuring analytics, you’ll have an easier time predicting client behavior. You can also find software specifically developed for CPA firms to glean insights into your customers, such as this Feedback Program from Client Opinions.
4. Mobile Marketing
You can’t ignore mobile marketing anymore. Everyone has a smartphone, and every day more searches take place on mobile devices than on desktops. Mobile optimization is especially important if you’re trying to win local business, because according to various studies 89% of smartphone owners look up local businesses weekly and 58% look them up on a daily basis.
Most accounting firms don’t attribute much to mobile, but when prospects are making decisions (often in board meetings) executives will do research on their phones at the same time. Is your website fully optimized to take advantage of these decision makers who are looking for a firm quickly?
Mobile marketing goes beyond building a responsive mobile website, however. You can also explore mobile advertising—and interactive content like tax calculators make great apps.
5. SEO & CRO
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) are as important as ever. Your website will never be found if you don’t rank well , which means you need to invest in responsive web design and professional development.
If you want the skinny on how to transform your super expensive brochure into a kick-ass web page that generates sales and wins new clients, check out our free guides on the Future of Accounting Websites and the 10 Steps to a High ROI Website.
6. Social Media Marketing
Did you know that most accounting firms suck at social media? Inovautus Consulting and SocialCPAs collaborated on a study which found that only 50% of firms track leads they earn from social media, and only 20% of firms use social media to advertise.
Your audience lives on social media and they’re using platforms like Facebook to find you. If you’re not there to meet them, you’re missing a huge portion of your audience. Worse still, you’re missing opportunities to address complaints, answer questions, and figure out what your clients want from you.
Bottom line: You can’t escape social media attention, so you may as well embrace it, but to use social media effectively takes time and effort.
Sweet Fish Media’s put together a list of 7 Ways An Accounting Firm Could Dominate Social Media.
7. Paid Search Marketing
Investing in Google AdWords, Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising, and Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) advertising are still the most reliable ways to get your marketing message in front of qualified leads. Yet most firms don’t even bother to invest the resources into trying paid search.
Paid search is one of the best ways to bring in leads now if your firm is hungry. It also offers the opportunity for your firm to do more experimentation with minimal investment. Want to test a new niche or service? Create a landing page and fire up some PPC to determine if there is any interest. This can help you decide if a need exists and if your firm should invest further.
8. Co-Marketing & Digital PR
A great way to get your name out there, especially if you’re already elbow-deep in content marketing, is to team up with other respected brands with significant followings. For example, you could commission a study that pertains to your firm’s area of expertise. Or you could collaborate on a podcast or video that teaches users the basics of DIY taxes.
There’s also a type of marketing called Affiliate Marketing, in which you pay to have someone write content that also promotes your brand. For example, if you specialize in real estate accounting, you could commission a “landlord’s guide to renting out a room.”
9. Display Ads
Programmatic ads automatically target specific audiences based on their browsing and buying habits. These are placed in real-time—usually as banner ads—in front of potential leads, who have probably searched for a professional firm recently.
If you’re interested in pursuing Display Ads, check out this guide to Buying Programmatic Ads.
10. Unique Opportunities
Advertising on wearable technology like VR headsets and Apple Watches don’t really apply to CPA firms, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find something unique to your firm to offer. Maybe you can encourage user generated content, or find some way to get users to interact with your brand.
Remember, your CPA firm needs to hone in on its unique positioning BEFORE you dive head-first into your marketing plans. If you take to advertising, creating content, or any of the other tactics listed above without first clearly defining what you have to offer, all the promotion in the world won’t help you out.
The world doesn’t need another “full service” firm. Instead, you need to specialize—that’s the only way you’ll break free of geographical constraints and appeal to audiences on a national scale.
When you’ve nailed your positioning and you’re ready to hone in on your digital strategy, make it your own. Just because a strategy has worked for one professional service firm doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your business.