It’s do or die when it comes to connecting digitally with today’s consumers. With a recent report revealing many in professional services lack a clear digital marketing strategy, we look at what it takes to succeed.
For a cohort once considered ‘generational upstarts’, Millennials now dominate the marketplace in their middle age. “They’re a lot older than people think,” says Deb Croucher, founding director of marketing agency Brilliant Digital. “Millennials are nearly 40 now and have huge buying power.”
In lockstep with that buying power comes the expectation of a seamless online-offline customer experience. This means that businesses today must have a compelling digital presence to be successful, says Croucher. Without an “accurate digital presence – a superb professional website with the right language that articulates their value to the market – they’re not going to get that sale”.
“It’s the cost of doing business today,” she states.
However, some in the professional services sector are struggling to adapt to this new digital marketplace. Digital Marketing in Real Estate 2021 – Uncovering the Skill Gap, a new report by email marketing platform ActivePipe, reveals that while more than 90 per cent of real estate agents believe digital marketing is important or extremely important to their current and future success, less than half rate their skills in this area as good or excellent.
Agents were most competent at email marketing and Facebook and least capable in the use of Twitter and TikTok.
The report also identified significant skill gaps around Google Ads and SEO, both of which Croucher says are “absolutely critical” to professional services firms. “The vast majority of traction comes from Google” rather than social media, she argues. It’s crucial to make sure that “when people are googling, say, ‘accountant Sydney’, you appear in the search results”.
The importance of strategy
Uncovering the Skill Gap also found that top-performing agents were more likely than their low-performing peers to rate their digital marketing skills as good or excellent, and more likely to have a written strategy with clear goals and accountabilities.
“A clear strategy is one of the most important factors agents must have in place to deliver effective digital marketing,” states the report. But in a worrying finding, just 22 per cent of real estate agents surveyed had a clear, written and accountable digital marketing strategy.
“No plan is a plan to fail,” says Ash Farrugia, CEO of ActivePipe, the report’s publisher. “Keeping leads in your ecosystem is incredibly important – it results in higher conversions. You can’t do that without a strategy. You can’t take ownership of the customer experience without planning.”
Without a strategy, attempts at digital marketing can be ad hoc and ineffective. Social media, in particular, can soak up a large amount of time with little tangible benefit. “We see a lot of agents jumping onto things like social media because it’s very visible,” says Harry Marsden, ActivePipe’s Digital Marketing Manager. “They’ll invest a lot of time building up their social media presence without looking at the results. It’s impossible to know if you’re spending your time and money wisely if you don’t have a clear goal and aren’t measuring what you’re getting back.”
Croucher observes that a business doesn’t own or control social media in the same way it does its website. “Think of social media as a useful tool to get people to your website,” she says.
What an effective strategy looks like
An effective digital marketing strategy is one that takes a company from A to B – “From where they are now to where they want to be,” says Croucher. “It keeps everyone on track, going in the same direction towards the overarching goal, not towards individual goals.”
A strategy is a complex document that includes an assessment of a business’s current position, goals and value proposition, as well as analysis of competitors and keywords to identify opportunities on Google. It should also encompass website structure and design, as well as content and social media strategies.
It should, Croucher says, be “a clear plan with deliverables and actionables for each person in the team and KPIs around goals and targets for growth”.
“If we’re not meeting those goals, why not? What analysis are we going to do each quarter and each month to make sure we’re on the path to where we want to go?”
Croucher believes that in-house strategy development, while important, can lead to a clash of agendas. “When a principal of an accounting firm says, ‘I’m doing a new website’, there will be 20 people who will give him different opinions. Many of those opinions will be wrong,” she argues. “Inevitably, when you get these websites-by-committee within firms, they get a watered-down product that doesn’t work.”
Here, Croucher believes that partnering with an external provider on strategy development can bring not just digital expertise but objective thinking and fresh perspective.
“What you’re after is an unbiased and professional view that’s going to take the team in the right direction and save money long term. You’re going to get a better return on investment if you’ve got the right strategy in place.”
5 steps to a digital marketing strategy
Set your objectives: Across the organisation and individual lines of business
Map the market: Create buyer personas to represent your target audiences
Decide your messages: Agree on messages you want to send to market, around which topics
Choose your delivery modes: Select channels, formats, frequency, SEO strategy and amplification
Deliver on the plan: Create a calendar of deliverables and roll these out, refining as results come in
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