Bhimal Hira tells Richard Sergeant about the benefits of niche markets and the long game to brand awareness.
Digital marketing is integral to Jeffreys Henry’s business development. Although the firm is 120 years old, it is increasingly focused around four key sectors: hospitality, property, creative industries, and technology.
“The whole business is driven by niche,” explained chief marketing officer Bhimal Hira. “We look at the key markets, who the key decision makers are, and think about how we can put ourselves in front of them. We look at where the spend is and then we look at niche areas even within those niche areas.”
Find clients where they live
Its approach shifted from a relatively low-yield approach to being intensely targeted, as Hira explained: “About eight years ago, our SEO focus was on optimising for ‘London accountants’ and similar generic terms. The quality of leads proved to be low and so was the fee income, but we were still spending a lot. So we took a completely different approach and started with what kind of clients we would want and in which areas, and we focused our energy here.
“We do a lot lead-generation ads, and most people will never see them because they are heavily targeted. People in those industries will see them because they are searching for them, often looking for a solution to a specific problem.”
High-value content in the right channels
Mapping the challenges faced by a respective niche forms the basis for content. “Because we work so heavily in those markets,” Hira said, “we know what problems clients are going to face, positioning us as the solution.”
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“A good example is troncs and service charges in restaurants, a big issue. We’re focusing considerable SEO efforts around that at the moment. When owners are looking for advice on tronc, we appear, providing information in the form of an article, for example.”
Hira outlined a forensic approach to placing high-value content in spaces where the firm’s audience will be: “We are optimising content, and trying to get it syndicated to lots of different channels. For this particular piece of content, the main one will sit on our website, and some adjusted ones will be produced for key publications – for example, in ‘The Caterer’.”
“We use a wide range of channels depending on the market. Facebook works well for the creative industries we target and LinkedIn works much more for the listed companies. Also sponsored ads. So, for example, on LinkedIn, you can get that article shown to directors of restaurants of a certain size.”
What to measure, how to spend
“The irony is that because we are taking an ultra-niche approach, the need for analytics becomes less important. We used to get lots of traffic being generated and use Google Analytics to look carefully at where they were coming from.”
Instead, the analytics are now upfront, in inception and planning, so that monitoring boils down to a few core KPIs. “Now we are measuring against enquiries, the income that's generated, and the spend.”
According to Hira, ROI can be significant. “We have a hefty budget but we spend it in lots of places and in small amounts, because we don't try and market to everything. In niche areas, the competition is low and the numbers of searches are not great – but the return on investment is fantastic. For example, one of the things we are looking at, the market is very, very slim but one client is worth £100K.”
The long game of brand awareness
Focus on niche is balanced by a long-term strategy in fostering expertise. “You're not going to pick up a business like that in a couple of days. We use digital marketing to increase our brand awareness over 12 to 18 months. With listed companies, we might drip feed them via email, sending information on the transactions that we've completed like IPOs, building credibility over two years.”
It’s important to consider the entire journey of potential clients. “Brand awareness is harder to measure,” Hira said. “But we get concrete examples of where this pays off and can see a general penetration in the market. We won a restaurant client recently who had seen our articles online, but a couple of people and their bank had mentioned us earlier in the year. It’s things like that you have to look at.”
Getting the necessary backing
The niche approach requires a well-oiled, professional marketing team. A partner-level backing is also necessary, said Hira. “You need a partner and firm commitment to give it drive and make it work. When you are marketing to new people, you need to woo them from the very beginning and be prepared for it to take a while. It needs to be a core firm strategy to get good rewards out of it.”
About Richard Sergeant
Specialist insight and business development support for accountants and their vendors. Cloud advocate with a pragmatist eye.