Mid-market accounting firms must place greater reliance on content amplification and digital marketing strategy to increase visibility and competitiveness in a crowded marketplace, experts say.
“The traditional pillars of business development in accountancy have definitely dwindled,” says Nicky Purnell, marketing and business development director at Menzies.
“So, when it comes to digital marketing, you’ve got to be at the top of your game.”
Purnell notes that while referrals have historically been the dominant source for winning new business in accountancy, the importance of a strong online presence and high-quality content is greater than ever.
The investment made into this area by Menzies has led to a “huge increase” in online engagement and more website enquiries as a proportion of new wins than ever, she adds.
“Of course, the content strategy is responsible for driving that traffic to the website.
“If you’re not out there and switched on when it comes to content and online engagement, you’re going to disappear.”
Standing out in a crowd
But a strong marketing and content strategy is just one piece within the online engagement puzzle, according to Sam Coombes, Menzies’ digital marketing manager.
A strong search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy is also key to “getting more bang for your buck,” he says, adding that a lack of presence can cause firms to be “deselected” by prospective clients.
“Realistically, you do need to make sure you’re on top of that Google page for all of these searches, just for gratification if nothing else. Because if people have heard about you from somewhere else, they will go away and find a review and make sure of it before making a decision.”
The “crowded market” and shifting industry landscape mean that a strong online presence is more critical for brand awareness than ever before, says Jo Edwards, senior director at JE Consulting, a full-service marketing agency that represents several mid-market accountancy firms in the UK.
“It’s a crowded market, and the way that one firm differentiates themselves from their competitor down the road when they’re in the same geography and probably have a similar skillset, is by making more people aware of who you are.
“The landscape has shifted massively in the last five to 10 years – it’s all about awareness.”
Marketing in a downturn
Edwards argues that this shift necessitates a greater investment in marketing by accounting firms – a trend that is already visible across the industry.
“The firms that we work with have been through recessions before, and I think most of them would say that’s the time to up your marketing spend.”
“A well-structured firm will increase their marketing spend as they head into uncertain times.”
Contrary to expectations, according to Edwards, many firms recognised that the pandemic represented an opportunity to offer “more support than ever” to clients.
“We didn’t actually see budgets being slashed. There was this initial panic, but once firms saw that their clients needed more support than ever, they realised that they needed keep the marketing spend up and, in some cases, increase it.”Menzies’ Purnell also recognises a growing consensus among firms increasing their marketing spend, attributing this partly to the wealth of analytics technology now available to digital teams.
The increasing volumes of data available from Google Analytics, in addition to the consolidation and visibility enabled by HubSpot’s analytics dashboards, in particular, allow firm’s marketing departments to demonstrate return on investment more effectively than ever, she says.
“Because we’ve got all of that data, our worth is much more tangible than it used to be – we can demonstrate the value that we bring to the business.”
Similarly, Menzies’ Coombes sees the increasing reliance on digital channels across all sectors as a key driver for an uptick in marketing spend.
“That shift to online during the pandemic has made it even more important that we communicate well with our client base and do that in a seamless, coordinated way,” he says.
“Covid was probably the best thing for digital that has ever happened, because it really did shine a light on it.”
‘Content is everything’
A well-researched, client-first content strategy must sit at the heart of any accounting firm’s digital marketing plan, says JE Consulting’s Edwards.
Understanding the firm’s client base and the guidance they need for their businesses is critical to this, she says.
“The key is understanding the ideal client that the firm really wants to spend budget trying to attract. Your clients are the people you’ve got to look after first because they’ll refer us and we can cross-sell to them as well.
“You’ve got to make sure the content is relevant and useful, otherwise it’s just creating noise and you might as well not bother.”
Ultimately, “content is everything” for retention and new business, adds Menzies’ Purnell.
“We go to market by sector route, so we have regular sector team meetings where we walk about the hot topics and what clients are concerned about.
“So, it has to come from the experts in the business because they’re the ones with their fingers on the pulse.”
Edwards stresses the importance of senior personnel “recognising the power of their own brand”, arguing that in some cases, this has the potential to be more powerful than the overall brand of the firm.
“When you’ve got somebody within the practice that can carve a niche, you should try and get them slightly famous within that service sector.”