Imagine that you are a full service law firm offering the standard gamut of services to a broad spectrum of market segments and industries. You are made up of a number of partners and people who are experts in their particular fields.
You don’t specialise in any particular vertical or horizontal segment, and even if you do, you don’t over-promote it in case it pigeon holes you and/or costs you “other” work.
So from the outside you are a “generalist” firm, and that’s ok. But it presents a greater marketing challenge in a digital age, challenges that are going to increase into the future.
Why, you ask?
There has been more information produced in the last 30 years than in the previous 5,000. It’s just so much harder to be heard through the constant electronic bombardment inflicted on us all.
The wider your audience, the more noise you have to contend with. As I keep saying: if everyone is your customer, then everyone is your competitor.
The specialist has the advantage in this environment because their target audience is much smaller.
The generalist is more often than not trying to be all things to all people, through one channel. Your outbound communication, in this case, either has to be general in nature, or irrelevant to large segments of your followers.
We all have limited time available to digest your messages and are being forced to be more and more selective in what we listen to.
If you want my attention, you have to give me value.
Sorry, but even if I’m a loyal client or referrer, I just don’t have time for things that aren’t relevant to me or my business.
I’m not telling the marketing department anything they don’t already know here, but having multiple partners across multiple service lines is an issue.
Putting aside the difficulty in gaining consensus, there is and always will be varying degrees of enthusiasm, understanding and involvement. This means some service areas will shine and flourish, and others will remain stagnant.
The specialist firm again has the upper hand. Buy-in across separate service areas is not such an issue, as they won’t have as many.
Does your website or extended online presence represent a battlefield of compromise?
Whose division or service line is the most important? Who gets home page space? Whose articles get published first?
Is it the most senior partner, or the one who shouts loudest, or the one who actually bothers to produce some content?
People are experts, not firms
Many generalists attempt to overcome the issues discussed above by directing outbound messages through a single company feed – for example, a company Twitter account, or newsletter.
The problem here is that people are experts, not firms, and your audience wants to listen to and talk to people.
I don’t think we want to hear opinions and advice from a firm, or learn from a brand. If I want to engage with you, ask a question, or reply to something you’ve published, who am I actually talking to – a marketer, the receptionist, or an expert?
Yes, in the generalist firm it can all just get too hard. Compromises are taken, we burn out another marketing manager, or worse, we just give up.
If that’s the case, then of course the effort won’t be rewarded, there will be no wins, the whole digital space will be undervalued internally and on the cycle goes. This is what I call “self-perpetuated failure”.
A poor networker won’t get any leads from networking, so you can’t expect a poor online presence to generate leads either.
The wash up
Don’t get me wrong, for the foreseeable future there will always be a place for the generalist. But it will become harder and harder to maintain a strong market position against the more savvy and nimble specialist firms as they push the generalist firms further and further towards a commodity.
This means that the generalists will have to lift their game and move beyond the referral mindset, get smarter, explore multiple points of presence, and become far more strategic with their online marketing.
Jim works predominantly in online strategy development, positioning, targeted lead generation, marketing automation and website architecture.
He is passionate about advising and educating professional services firms on how to strategically position themselves in a fast changing digital age.
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