Digital and Relational Marketing for Service-Based Businesses
Professional service-based industries like architecture or engineering that offer a highly refined and targeted niche of services, listen up: digital and relational marketing tools need to be your new BFFs. Although everyone benefits from the services these industries provide, few are ever in the position to warrant hiring either. Because of this, digital marketing for service-based industries is much different than it is for other B2B (and especially B2C) industries. Digital marketing, even when highly targeted, casts a wide net. It’s also a distant net, being mediated by technology. Even at its best, it can lack a human element, and if you're in a service-based professional business, the human component is critical.
Relational vs. Digital Marketing
For professional service businesses, relational marketing should receive the lion’s share of any expenditure of capital and human resources. It’s true. The connections a firm makes with developers, government officials, and others go a long way in keeping the firm, and its capabilities, top of mind when an RFP is issued, or a need to select a new architect for a private construction project arises. Relational marketing is valuable in almost any industry, but even more so in these areas where decisions are often being made for large-scale projects with long turnaround times. Connecting with potential customers as a human, and a brand is vital.
Digital marketing should support relational marketing and the goals should be simple:
Maintain a modern, well-architected website with case studies
Keep a professional photographer on standby to capture your work
Strategically invest in videography to meet business goals
Maintain - consistently - a vibrant LinkedIn channel that links viewers back to your website
A visually pleasing, well-organized website is a powerful place to tell the story of your business. It’s also one of the few places a company can have total control over how its brand is displayed and what kind of experience its customers will have. Use your website to publish case studies, share thought leadership, and make photos and video available.
If you're in a highly niched professional service industry, you may have little reason to look to other B2B or B2C brands for trends or strategies for social media. In fact, your approach could be much more simple: use LinkedIn to share links back to the business website. LinkedIn allows your business to have a profile on a primary networking website, and for your employees to show their affiliation with your company and share links about the work they are doing with you. Encourage them to share case studies, photos, video, and posts about what excites them about their job. That sort of content will appeal to potential customers as well as your next best employee.
Other social media platforms can have some value to your type of business, but typically only to support building brand awareness or recruitment efforts. Many firms will use Instagram and Facebook to post office culture content that signals to future talent that they are an active, engaging, and exciting firm to work for.
Investing in Digital Marketing
Businesses should allocate funds to support the maintenance of a primary website and the continual documentation of their work through the creation of case studies and the capture of professional quality photo and video. This doesn’t have to represent the addition of new personnel to the firm’s staff. Many creative agencies have the talent to complete this work expediently in a cost-effective manner.
For marketing coordinators and other personnel who are tasked with leading these initiatives, here are a few tips for making a case for funding digital marketing:
Be clear about the potential ROI and how the activity fits in with existing initiatives
Present a detailed scope of work and expected financial investment
Make a case for how these activities will have a long-term impact on brand awareness or development, and (if possible) lead generation
Don’t let hype around digital marketing scare you into believing you should open a MailChimp account and start a mass email campaign, or that you can replace relational activities such as networking events, speaking opportunities, or trade shows, with social ads and sponsored content. That’s not your game - and there’s nothing wrong with that. Look at digital marketing as a brand development activity, potential recruiting tool, and supplemental - yet essential - content opportunity that supports the marketing strategies that built your firm in the first place.