First let me clarify that I use the term marketing in the conventional sense. In our industry, we often use the word as a euphemism for sales. I'm talking about the complementary activities we do like public relations, writing articles, speaking at conferences, maintaining a website, sending out direct mail, etc. These activities support the sales process, but are distinct from it.
So what does your firm expect to achieve from its marketing efforts? Responses I commonly hear include: increase our name recognition, strengthen our brand, build our reputation. So how do you know how well it's working? Ah, now that's a tough question! Companies in other industries, however, don't spend millions on marketing and advertising for such nebulous outcomes as name recognition and reputation building. They expect it to motivate prospective customers to act.
Let me suggest that your marketing results increase as you progress through five basic levels:
Level 1: We have some materials. You have a brochure, resumes, project descriptions, a website. For some firms, that's about as far as their marketing efforts have taken them. And some struggle even at Level 1. But for firms with a strong client base, sound selling skills, and little ambition to grow much, Level 1 may well suffice.
Level 2: They've heard of us. Some firms do a great job getting their name out there. They send out regular press releases, advertise frequently, get listed in directories, sponsor highly visible events. This builds the aforementioned name recognition, which is certainly important. But it doesn't go far enough to attract clients' attention.
Level 3: They know what we do. Not simply the basic services you offer, but what you're really good at, what you specialize in. More targeted marketing helps establish your areas of expertise. People see you regularly associated with specific industries or building types or technologies, and they develop a sense of your core business.
Level 4: They're favorably impressed. This is a critical juncture in your marketing efforts, when people begin to favorably compare you with your competitors. That's the genesis of brand. Many proudly point to their repeat business rate of 80% (which everyone seems to attain!) as evidence of their strong reputation. But Level 4 involves building a reputation well beyond existing or past clients. People have never worked with you, but they've heard and seen enough about you to think you're among the best.
Level 5: They're calling us. In my mind, this is the one marketing metric that really matters. How many people are contacting you because of your marketing activities? Don't know? I recommend taking steps to be able to monitor response to your marketing. The easiest step is to establish a phone number and an email address used exclusively to receive inquiries from your marketing efforts. Encourage your colleagues to report when they get a call as a result of marketing.
If your marketing is really working, you should be getting increasing numbers of contacts from prospective and existing clients. So how do you get to Level 5? Simple answer: Serve the client. Provide content that helps them improve their business and achieve their goals. Shift your focus from the usual self-promotion to becoming a trusted source of information and insight. For a few more ideas on this, check out my previous post "Marketing for Leads."
Keep in my that you're never firmly entrenched in Level 5, or any of the other levels. Your intended audience will be in different places, from never having heard of you to seriously considering your services. The goal is simply this: You want to track a positive trend of greater contacts from clients in response to your marketing. Anything less is expecting too little.