Marketing Strategy / December 11, 2020
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The future of marketing is not about attention, reach, creative, or technology. These things are important – don’t get me wrong. But, there is a bigger and more urgent charter for marketers at professional services firms: trust.
We don’t do business with people, or companies, we do not trust. We certainly do not entrust critical projects to an architecture, engineering, or construction firm if we do not trust them. Trust is the precursor to any kind of meaningful relationship. We trust our colleagues, our partners, our friends. Trust is the foundation upon which any important bond is built, but for many marketers, it’s not even a priority.
Consider this: we are facing a shocking decline in trust.
Source: Edelman, emphasis mine.
The ball is in Marketing’s court.
Luckily, trust is a matter of perception. And, changing perception is what we do best as marketing professionals. I speak with a lot of B2B marketers about this very issue. Many, especially in commoditized industries such as SaaS are seeking ways to differentiate from their competition. But in professional services fields such as architecture, engineering, or construction – commoditization has always been the norm. There’s no shortage of other firms competing for the same clients and projects as you.
Ahead of my talk at the SMPS Boston Marketing bootcamp on Tuesday, April 23rd, I dug into some of SMPS’ member organizations to find great examples of how professional services marketers earn trust from skeptical buyers.
Here are 3 best practices I found:
A study by the FORTUNE Knowledge Group and gyro found that a majority of executives say knowing what a company stands for is much more important than whether it is innovative (21%) or dominates its market (20%).
However, much of our professional services marketing messaging and content leads with the work we’ve done, how innovative our process is, or how our firm dominates a particular niche in the space.
The truth is – buyers don’t necessarily hold these aspects to be most important, not right away. They may factor into a deal, but later in the process. Buyers first need to know you stand for something. It builds an emotional connection and helps you find prospects who are philosophically aligned with you.
A great example is SMPS member, Flansburgh, who is crystal clear about a core belief that guides their architecture process, and indicates to a buyer exactly what they stand for:
“Our architecture is driven by a belief that the quality of our surroundings has a direct influence on the quality of our lives, whether, on campus, in the workplace, at a show, or in the public realm.”
This belief is reflected in the work the firm executes, as well as the content they publish. Before ever meeting a member of their team in person, a potential buyer can come away with the sense they know the firm, and begins the sales process with a level of unmatched trust.
(Trust me, you’ll want to bookmark this resource.)
Bain and Company and Harvard Business Review found a kind of hierarchy of needs as it relates to what B2B buyers want. They found 40 distinct kinds of value, ranging from objective to the more subjective and personal.
According to their study, objective value such as having an acceptable price, meeting specifications, and reducing costs are all tablestakes to doing business. In other words, they’re enough to help you be part of the consideration set, not enough to ensure you win the deal.
Note: I’ll talk about how to break through the curse of the consideration set at the 4/23 SMPS bootcamp. Join us?
What sets B2B vendors apart are far more individual and inspirational elements of value, notably a vision of the future that helps a customer anticipate changes in their markets.
So much is changing, so quickly, in nearly every industry and facet of our modern world. This is overwhelming for many buyers – but a fantastic opportunity for marketers to position their brand as a resource to help guide them through the uncertain waters ahead.
One great example is from engineering and construction company CDM Smith, whose award-winning campaign about modern mobility hinges on a bold vision of the future that a transportation buyer can opt into.
“Modern Mobility means more than better transportation today. It’s about forward-thinking, strategic investments, and leveraging emerging technologies and a multimodal mindset to advance infrastructure for the future. CDM Smith is with you for the journey forward.”
This page details industry leaders discussing trends set to change the world of transportation, examples of relevant projects, and provocative articles such as “Can Truck Platooning Work in Cities?”
Just by engaging with this content, prior to speaking to a member of the CDM Smith team, a buyer knows that not only is the firm an expert in this topic area, but they’ve got a confident, bold, and clear vision for the road ahead.
That’s critical to earning trust.
If you watched the most recent Superbowl (Go Pats) you likely saw an ad from Budweiser that promoted a revolutionary new… wait for it… ingredients label.
Yes, Budweiser invested millions in advertising budget to tell the world simply what was in its beer.
Budweiser knows transparency is a critical component to earning trust. To them, revealing their ingredients instantly put their competition in defensive mode to either fess up, or be called out for hiding something.
You may be transparent in your relationship with a buyer once you’ve closed the deal, or perhaps in the project management process, but how do you signal transparency and use it to your advantage before the deal?
I’d like to share an example from world of SaaS. Buffer, a social media scheduling tool, “defaults to transparency” as a corporate value (see them here.) They are the best example I have seen of transparency in business, using it as a brand differentiator and lead generation tool.
Buffer is transparent about: where your money goes as a customer when you purchase a Buffer subscription; the company’s salaries and equity breakdown; even their product and content roadmap. My personal favorite is a breakdown of where your money goes when you spend $10/mo on their product:
All of it is fully available to a potential buyer, entirely transparent, and demonstrates that this team can be trusted.
In today’s world, that level of trust is invaluable.
It’s time to earn trust.
How can your firm demonstrate your beliefs in order to win over philosophically-aligned buyers? How can you present a bold vision for the future in uncertain times? What are some ways in which you can out-maneuver your competition by being radically transparent while they keep potential buyers in the dark?
Marketers may not be used to asking themselves questions like this, but truly, in an age of distrust, these may be the most important questions you seek to answer.
I’m so delighted to share more in my keynote at the SMPS Boston Marketing Bootcamp on April 23rd. I’ll be discussing the “curse of the consideration set” and presenting strategies like these to differentiate, earn trust, and drive growth. Register here.