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Part 2: How the Internet Has Changed Marketing

By

Greenfield Belser, a Finn Partners Company
May 1, 2007

Part 2: How the Internet Has Changed Marketing

When we talk about the Internet as a marketing tool, we’re usually thinking about how to improve our Web sites. However, the impact of the Internet on marketing is far deeper and more pervasive than we can see on the Web itself.

As part of Greenfield/Belser’s commitment to tracking trends in professional services marketing, we recently asked marketing professionals in 110 firms for opinions on how the Web has changed their marketing plans and tactics.

Last month we reported on two factors:

  • How the Web and digital printing are changing brochures and collateral pieces
  • How to improve the effectiveness of a Web site as a branding tool.

In Part II, we look at three other aspects of the changes the Web is bringing to professional services marketing.

Will Webinars replace in-person seminars?
Educational programs for clients and prospects still top every other marketing activity as an essential tool in landing and keeping clients. When we conducted our first survey of professional services marketing in 1991, marketers told us seminars were their most effective marketing tool—even more effective than one-on-one entertaining for cross-selling services, gaining new clients and enhancing the firm’s image. And they still think so.

Today, 86% of firms regularly hold seminars for clients and prospects. But many of those events are now electronic rather than face to face. Only 50% of firms still rely solely on in-person seminars. Webinars have come on fast. Three years ago, fewer than 80% had held one. In 2006, 69% of firms held at least one Webinar. And 17% of firms now present at least half their seminars online, citing cost and time savings as the key advantages.

Is the in-person seminar on its way out? Not likely. 79% of our respondents rated their in-person seminars as “effective” to “highly effective.” Only 22% feel that way about their Webinars. In fact, 23% say their Webinars have been ineffective.

There is clearly a lot more to learn about preparing and delivering Webinars. The technology still presents glitches. Several respondents told us that Webinars take as much time to plan and present as in-person events.

One law firm marketing director put it this way: “We are looking at adding Webinars to our mix, but as a means of strengthening ties to a select group of people who already know us.”

Trend: Seminars, both online and in-person, have multiplied. The competition for the time and attention of clients and prospects is fierce.

Some firms have taken that challenge seriously and have raised their seminars to the level of signature events. They have built devoted audiences who anticipate their programs and feel honored to be invited. To raise the prestige of their programs, they develop enticing agendas and fill the stage with well-known speakers. And they send waves of direct mail to attract the clients and prospects they want to attend.

BEST PRACTICE: Webinars for people who already know you. Use in-person programs for people you want to get to know better and who need to know more about your firm.

1) Use Webinars for existing clients. Focus on timely topics such as briefings on new regulations and rulings. Announce Webinars by email and on your Web site. Hold the programs to less than an hour each.

2) Stick with in-person seminars for reaching prospects and for reinforcing your leadership positions in certain industries and practices.

3) Don’t ignore the basics: A successful seminar starts with attracting attendees whom you want as clients and referral sources. Building the right audience requires adequate lead-time and a sound strategy and creative plan for bringing the right prospects and clients to your event.

How has the Web changed media planning?
Our survey indicates that 84% of firms now advertise in one or more media to promote their practices. That’s up dramatically from 1991, when only 34% were advertising in newspapers or magazines.

As advertising has gained acceptance, professional services firms have shifted some resources from print to other media.

Across the country, print advertising is declining. Newspaper and magazine ad revenues are down in the range of 5% to 15% from just a year ago. And while professional services firms are a relatively small part of newspaper and magazine advertising revenues, they also are trending away from print.

In 2004, 37% of our respondents did all their advertising in print. In 2006, just 28% said they were using print only.

What other media are they using?

  • 17% have placed ads on Web sites such as vault.com and law.com
  • 15% are using public radio or commercial radio
  • 9% are advertising on billboards in airports and other venues
  • 1% have used TV ads

The effectiveness of advertising is always hard to measure, but marketers rate their print ads as more effective than most other media. Web ads are the exception. The firms who are using Web site ads rate them almost as effective as print.

Ad effectiveness chart

We asked respondents to rate the effectiveness of their ads in eight media types (on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 is “extremely effective”). Print and Web ads far outpaced all other media.

Trend: Firms are experimenting with a variety of media: not only radio and billboards but sponsorships of sports and cultural events, either alone or in alliances with other organizations.

BEST PRACTICE: Mix it up.

1) Use innovative media placements to get ads noticed.

2) Experiment with online advertising, both Google listings and other more creative strategies.

3) To maintain a consistent brand image in all media, reuse the creative you develop on the Web and in posters, announcements and elsewhere.

Should we trash our newsletters?
92% of firms publish one or more newsletters for clients and prospects. Most firms are still mailing hard copies of some or all of their newsletters. But email is becoming the rule.

Trend: Distribution of newsletters via email is increasing quickly (from 37% in 2004 to 61% in 2006).

And 55% of firms who distribute their electronic newsletters via email find them to be “highly effective” versus only 23% who find printed newsletters to be “highly effective.”

Does that mean we should shut down the presses and go entirely online? Not yet. At least not until we have more experience. Opinions about effectiveness vary quite a bit. 56% of firms who mail printed newsletters still find them “somewhat effective.”

What are the advantages of electronic newsletters? They are less expensive (no printing costs). And they can be more timely and up to date.

The offsetting disadvantages? Email is intangible. It doesn’t sit on the desk or go into the briefcase. There is little pass-along readership. And, in most cases, lacking design, email fails to reinforce the firm’s brand and personality.

One marketer summed up the print-versus-email decision like this: “We are moving increasingly to short e-alerts, but still use print extensively. The effectiveness of a newsletter has more to do with the strength and timeliness of the content than the method of delivery.”

BEST PRACTICE: Use branded email to drive prospects to your Web site for more information.

1) Transform newsletters (email and printed) into client alerts. Make them short and sweet.

2) Publish email newsletters in a flexible format that will accommodate 100 words or 1,000 words.

3) Publish whenever you have a timely message. Immediacy is more valuable than
publishing on a rigid schedule.

4) Brand your email alerts. Use color and design to make them memorable.

Has the Web won?
Our survey also showed us what percentage of firms are experimenting with other aspects of Internet marketing, such as offering RSS feeds to clients (12%), attaching branding messages to emails (30%), producing podcasts (17%) and offering blogs as part of the firm Web site (16%).

For each new Web feature, some marketers are in front of the pack. The brave are learning the costs, best uses and internal acceptance of features such as Web surveys of clients, client extranets and other opportunities offered by the Web. Most firm marketers are more cautious, waiting for the lessons to emerge.

New technologies constantly offer new opportunities, but they don’t come with a manual on how to use them effectively. Measuring the effectiveness of new communication pathways is a problem in and of itself since the measure changes as the media evolve.

We applaud the bold marketers who are willing to be the first adopters. We admire especially marketers who consider each new Web feature as an opportunity to brand their firm more effectively.

For them, the goal is not to be first to use, but first to profit from technology.

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 in 10 offices, with a marketing staff of 12 people.