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Go narrow to get known – the power of niche marketing

Professional services marketing expert Ross Fishman gave a highly entertaining presentation at the 2019 North America Leadership Conference on why lawyers and accountants need to not only be more focused with their marketing, but also do it with more creativity.

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Ever seen a lawyer get tasered? Unless you were one of the 48 delegates in attendance in Orlando who saw the video shared by marketing consultant Ross Fishman, then probably not! The point made by Fishman was that the self-styled ‘taser lawyer’ had identified a specialist area of the market (or “niche”) that he could realistically get known for and had then used creative (extreme?) marketing tactics to get noticed and to be remembered as a lawyer who could help police officers sued by plaintiffs tasered during their arrest.

Own the market

Fishman explained that sometimes professional firms think only about doing more marketing in the relentless pursuit of being simply ‘out there’. Instead, he advised firms to ensure their marketing is strategic or ‘intentional’ and to think about dominating a specific niche or ‘segment’ of the market and owning it: 

“You need to ensure you are the automatic go-to for something.”

Segment your audience

According to Fishman, the smaller the audience targeted, the more enhanced a network will be and the more successful a professional will be in positioning themselves as the go-to professional.

With relationships sometimes taking 7-20 face-to-face contacts to develop, it is impossible, not to mention inefficient, to meet with hundreds of people this many times, advised Fishman: “There is nothing worse than marketing yourself as a ‘national firm’ – in the US, this means you are trying to appeal to 300 million people.”

Ross’ advice was to find a category you can be first in: “No-one remembers who came second!”, quipped Fishman. He then explained that once the niche has been identified, professionals need to explain how their service experience is different.

The importance of a client service focus

If a firm has set itself a goal of being e.g. “The Ritz Carlton of Accounting Firms”, it then has to think through what it needs to do to achieve this goal in terms of service delivery. Fishman highlighted the need for firms to consider if their key differentiator should be that they return calls within two hours, are more accessible than other firms or have better staff training.

Fishman advised: “Don’t just tell people you’re good, prove it. And then build your marketing around it – you do this by having a good story to tell.”

A geographic focus

According to Fishman, firms can differentiate themselves by geography if they can successfully use creativity to do this. Firms were advised that they have an opportunity to make themselves more memorable to clients or firms in other communities who won’t know a firm in their particular market.

Clients hire specialists

Fishman explained that we need to look at our own buying behaviour when thinking about how to market: “We tend to hire a specialist when we need something specific, but unfortunately, most professionals will tend to market themselves as generalists.”

Rather than market your skills generally e.g. as a corporate finance specialist or a malpractice attorney, Fishman advised attendees to focus on a niche e.g. “aviation finance” or “hair transplant malpractice attorneys”.

According to Fishman, while industry marketing is effective, it will be even more effective if professionals look for smaller industries - targeting an industry such as manufacturing involves an audience that is too broad.

One of the reasons firms can’t dominate a big industry is because they have too little budget – Fishman’s advice is to work backwards from the budget: “Find a smaller target industry you can be effective in and then get fully involved in that community by volunteering or joining boards. You need to demonstrate to clients that they are your sort of people. You need to speak their language and know the jargon.”

Look for growth industries

Emerging growth industries offer opportunities to smart professionals, advised Fishman. He explained that some lawyers were having major success in some US states by representing businesses in the legalised cannabis industry.

Cross referencing services with a sector

It was also explained to firms that they have a good opportunity to reach specific sub-sets of a target audience by cross referencing their services with specific sectors. As part of this approach, Fishman advised firms to explain who they work for in terms of the type and size of client.

Think of your marketing as a pie

“How do you focus your litigation marketing?” asked Fishman to the audience. His advice was to think of your marketing approach as a pie that is sliced up. For example, within securities litigation, firms may see niche opportunities to market the fact they do raiding cases or work for small and mid size businesses and/or just in the Midwest area.

Having a clear focus makes your marketing plan much easier, commented Fishman, as you will then know who you need to talk to, how to do it and where to do it.

The importance of focus at the alliance level

A key piece of advice for Alliott Group members was to try to find the overlaps in the services that member firms provide at the national or international levels, and then focus on marketing these. The alliance’s growing range of special interest groups will ensure that this opportunity is available to firms.

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