Part 1: How the Internet Has Changed MarketingBy
Greenfield Belser, a Finn Partners Company
April 3, 2007
We’ve been tracking trends in professional services marketing for more than a dozen years. It’s our business. Recently, we took another look—with particular attention to the effect of the Internet on marketing plans and tactics.
We wanted an update on how firms are delivering information to clients. And we wanted to measure to what degree the Web is replacing and changing older tools for reaching and communicating with clients.
When we say Internet marketing, we think Web sites. However, the effect of the Internet is far deeper and more pervasive. To discover that broader impact, we looked at:
- Seminars - in-person vs. online
- Newsletters - print vs. online
- Branded email
- Advertising and new media options
- Proposals, RFPs and online auctions
- Client-satisfaction research
- Web tracking
- Brochures in print and online
- Intranets and extranets
In this Big Idea, we’ll review brochures and Web sites. Next month, we’ll take on seminars, newsletters, advertising and the other tools in our list.
Is the Web replacing print communications?
The answer is yes and no. And it depends on what you mean by print. Let’s start by considering the warhorse of firm communications: the firm brochure.
91% of firms still print brochures. But they don’t print them the way they used to.
Increasingly, digital printing is gaining as the medium of choice for long-form print communications. Offset printing is still in the mix, but for 33% of our respondents, digital is now the choice for half or more of their brochures. And only 18% have not yet tried digital printing.
What effect is the Web having on the firm brochure? 79% of firms now deliver some of their brochures electronically, in PDF format. That’s a huge jump from 51% just two years ago. It may be the same brochure or a product designed exclusively for Web distribution.
Trend: Faster, better and cheaper (maybe not). Both digitally printed and electronic brochures go from idea to distribution faster. But the cost of designing, writing and producing an electronic or digital brochure is about the same as for offset. And expect your salary costs to rise significantly as you add staff to keep the digital and electronic pieces up to date.
Digital and electronic brochures never go out of date (or shouldn’t). And they can be beautiful, although not in all the same, rich ways an offset-printed piece can be.
BEST PRACTICE: Exploit the best features of all media.
- Use offset for the general firm brochure and for key service areas. To convey the quality and character of the firm, employ the touch and feel of ink and paper for all it’s worth—unique shapes and folds, paper choices, die cuts and bindings that digital can’t touch and the flat screen only hints at.
- Use the economies of digital printing to create an array of short-run service-area brochures that convey the unique benefits of each service, while reinforcing the brand message of the firm. And design the digitally printed pieces for easy conversion and distribution as PDFs.
Web Sites: What Are They Good For?
You may not remember, but the Web was once derided as a curiosity of no particular marketing value. Today the Web is the sine qua non of professional services marketing. 100% of firms that responded to our survey have Web sites. No other marketing tool we measured has universal acceptance.
What do firms think their Web presence does for them?
Marketers ranked their Web sites in eight areas (on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is “extremely effective”). Median rankings are highest for the most basic functions—helping visitors locate people and research the firm’s services.
The Web is where people outside the firm go first to find information about the firm, its professionals and its services. In fact, it is often the first tangible impression a buyer gets of your firm, since 85% of buyers of services start by asking colleagues for referrals.
Along with bio and service information, visitors carry away—even from the briefest encounter—an idea of the firm’s values and priorities. In other words, the firm’s “brand.” Marketers gave their own sites the equivalent of a C+ for brand-building.
We agree (less the “plus”). Most professional services sites fail to create a strong, clear first impression. In fact, our 2006 study, From Bland to Brand, showed more sameness than distinction among the Web sites of America’s 200-largest law firms.
From Bland to Brand also showed us, more than anything, opportunities missed. The possibilities of a complex set of relationships within the site are most often ignored. Biographies tend to be outdated, thin and only marginally useful. Service descriptions are poorly written and displayed, repetitive, boring. Very little is richly illustrated.
85% of our respondents use Web tracking for insights into how visitors use their sites, but the truth is very few firms use this data to improve their Web sites. Work product that should be on Web sites usually appears (newsletters, etc.) but site searches are weak. Commonly searched information (based on Web tracking results) is not pushed to the visitor.
Trends: One respondent summed up her rankings like this, “Our Web site is part of the integrated mix of tools that market our firm, but it is not considered or intended to be a great driver for leads or business.”
BEST PRACTICE: Use other elements in the marketing mix (email, advertising, announcements) to drive buyers to your Web site.
- Improve the content—both visual and verbal.
- Use insights from Web tracking to constantly adjust and improve your site.
Survey Methodology and Sample
In September and October 2006, Greenfield/Belser and The Brand Research Company conducted a survey among marketing professionals in service firms via the Web.
110 individuals responded. All had marketing responsibilities at law, accounting, consulting and real estate firms. Most were from law firms (86%) throughout the United States. Respondents said their firms had an average of 430 professionals, 10 offices and 12 marketing personnel.