From the Introduction by Michelle Golden
Bruce Marcus’ newest book documents an important evolution in professional firms and the way law and accounting firms interact with current and prospective buyers. These interactions include serving the client, but also—quite importantly—reflecting how people working in firms present themselves in terms of their ability to bring true value to those who hire them. The author’s approach is two-fold: understand the past, and be intentional about the future.
As you read, and consider your firm’s present marketing in light of this broader, historic context, you have the opportunity to identify counter-productive attitudes and approaches and move to an advanced level of marketing sooner than you otherwise might. The author shares, through his rich observations and experiences, that the views a professional holds about the value of his or her offerings, and marketing in general, are more important than the specific marketing tactics he or she undertakes.
The three phases of marketing Bruce Marcus adeptly identifies and describes (Marketing 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0) may seem linear but they most certainly overlap. While some of today’s firms are well into Marketing 3.0, others are still in the Marketing 1.0 phase. There are still a few firms that have not yet entered 1.0 (a bit scary). It’s even possible to have different people within a firm acting within different phases. It is difficult for a firm to progress in an environment where some minds are in an advanced phase, and others are not—and yet they have equal say—the common denominator is never the most advanced approach. This is a problem, inherent in partnerships, that is resolved with a more corporate-like operational model, for which the author also makes an excellent case.
In the mid-late 1990s, my career was in the still-young field of professional firm marketing. Accounting and law firms were both very much cutting their teeth in marketing, even a full decade after the Bates v. State Bar of Arizona decision. It was amid Marketing 1.0.
As the first full-time marketing director in a mid-sized, local CPA firm and then in a large, regional law firm, a too-common scenario was bringing a sound recommendation to the table and having a room full of partners squelch the concept or modify it to such an extent that it no longer resembled itself. Unfortunately, the potential effectiveness of the resulting approach was dramatically impacted through this process. I wasn’t alone. Disturbing patterns began emerging in this new “professional firm marketer” field.
Knowledgeable marketing professionals gathered at their annual peer conventions (Legal Marketing Association and Association for Accounting Marketing) sharing stories of nobly fighting for their ideas. Initially. It’s simply human nature that weariness of uphill battles (and being shot down) leads people to reducing their attempts at offering innovative, new ideas. Few were the marketers who forged ahead and thrived and in this environment; a very small number of veteran marketers became non-practicing owners of their firms. A far greater number of marketers fled these marketing-hostile cultures resulting in law and accounting having some of the highest attrition rates among marketing professionals across all sectors—the average tenure was between one and two years.
Other marketers stayed, keeping peace by adapting their roles to primarily that of implementer of partner-initiated or partner-approved ideas, many of which were borrowed from other firms: copycat marketing. Exacerbating the problem of originality in marketing was the requirement of partners for “evidence” or precedent of success of a marketing concept before being willing to support it. Marketing successes in this scenario were generally limited by their very nature—held to an artificial maximum—a key problem being lack of differentiation because firms were basically doing the same things as other firms.
By the time firms were are on to their second or third marketing professionals, they tend to be convinced that the advice of their marketers merits greater receptiveness—that a collaborative approach between marketer and practitioners is optimal. And they began to realize, as Bruce Marcus describes, that the tools and skills of marketing are not so important as the experience and imagination of the marketer—he urges firms to value the “artist” over the “mechanic” for your marketing. He reinforces that “the tools of marketing are not a program – they are simply tools.“ These realizations are a large part of what lead a firm to the level of Marketing 3.0.
The author explains why competing in today’s environment necessitates a client-driven, rather than practice-driven firm and that immersion in the customer’s business—acquiring deep knowledge of their industry—is paramount. He illustrates why quality of service is a mere table stake. He takes on “the brochure,” image, and branding—discussing that reputation is reliant on performance, the intangibles, not logos and brand promises that go unmet. He teaches us that when we focus overly on enhancing our image, “we absolve ourselves of the need to nurture reputation and perception by improving reality,” for marketing is irrelevant if good customers are slipping out the back door while firms spend their energy chasing new business.
The future of marketing is enhanced by understanding the past and present. It’s extremely rare to meet and learn from someone with the vast experiences of Mr. Marcus. It’s rarer yet to come upon a person who also maintains an extraordinarily open mind to new perspectives on the art and science of which he is already a master many times over. To study the lessons within this book is an investment well worth making; may your mind be as open as the author’s as you explore the pages that follow.
St. Louis, MO
Michelle Golden is founder and President of Golden Practices Inc., which counsels accounting and law firms in marketing and strategy, and Senior Fellow at Verasage Institute, the think tank for advancing the professions. For her thought-leadership, she’s been named one of Ten Most Powerful Women in Accounting. She holds the International Association of Facilitators Certified Professional Facilitator designation.