by Bonnie Buol Ruszczyk, president
For the 2nd time, the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) and Hinge Research Institute have partnered to conduct a detailed study of marketing budgets within CPA firms. We highly recommend you get your hands on this study since it is the only one of its kind in the industry and chock full of interesting information. You can learn more about it here.
Additionally, Lee Frederiksen of Hinge conducted a session at the recent AICPA/AAM/AAA show in Orlando to go over some of the results. This is always one of my favorite sessions since I learn so much and get to hear Lee speak (I’m a bit of a fangirl). I hope to put together a few blog posts based on what was presented at that session, but today I want to take a look at how high and low growth firms spend their marketing dollars.
As you would expect, firms that are considered high growth (average 24.15% growth per year) spend a bit more on marketing per year than those categorized as low growth (average -1.65% growth per year), but not as much as you would think. In fact, in many cases, the additional marketing spend could be attributed to firms overhauling their websites, investing in CRM or marketing automation software and spending on other things that do not occur every year. What was noticeably different was how they spent their money rather than how much they spent.
Low growth firms said the top four things on which they spent their marketing dollars, not including salaries, were sponsorships, advertising, memberships/dues and internal events & parties. To someone who has been in the industry for quite a few years, this is very familiar. It’s what firms were spending their money on 10+ years ago! I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for these items, but this is probably not the only place you should spend your limited marketing dollars if you want to see much return on your investment. Sponsorships and advertising are one-way efforts for which it is very difficult to measure effectiveness. Memberships and dues are rarely what would be considered marketing but more of a perk for partners, at a minimum, and access to a location for business development at best. Internal parties and events are great for morale and building camaraderie among your employees, but it’s quite a stretch to call these efforts marketing, don’t you think?
High growth firms spend their marketing dollars in completely different ways. First on the list is website and SEO, followed by networking/conferences (where clients and prospects are attending, not just other CPAs), outside consultants, internal education (not technical training but business development and other “soft” skills) and marketing automation. Gone are the one-way, or push, marketing efforts; in their place are tactics that aim to create interaction with prospects. These firms realize that their website is their most important marketing tool, and not only invest in it, but also in search engine optimization so their site shows up in pertinent keyword searches. Instead of spending on partner club memberships, they attend conferences where their clients and prospects are likely to be present. I’d be willing to bet they also do what they can to land speaking opportunities at these shows as well. They are educating their employees on how to grow the firm at all levels so they recognize when opportunities arise and take on some of the responsibility for growing the firm. The use of marketing automation software allows high growth firms to reach wider audiences through a variety of online channels and customize the messages they deliver, giving them more return on investment of time and budget. And finally, they are working with outside consultants who bring fresh and up-to-the-minute perspective and individualized strategy to accounting marketing, help execute campaigns, write copy, etc. so the internal marketing staff, if it exists, can focus on the things that need to be done onsite.
Obviously I am jumping to a few conclusions here. However, they are based on my interactions with many firms all over the country as president of bbr marketing and from my research in putting together Take Your Marketing Online! over the past year. This report simply proves what we see every day: a whole lot of change. Those firms that embrace it are positioned to grow by leaps and bounds; those that avoid it may very well get left behind.