Posted by on Jun 9, 2011 in Marketing

Creating a Marketing Message

In a previous post we briefly discussed creating a marketing message for your accounting firm, now we will get into more detail about how to create your own marketing message.

Firstly Here’s what not to Do!

Dont wear a label

Imagine a hypothetical situation. You were at an event where you were introduced to Bob. You knew that Bob runs a company which might use your service and Bob asks you, “So what do you do”?

How do you answer?

If you answered, I am an Accountant, or I am a Partner at X, or I am Tax Manager at Y or any of a hundred similar answers you may as well have just shot yourself in the foot. Chances are good that right after you shot yourself in the foot, Bob mysteriously disappeared and you were left standing alone, slightly confused, with a very sore foot.

Here is the thing; Bob wasn’t really overly interested in you in the first place. If he knew you a little better it might be different but as far as Bob is concerned “It’s not about You, It’s about Me” and even though on the face of it he did ask what do you do? what he really meant was “do you do something that is of benefit to me?”

Now imagine that your answer to the question was “Bob, I help companies like yours to dramatically reduce their tax bills” to which Bob replies “Really! How do you do that?”

Don’t answer what you do literally

At least not in the beginning, once you start down the route of describing the process or detail of what you do to a non accounting professional you will be greeted immediately with a blank stare, people will tune out and you will have lost the opportunity permanently.

Don’t try creating punchy taglines!

If you hire many marketing agencies they will gladly help you to drain your bank account, and then some, and talk to you endlessly about your brand, your tagline (slogans, mottos, catch-phrase or whatever else they might refer to it as).

They will gradually wear you down with creative briefs, the attitude, tone and voice of your brand and PowerPoint after PowerPoint showing you case-studies of famous companies with taglines such as;

“Just Do It”
“I’m Lovin it”

For good measure they will add in a few from your industry such as;

“Quality in Everything we Do”
“cutting through complexity”

Here is your tagline for those guys

“DONT DO IT”

(I should mention that the above phrases are trademarks and property of their respective owners!)

This was a great way to drill your message into the “mass-market” back in the 1950’s and 60’s when there was 2 TV channels and only a handful of newspapers in broad circulation (assuming of course that you had a huge advertising budget).

Otherwise there must be a dozen problems with this approach, here are just 5.

  1. I am assuming you don’t have the $1.7Billion annual marketing budget of Nike or $1.4Billion in McDonalds case.
  2. You are going to feel like a complete idiot when you are answering Bob’s question about what you do with any of the following;
    1. “Hey Bob, I Just Do It”
    2. “Bob, I’m Lovin it”
    3. “Bob, I do Quality in Everything we Do”
    4. or “I am glad you asked that Bob, I’m cutting through complexity”
  3. Any of these taglines are so generic that they really don’t help anyone get an understanding of what it is that you or your accounting firm are all about. Think of two or three different unrelated industries and apply these taglines to them yourself, it doesn’t work.
  4. They are not properly focused on solving your prospects problems.
  5. These taglines are more about YOU, YOU, YOU than ME, ME, ME.

Don’t make life more difficult than it needs to be. When you are asked what you do avoid responding with job titles, labels, taglines or lengthy descriptions of processes that people will not understand or remember. Instead you need to always immediately clarify who you help and what problem you solve. Your marketing message must be simple and provocative. It must easily roll off your tongue and be informative and memorable so as it sticks in your prospects minds. Seth Godin, a brilliant marketing mind and bestselling author coined the term “Ideas that spread win”. Your idea (marketing message) will have a much better chance of spreading and winning if it follows these principles.

A few points to think about before creating your message;

What value do you bring to your clients?

Many accounting firms are competing with you for the same business. Understanding why your existing clients deal with you or your firm is a very good starting point in defining what your value proposition is. Can you define the reasons your clients deal with you and not your competitors? If so write down all the reasons you can think of – remember what we discussed earlier, these reasons should be from your client’s point of view and focused on both the benefits they receive and the problems you solve for them.

Don’t beat yourself up if you are having trouble making a list, it can be difficult to get into the right mindset to do this at first, think about it for a while, leave it and come back and try again later if you don’t make progress right away. Once you get started it gets easier.

When you come up with the list of benefits you bring to your clients, or problems you solve, you might need to get a sense check on the list you have created. A couple of ways you can do this are;

  1. Ask a couple of trusted clients their opinion on your list – they may also have other suggestions that you can add
  2. Run a survey of your existing clients and have a question built in to elicit their answer to this question. We will cover the topic of surveys in a later post, but suffice to say that the feedback you get can be extremely valuable.

In an ideal world the list of benefits you bring to clients / problems you solve would be truly unique to you and your accounting firm. In the real world however, chances are good that many of your competitors bring similar benefits to their clients. Try work through your list and focus in on any item that are unique to your firm, if you are having trouble with this, the following examples might help you to get started;

  • Does your vast experience within a particular industry position your accounting firm to bring extra value to your clients in a certain way?
  • Is your firm bigger or smaller than the majority of your competitors? Bigger might enable benefits to your clients because you have a broader cross-section of expertise, or the scale to handle larger clients. Smaller might be beneficial because it often enables a more personalised service.
  • Is your practice a general accounting practice, or specialist in a given way? There are benefits in both.
  • Is your location a notable benefit?

The list can be pretty endless but it’s worth spending some time on this.

Did you come up with a list of unique benefits? If you did “Great” if you didn’t, i.e. you have created a tangible list of benefits to your customers – but you can’t vouch for their uniqueness, that’s OK too. Just by virtue of implementing the ideas we are discussing you will stand out amongst your competitors, though it would make an even greater impact if you re-visit this section at a later date and work out what your unique “Super-Power” is.

Crafting your marketing message as you may have figured out by now is going to be hard work, it is however a critical first step in the journey you are about to undertake to transform your accounting firm into a firm that clients will understand and gravitate towards.

Remember, your objective is to come up with a concise statement of how your services will benefit your clients and the message will reflect how you want your clients to think of you and your accounting firm.

Steps to creating your marketing message

To be effective, your marketing message must get a prospects attention, explain how you help them, and prompt further discussion, all in a single sentence. This is a tall order by anyone’s measure and one which most accounting firms will either never try or never achieve. Instead they will be lazy and use labels, taglines or worse turn away prospective clients with boring and long winded descriptions of what they do.

People tend to scan content and conversations, seeking out information that is relevant to their particular needs, wants and problems. People quickly tune out when the subject or content is not relevant to them. The very fact that you will create and use an effective marketing message (and most of your competitor’s will not) will help to ensure that you will get your prospects attention and ensure they engage with your accounting firm by continuing to read the rest of your message or starting a meaningful conversation.

You may find that the hardest part of creating a compelling marketing message is knowing what not to say. To create a brilliant message, you will in all likelihood have to comb through your draft message many times removing clutter, insider terms and jargon at each pass. Creating an effective marketing message is going to challenge you creatively, there is no point in pretending otherwise. You are the person who is best suited to doing this because of your accounting background, your client knowledge and the unique knowledge you have built up within your firm. In any case, you will be the person who uses this message on a continuous basis and you will be more comfortable and successful using a marketing message that you have created and believe in.

Use these steps to help you create your message

1: Focus on your prospects

Include a word or two in your marketing message to identify who you help. If someone can identify themselves or someone they know in your marketing message it will have a much greater chance of grabbing their attention.

Questions to consider;

Who are my current clients?
Do my clients share characteristics (size, industry, location, structure,etc)?
Who are your prospects, are they similar to your existing clients or different?
Create a list of your existing and potential clients. Work through the list to create a concise description of your clients as a group. When you include a description of your prospects and clients in your marketing message it will more easily catch their attention as well as demonstrate that you are focused on them.

Who are my clients and prospects?

2: Identify what problems you solve

One of the most common and costly mistakes accountants make while marketing their firms is focusing their marketing message on themselves, the services they offer and their industry or academic credentials. Prospects will become clients only when you can convince them that you can solve a problem they have.
Remember that your prospects and clients are far more concerned about themselves than they are about you. Your objective is to clearly show that you understand their needs and wants and demonstrate what you can do to help them.

Questions to consider;

What problems do your clients/prospects face?

What problems does your accounting firm solve?

3: Define the results you achieve

Prospects become clients when they have a problem which they believe you can solve for them. To satisfy your clients you obviously need to deliver results. Most clients will be very content once you deliver on the promise you made, as an aside it’s always worth considering how you can add a little something extra that your client wasn’t expecting – this can be a great help with client retention and often turns otherwise passive clients into your best sales people. Answer the following question from your clients perspective.

What do you help your clients achieve?

4: Differentiation

There are probably countless other accounting firms that offer the same, or similar services that your firm offers. What differentiates your accounting firm from your competitors? It may be your size, location, industry specialisation, your clients or the results you achieve for your clients.

How do you differentiate your firm from your competitors?

5: Use simple language

“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.” William Butler Yeats
Your objective is not to win The Pulitzer Prize. Using industry terms and other buzzwords may in fact turn prospects away if they are not familiar with the terms used.
Simple and creative use of language is a far better strategy for spreading your message.

6: Drafting your marketing message

You have now gathered the components of your marketing message. By combining the problems you solve with who you solve those problems for and the results you achieve into a single sentence you will be able to create a number of rough drafts of your new marketing message.
Remember, short sentences and simple language is best!
Create four or five versions of each message and do a little bit of editing.
To help you get started try creating your first drafts begin like this;
“I help… (the problem you solve) so that … (the results you achieve for your client)”.

Of course you can and should get creative at this point and your message doesn’t have to be structured exactly like this, however this format is simple, to the point and will achieve results.

You may strike it lucky and come up with a brilliant message immediately. In reality it may take much longer. If you don’t feel you are making progress at a particular time, go do something else and revisit this later.

7: Prompting prospects to get involved

Your marketing message can be used on the phone, in your marketing material, on your website, at networking events or whenever someone asks what you do. The main objective of your marketing message is to prompt people to seek more information about you and your accounting firm.
Your marketing message should motivate people to ask further questions, to tell you about a particular problem they have or continue reading your marketing material or website depending on the circumstances.

Does your marketing message prompt further conversation?
Do people relate to it and discuss relevant problems with you or refer you to people who might use your accounting firm?

When you use your great marketing message you will find it much easier to start conversations and get people’s attention. You will start to create many new opportunities and your accounting firm will prosper too.

The essence of a Great Marketing Message

  • It is brief, believable and specific
  • It tells people which problems you solve and the benefits you provide
  • It is focused on your prospects and their needs and problems
  • It uses plain language and not buzzwords
  • It positions your accounting firm as experts who deliver client value

When you use your marketing message it should prompt further conversation. If it doesn’t you will have to go back to the drawing board and start again.