Stop Promoting Your Firm. Move to Differentiation.

woman promoting her business with megaphone
While I’m proud to be a consultant, I balk at being called a marketing consultant. For most people the label “marketing consultant” simply conjures up the wrong image. Far too much marketing is focused on shouting rather than thinking. It’s the difference between promotion and differentiation.

For many consultants, attorneys and other professionals, spending a few more dollars isn’t going to break the bank. What kills them is the emotional drain of “selling” all the time. That’s the cost they want to avoid. They’re lured into pouring more money into “marketing” because it’s–relatively speaking–painless. In the end, passive marketing in a relationship-centric business can’t deliver the desired results. The “marketing consultant” image I abhor tells them it’s a problem of execution, and doing still more will bring the results they seek.

It’s not a problem of execution

The problem lies with the very perception of marketing, not with the activities or quality of execution. Most marketing is little more than promotion. It’s shouting louder than the other guy, trying to be heard over competitors saying the same things. Promotional messages tend to be broad and non-specific (e.g. “We do more stuff” or “We are a better value” or “We have more experience”).

If you’re selling consumer goods in mass markets, this type of broadcast message can work. When you sell highly-technical intangibles–like most professional services–nuance is critical. Nuance is hard when you’re shouting. Big firms can sometimes get away with promotion; smaller firms cannot.

Knock ’em over with a feather

The opposite of promotion is differentiation. Differentiation focuses on talking about what really matters to clients and how your firm delivers specific value. It requires thinking about the impact of your services. Prospects don’t want to be lectured on why they should choose your firm. At the same time, they welcome information about how to address their specific needs. Whispered differentiation is more powerful than shouted promotion.

Not only is a differentiated message far more effective at communicating why your firm is the best choice for the client’s specific situation, it also requires less emotional energy. For professional sales people, this isn’t an issue. For attorneys, consultants and other professional seller-doers, reducing the energy drain of their business development process is critical for balancing professional and personal success.

There’s no money in marketing to yourself

Powerfully differentiated marketing is built around the prospect, not the firm. This sounds obvious, but the reasons you would select your firm are likely different from the reasons your best clients actually select your firm. Put on your best pair of objective glasses and take a hard look at your firm’s marketing. Who is the audience it appeals to?¬†Marketing to yourself feels good, but marketing to your prospects is better for your business. Marketing to yourself feels good, but marketing to your prospects is better for your business. Click To Tweet

The rub comes in uncovering the actual reasons your best clients select your firm. It’s a hard question for a lot of professionals to ask. Even when they do, clients–especially your best clients–tend to reply with the answers they think you want to hear, so there’s considerable noise mixed in with the signal. An expert third-party can reveal a level of nuance that you typically cannot.

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