Posts filed under ‘Business to Business’

Lessons from Netflix’s Business Model for Professional Services Companies

I may have been a bit bleary-eyed last week as Netflix fulfilled a dream of mine by resurrecting Arrested Development and gave me 15 episodes to gorge on at once. (Thankfully, they released them over the Memorial Day holiday so I had some extra time to enjoy and recover.) I’ve been a huge fan of Netflix since it was discs only. Beyond having content I really enjoy, the entertainment service is a forward-thinking, paradigm shifting company (see Blockbuster and, increasingly, cable). Professional services companies can learn from its anywhere-anytime approach. Here are a few lessons:

1. Accessibility – Netflix is device agnostic, meaning they will customize their streaming service to just about any computer, phone, tablet and maybe even watch (if we get there). The goal is strategic, they want to you value the portability and flexibility of the service – whether sitting in a park with Wi-Fi watching on a phone or cooking in the kitchen with an iPad propped up. Professional services firms need to consider how their communications are formatted. Websites need to convert well to mobile devices. At times dedicated apps make sense. When it comes to strategic communicating, the goal should be to have a tailored presence on every major channel, and this means Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, LinkedIn company pages and Google Plus pages too.

2. Content is King – Netflix spends billions of dollars to acquire the rights to re-runs of high quality programming and, now, to create its own original titles. While a law or accounting firm will not be looking to pay millions to stream Law and Order, they should be bearing this concept in mind when debating the merit of devoting a portion of billable time to marketing efforts, such as byline article writing.

3. Content Diversity Casts a Wide Net – Netflix has everything from Cheers to Sesame Street to Frontline available on demand. It is acutely aware of its position as an aggregator of niche audiences. Professional service firms, through vehicles such as blogs, videos, podcasts and email alerts, can engage their disparate client bases. One size simply does not fit all, and an approach or voice for one practice might not work for another.

4. Use Your Data – The first three points all depend on actively employing what Netflix does best – understanding the river of data that its customers create every day. Netflix knows what you are watching and tailors programming for larger audiences (House of Cards) and individual suggestions for users. Professional service firms frequently fail to delve into how effective their communications actually are in terms of objective benchmarks. Knowing that a client e-alert was sent to X number of individuals is as effective as saying that a newspaper reached a circulation of Y. It says nothing about who actually read, opened and took an action based on the information. By marrying tools like Google Analytics (free) and Google AdWords (low cost), you can set up a funnel to show how many people opened an email announcing an event and actually signed up.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a season finale to watch!

- Michael Bond

June 4, 2013 at 6:09 pm Leave a comment

A Holiday Reminder: Unlike Fruitcake, “News” has a Short Shelf Life

Listen up, litigators (and dealmakers)!  We are aware of the amazing high you get when the jury delivers that winning verdict after a hard-fought trial for which years of your life were spent in preparation – or when those transactional documents are signed, sealed and delivered after many days and nights of intense negotiations in an enclosed room with recirculated air. Ah, sweet VICTORY!!!

But wait, you want to share the news, right? You want the world (or at least your friends and foes) to know it was you and your amazing team that got the job done. Well, remember to call in your communications team before you send out an all-firm email celebrating your success. After all, news – unlike the ubiquitous holiday fruitcake or the recently departed Twinkie – has a shelf life. Reporters like it when it is fresh.

The news cycle is never-ending. News breaks 24/7. Citizens (and reporters) are tweeting from the courtroom, so results are circulated within minutes of being read. The recent Apple-Samsung verdict – which had many components – was live tweeted. Investors are speculating and corporate PR machines humming along and poised for immediate disclosure. There are no “presses” to stop for breaking news. Reporters need the “news” of your victory within minutes because the deadlines for the web are relentless. Good news is like milk on your countertop – wait too long and no one wants to touch it.

We’ve been “breaking” legal news for more than two decades, and we used to have the luxury of “picking” our timing. A verdict read late on a Friday – traditionally undesirable news timing because you don’t want to be in that skinny, overlooked Saturday edition – might be held for release on Monday morning, after the celebratory hangovers have subsided, talking points have been vetted and client approvals confirmed twice. Well, just like sending press releases via U.S. Postal Service, this is a communications practice of the past.

If you’d like news coverage of your case or deal, it needs to be communicated as soon as possible after the big verdict is read or deal closure secured. Better yet, let’s chat in advance and get it all ready to go – “just in case.” Consider creating a mini-communications “strike force” – prepared with sources, talking points and materials for all possible outcomes. Bear in mind that confidentiality agreements exist for a reason and we are disciplined when it comes to safeguarding your information.

Competition is stiff. If you’re not sharing the news, but the other side is beating its chest and screaming about an appeal, you may see some coverage, but it will likely quote the attorney who was sitting on the other side of the courtroom or across the table.

We PR-types don’t mean to be buzzkills, but please don’t wait to move on big news. We exist in symbiotic relationships with you, our clients – and we enjoy popping a few bottles ourselves upon getting the right message out at the right time and into the right vehicles.

When it comes to news, think fresh.

Traci Stuart

December 13, 2012 at 10:35 pm Leave a comment

Keep Your Messaging In Sync

If you have ever been in a kayak with another person, you can easily understand the importance of staying in sync. By paddling in different directions you will literally go nowhere. Keeping this in mind, why do professional services concerns adopt different messages across their collateral?

Press releases are often created in a vacuum without consideration of the firm’s stated objectives on their website. Even more maddening are ads that fail to pair in any meaningful way with both written and graphic collateral materials.

Not only are firms creating more work for their creative team, they are also failing to advance a unified message. These firms are sitting in the middle of the lake going nowhere as well-intentioned creative professionals continually try and move the company in a definitive direction.

Who are you?

It’s a bit of an over-played notion, but if an organization fails to know itself, it really cannot succeed. One of my favorite pages on a website is the “About Us” section. While individual bios may be quite impressive, what concerns me as a potential client (and a communications professional) is the shared vision. What are the common threads that run throughout? Professional services concerns often struggle with this question. However, it is critical as it is the hub from which all marketing and business development spokes are connected to.

Here is what a law firm might say:

XYZ law firm is a problem solver.

We work with clients to identify and alleviate issues that keep them up at night.

We practice preventative medicine with our clients by taking an active interest in their day-to-day operations and by truly partnering with them at all stages – from start-up to lease negotiation to succession planning. When necessary, we also scrub in as surgeons, working to uncover the root of issues and litigating with precision.

Simply said, our success is tied to our clients.

Key Messaging Points:

1. We solve problems.
2. We know your business is your business and we are here to ensure that focus is not taken away from it.
3. We are interested in listening to both your day-to-day and your urgent issues.
4. We litigate efficiently and with focus.
5. We only succeed when you succeed.

(As XYZ exists only in my mind, firms of course would add more substantive meat onto this marketing skeleton.)

Rowing Together

Working with the sample “About Us” message at the core, here is how XYZ can move in sync:

Press Release – The part of a press release where one can get creative is the quote. Consider the message points utilized in the following quote.

XYZ Adds Two Attorneys

Quote – “John and Maria, in addition to being accomplished litigators, are also problem solvers. We are excited to add them to our team and are confident that they will succeed in our firm culture where truly listening to and partnering with clients is central to how we operate.”

Ad – Any ad the firm runs, from a community sponsorship to a major trade or business journal, should be carefully considered and echo established messaging. For example:

XYZ’s Focus Is On You

XYZ has been a strategic partner of Oakwood Cupcakes from virtually day one.

We worked with the company’s founders to secure financing.

We helped negotiate their first lease.

(And we tested some of their first products.)

The cooks at Oakwood consistently earn high praise from their customers and our aim is to do everything we can to keep them in the kitchen and doing what they love.

At XYZ, our focus is on you.

Here both the firm’s venture capital/angel investing and commercial real estate practices have been promoted in a manner far more effective than simply stating these services are offered. A story is told, while also hitting on numerous messaging points. A line is even worked that humanizes the firm. The ad itself is a testament to the firm’s strategy as a client is being promoted while marketing the firm.

Bank of America has done a series of ads in this manner that highlighting local investments.

Also, consider this spot from American Express. While they are a consumer company, they too are really offering a service:

The ad tells a story and neatly encapsulates who they are and what you can do when you are a member.

Be strategic.

When all of your messaging tools are in sync, you will go places.

October 25, 2012 at 11:48 pm Leave a comment

Appearance Is a Little Thing That Can Make a Big Difference

Every professional services company is looking for differentiators – things, large or small, that will provide an advantage in attracting and retaining business. As seemingly banal and inconsequential as it may seem at first glance, appearance matters. Enter the ever-behooded CEO of Facebook Marc Zuckerberg. Yesterday, a picture of his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev was in wide circulation. As you can see, he bothered to put a suit on. You can also see that he didn’t bother to button his top button for a photo with a world leader.

For this, I am emphatically pressing the dislike button.

Zuckerberg’s carelessness and indifference are part of a spectrum of wardrobe malfunctions I have witnessed. For example, I have seen ruffled trousers, suits that needed to be pressed, stained shirts and – in perhaps the true nadir – a suit accented with a tie composed of smiley faces. Nothing screams, “I am a competent professional!” more than that.

Professional services are not the easiest product to sell. (Yes, as loathsome as that word is, there is still selling going on.) Unlike consumer products, decision makers regarding these services often look at a chart that looks like this:

Company A Company B
Highly Qualified Professionals Highly Qualified Professionals
Strong Reputation in the Business Community Strong Reputation in the Business Community

If we assume that pricing for each firm is nearly identical as well, the decision maker may extend the comparison from these macro traits to micro ones:

Company A Company B
Highly Qualified Professionals Highly Qualified Professionals
Strong Reputation in the Business Community Strong Reputation in the Business Community
Favorable First Impression at Face-to-Face Meeting – Came across as professional (in manners and dress); Projected confidence. So-So First Impression at Face-to-Face Meeting – Understood subject matter, but seemed underdressed; Projected a casualness that does not align with serious nature of this business.

The thoughts expressed in the third row may be either conscious or subconscious, but they do happen, and they truly underscore the need to be in-point and prepared in appearance. There is simply too much at stake.

Button your top button Zuckerberg!

– Michael Bond

October 3, 2012 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

What Apple’s Maps Experience Teaches

The introduction of the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 went relatively well, with one notable exception – many people are up in arms about the quality of Apple’s new maps software. Withering criticism has been heaped upon the company. Here is the New York TimesDavid Pogue. Here is The Wall Street Journal’s and All Things D’s Walt Mossberg. You know it is bad when a Tumblr blog has been created lampooning your software’s shortcomings. Yikes.

What does a company do in the face of such a maelstrom?

We previously chronicled Netflix’s botched rollout of a separate DVD-only service called “Quikster.”  However, Apple’s move is different in that they can’t just create a system update that reverts back to Google Maps – which previously came pre-loaded on iPhones and iPads. Doing so would: a) defeat the business rationale for creating a maps app; b) admit that a competitor is flat-out better than they are at something; and c) provide Google with leverage – should they even allow such a move – to force Apple either into an exclusivity pact or to provide additional concessions.

Still, Apple’s maps stink.

Today CEO Tim Cook admitted that the company blew it. He even apologized, saying he is “extremely sorry.” This is from an AP article:

“While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.”

It is a bold move for a company to mention, let alone outright endorse, competitors. However, as a PR move, this may prove extremely shrewd. Apple’s famously loyal customer base may appreciate Cook’s honesty and give the company some time to get this app right.

A key lesson, and one that applies to professional services companies as well, is that if you truly have botched something – oftentimes honesty is, as the cliché goes, the best policy. One of the worst things a company can do is stand their ground and remain tone deaf to their customers as they get pummeled by criticism.

These words can go a long way in preserving relationships:

We are truly sorry. We will fix the issue. In the meantime, here is what we can do for you.

Michael Bond

September 28, 2012 at 10:44 pm 1 comment

Why You Should Consider Doing Some Pinning

It seems as though there is no limit to the number of social media sites that pop up on the Internet. One of the most popular newcomers is Pinterest, a site that allows one to “pin” as if to a bulletin board images and videos. I can just imagine the collective eye rolling in the executive offices of professional services firms. The thinking may very well go along the lines of, “What in the world would we have to pin?”

A large user base of Pinterest create scrapbooks for themselves – recipes, shoes they are looking to purchase and funny or particularly beautiful photos. However, for companies, Pinterest offers the opportunity to – in a very aesthetically pleasing way – leverage content. Corporate ads, photos and videos all work well on the site.

Here are a few of my favorite examples:

Oakland Athletics — http://pinterest.com/athletics/

Note how on their “Historic Moments” board they integrated some great vintage photos. If your organization has classic historic photos, consider pinning them.

Virgin America — http://pinterest.com/virginamerica/

There is great stuff on the “Airplane Geekery” board. This board is a fun way to engage really passionate employees and customers. Don’t be afraid to consider a board with less serious material – for instance a shot of a birthday cake or a video of an office softball game.

Personally, I jumped in the game with a board called “Ads I Love.” I pin up TV and print advertisements that I think are truly outstanding. As a professional who is always consuming media, this was a natural outlet for me. It may even spark a conversation with a client or potential client who likes an ad that I do or who has a similar passion. The goal in all of this is greater engagement. Consider doing some pinning. You may find real value in it.

Michael Bond

September 19, 2012 at 9:48 pm Leave a comment

Creating Value – Lessons Learned from a Summer of Craigslistist

As the parent of three boys, my household has accumulated a lot of STUFF! As such, at the beginning of the summer, I made it my project to de-clutter the house through the use of Craigslist.

In doing so, I picked up a number of valuable marketing reminders that will help with my fall project (more de-cluttering), and these nuggets are not just limited to my household, they apply to professional service firms, as well.

Value

  • No matter the cost, value needs to be perceived. Customers on Craigslist aren’t shopping for deals or making impulse buys, they are investing time and resources to find a product they need. In a similar fashion, clients are reaching out to your firm based on the value you offer. It is important that firms reinforce this through their marketing efforts and all communication channels, which bring us to the next point . . .

Presentation

  • Value is perceived based on how your firm is presented. If I post a photo of the item I’m selling on Craigslist, potential customers can see the value first-hand. Printed materials, websites, social media, e-mails, etc. – they all need to present your firm’s value proposition. Imagine a website for an architectural firm without renderings, or a law firm’s RFP without any mention of the attorney’s expertise. The result would be potential clients  going to competitor that has actually demonstrated value.

Competitive Analysis

  • I once posted an item that cost quite a bit more than three others were offering. My bad! I didn’t research the going price on Craigslist, and in turn, my item didn’t sell. Professional firms are no different than any other business. You need to keep an eye on your competition and what they are offering. Doing so can reinforce your efforts to create value or inspire new methods of attracting and retaining clients.

Timely Response

  • We live in an era of immediate gratification. This was reinforced when I took a day or two to respond to questions about my posted items. By the time I returned the correspondence, the potential customer had already moved on to someone else or another product. The same is true for clients. It’s highly likely your professional firm has built its value on client service. This needs to be supported by timely responses to inquiries. If not, the client may find solutions elsewhere.

Communication

  • In completing my summer project, I was constantly amazed by the number of people that responded to my post with a message requesting a call. It’s the Internet, shouldn’t all communication be electronic? I quickly came to realize that my potential customers were not luddites and instead only wanted to know who they were purchasing from. It was part of their perceived value – you don’t want to buy something from someone you don’t like. In the same vein, professional service firms need to maintain regular communication to not only build value but to create a relationship.

While my summer project is over, the lessons learned serve as good reminders. As we interact with those looking to purchase an item from Craigslist or attract a new client, we need to remember the importance of value. And speaking of value, if you are looking for some gently use children items, find me on Craigslist.

-          Chuck Brown

 

September 14, 2012 at 6:20 pm 1 comment

PBS Auto-Tunes and Leverages Legends

Original, quality content is a great thing. PBS has a warehouse of great content. A challenge for them is how to connect to today’s varied demographics and leverage (and monetize through eyeballs and pledges) the rich vault of material they have. This is why the hit auto-tuned videos of Julia Child, Fred Rogers and Bob Ross are so clever. They tweaked content that had already been created to make something new and novel. The videos (below) are not only clever, they also are great marketing vehicles that introduce these luminaries to new audiences. As all three have, unfortunately, passed, finding ways to grow the audience and add some vigor to these franchises is crucial. The videos are not only fun, but they also highlight the unique personalities of all three, raising awareness of PBS and the brands virally and in the media.

Professional service companies often possess similar troves of content – new and old. Finding ways to generate more impact per article, blog post and presentation is critical. Just like with PBS, sometimes one has to think outside the box.

– Michael Bond

August 30, 2012 at 6:20 pm 6 comments

For Press Releases: Stick to the Facts

Writing good press releases is not as simple as it would seem. The right words in the right place can make an enormous difference, as can a good message-focused quote versus a stock, throwaway one.

Continue Reading July 3, 2012 at 11:10 pm Leave a comment

The Dos and Don’ts of Law Firms on Twitter

Since its inception, Twitter has experienced phenomenal growth in users; however, it is no longer just the playground for those relaying their activities, such as eating a sandwich, and celebrities promoting social causes. Increasingly, new outlets are joining Twitter, not only creating main feeds but also subdividing by news topics and, most importantly, reporters.

It is, of course, the natural evolution for the media. With increased news reporting on their websites and the never-ending news cycle, reporters are joining Twitter en mass not only to report the news but also to obtain information and develop relationships.

While it is a new form of communication with the media, the old rules of dealing with a reporter still stand. As such, law firms that only tweet self-serving news and don’t offer a benefit to reporters will not be followed.

Of course, entire books have been written about how to best use Twitter. But since most legal marketing departments currently have 20 other ball in the air, we did our own research and condensed the best practices for law firms using Twitter.

While some of the advice offered in the articles and blog postings is repetitious, we do recommend reading each for their own value. To assist busy legal marketers, we have also included an excerpt from each posting that encapsulates the best practices discussed.

Please feel free to share your own best practices in the comments section.

The Quick Guide for Legal Marketers

 Twitter for Law Firms

  • A good law firm Twitter feed keeps two things in mind: (1) it’s all about the clients, and (2) it’s not all about the firm. Updates deliver breaking news of interest to the firm’s clientele, or provide links to reports of interest and importance to clients’ industries or spread the word about upcoming events and opportunities that could deliver value to clients.

Law Firm Twitter Accounts

  • If you are Tweeting for a law firm, let us know who the voice behind the brand is. It doesn’t matter if it’s not the chairman, CMO or founding partner. We don’t really care. We just want to know there is a face behind the voice.  You’ve got 160 characters for the profile bio. Just add your names. See if it doesn’t make a difference and let us know!

 How Am Law 100 Firms Use Twitter

  • My question about law firm Twitter accounts has always been, “Who is your intended audience?” Corporate counsel? C-suite executives? Companies in urgent need of specialized complex litigation help? If the answer is all three, then most of your tweets will be irrelevant to a large part of your audience. People don’t want to have to sift through irrelevant information. By tweeting all of the firm’s content from a single account, you are forcing followers to do a fair amount of sifting.

 Top 10 Twitter Tips for Law Firms

  • Last, but certainly not least, connect as much as possible by commenting and retweeting but don’t just rely on an RSS feed from your firm’s website and don’t spam with media mentions or direct messages.

 10 Twitter Tips for Law Firms (Marketing Departments included)

  • Twitter is not 9-5. It’s 24/7, 365 days per week. You cannot expect to grow your presence and get meaningful results if you are not monitoring what is going on. Very often law firms don’t even bother to respond when they get a reasonable comment. Why? Probably because nobody is checking the stream regularly enough or they have been told not to engage. Engagement is key. Go and check out Starbucks and Ford and you will see what I mean. There are of course some excellent law firms who do respond but they are in the minority in my experience.

 6 Twitter Tips for Lawyers & Legal Professionals

  • Attribute Any Re-tweets – Attribution shows that you understand your profession and that your care about your audience. Whether it is a quote from your favorite book, a poem or retweet, always attribute borrowed information to the source author. Twitter is very specific about retweeting, and even makes the process simpler for retweets.

Twitter Tips for Lawyers

  • Adding Substance. I’ll admit that I am guilty of not always following this tip. But we should all be better at adding a little commentary on our tweets and re-tweets. Include a brief statement of why you are sending the tweet out. It can be as simple as “Found this interesting:” followed by the title of the article or post. Too frequently, I see tweets (and send tweets) that have nothing more than the title of a post and a link. Take time to offer up a few words explaining why your followers should be interested in what you are sending.
  • Repetition. When you publish a new blog post, article, or something similar, you most certainly will send notice of it to your Twitter followers. But remember that not all your followers are paying attention to their streams at the same time. Some may say it is bad form, but feel free to tweet about the post or article several times (at different times of the day) so that your followers won’t miss it.

-          Chuck Brown

June 14, 2012 at 12:09 am 4 comments

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