The declaration came in a room full of marketers at the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) Summit a few weeks ago in Portland, Oregon. And it drew nods from the crowd.
“The audit, as we know it, will be gone in five years,” said Ed Kless of Sage, a business management solutions provider.
Kless was talking about the impact of technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence, which are already reshaping the industry. Against this backdrop of surging disruption, the AAM Summit’s theme was fresh thinking – with a focus on trends, tools and best practices to make accounting firms stand out regionally and nationally. Here are a few of the conversations and topics that stuck with me after I left Portland:
- Make Accounting Marketing Personal. In the opening keynote session, comedian and former CPA John Garrett discussed how accounting firms can differentiate themselves by letting their personalities shine through in their marketing. For an industry constantly focused on numbers, audits and processes, this makes sense. By humanizing their organizations (and talent) through networking, community relationships and creative thought leadership, firms can rise above the noise.
- Evaluate and Optimize Your Marketing Technology Stack. No matter the size of the firm, investing in the right marketing technology can yield incredible benefits. In the “Building Your Marketing Technology Stack” session, two firms (one with an annual revenue of $250 million, the other $5 million) shared how they invest in technology to optimize their marketing. These firms understand how syncing brand awareness, customer nurturing, conversions and analytics are critical to growth.
- Online Reputation Matters in the Accounting Buyer Journey. The session “Online Reputation for Accounting Firms” introduced some powerful research. For example, 33 percent of prospective accounting firm clients will read online ratings, said Kat Kocurek from Inavero, a satisfaction survey provider, and more than half of prospects referred to a firm will research it online. This reaffirms that the days of relying on relationships and handshakes in the buying process are long gone.
- Hyperlocal Marketing Matters. However, when I spoke to marketers from smaller accounting firms in Michigan and Virginia, they told me that building local relationships is still critical. Incentivizing accountants to network and build community relationships remains a key part of the hyperlocal marketing strategy.
- Business Development Is Everyone’s Responsibility. For many smaller firms, getting the partners and accountants to support marketing activities can be critical to growth. One session covered how gamification and simple incentives like branded giveaway items could encourage accountants to network with prospects in the community.
- Diversify Content. I also spoke with many marketers looking at developing new thought leadership content to engage their audiences. There were a few firms even exploring the notion of podcasts. In one session, the speaker described how podcasts provide engaging information for target audiences hungry for insights.
- Long-Term Thought Leadership. If your marketing team is thinking of building a thought leadership platform, it’s worth the effort to think ahead — how will that platform evolve in three to five years? In “Winning in the Market for Ideas,” a former Big Four marketing chief emphasized the importance of building a thought leadership campaign over the course of several years to keep up with evolving preferences in the marketplace.
The accounting business, like so many others, is subject to the same disruptions and evolutions buffeting the rest of the business world. Firms that will win out are the ones that will build aligned sales and marketing approaches and ultimately apply fresh thinking to the changes that are rushing through the industry.
Jen has held leadership roles in agency business development and marketing for close to a decade at some of the world’s largest PR and advertising firms.
Jen spends her spare time with her husband, chasing two young daughters and a Boston Terrier.