Marketing a membership organization of 146, 000 members, 25, 000 students whilst operating in 155 countries, can bring about some interesting and unique challenges for any team.
Balancing a diverse mix of stakeholders is, for the Institute of Chartered Accountants, England and Wales (ICAEW), the core strategy for its future and Sue Best, Marketing Director, has highlighted three main strands within her marketing principles to deliver the aim.
“Firstly, we want to continue to build upon our reputation, profile and the awareness around the brand.”
ICAEW is one of the largest organizations within the accountancy and finance profession in the world.
Professional services marketing, like ICAEW’s, has to keep their members image in mind, maybe even more so than brands in other industries, as their position directly affects the value of their members’ qualification, and indirectly, their future.
“The second strand is about supporting members and identifying opportunities to support them throughout their careers. By making sure the products and services we provide are relevant and high quality we can ensure that we are able to interact with them over each transition point.”
This is where the collection, measurement and analysis of data helps improve a company’s insights.
Membership organizations by nature hold a wealth of information on their users, which in the past have been held in distinct areas, in analogue formats, or without seamless usability.
One of the tasks that Best and the ICAEW started early and have continued to drive forward is a digital transformation of the entire organization, in part to attract new users.
“Our third marketing area focuses on growing our student base to train as chartered accountants, which has been increasing annually, as our diverse marketing strategies have expanded past Universities and right into secondary education.”
Having a clear vision sets a visible route that a company can navigate, as professional services marketing teams negotiate the rise of digital mediums with which the general public now communicate through.
Best’s three aims are consumer-centric and heavily data driven, which are known to be key to driving a brand’s success, however there is still work to be done on internal mechanisms that would streamline information from one department to another.
“Instead of having information sitting in more than one place, we need to create a digital hub to bring together information, to take a more holistic approach to each activity.”
By holistic, Best means, “not having to approach different departments for information” because it’s a process packed with friction.
Communication methods internally are directly shaped by trends in the outside world, and Best has recognized this by making her organization aware of what needs digitizing and why – in effect, acting as chief digital officer too.
“Digital transformation is forcing us to reconsider how professional services marketing teams communicate, giving rise to different kinds of products and services, as well as building up a organisation-wide CRM tool.
CRM can be used to drive engagement with other major firms and companies to manage relationships, but to work effectively, it can’t “be used in pockets, it needs to operate throughout the organization, particularly within the sales and customer focused teams.”
And another useful function of these methods is that they impact positively on the customer journey.
Best’s three part marketing strategy is based around a timeline of when ICAEW interacts with its users, attempting to improve each moment of contact using a mix of digitization and service streamlining.
Her digital strategy for the professional services marketing team though requires key investments into relevant technology, if her marketing plans are to bear fruit.
“We’re investing in a major business systems review and we use cloud technology as an organization, as our current system – called Pro – which was primarily a subscription-based system had limitation when it came to marketing and business development.”
This challenge aligned with Best’s recognition that more work was needed to be done with their CRM capabilities; “[Pro] is still unable to manage relationships and experience across lifestyles and platforms, so our next move is looking at bringing them together.”
Which is where Best finds herself, at an exciting junction, where her “digital transformation plan has started this process allowing us to create better user and group profiles, and match events and services more accurately.”
This tailored service represents a big change for an organization that operates in a niche part of a quiet industry – a membership platform in the professional services marketing sector.
The wider conversation surrounding customer experience in other industries, such as retail and financial services, doesn’t quite touch upon the level of information and scrutiny that membership organizations need to articulate when it comes to technologies like cloud.
So although it allows ICAEW to “gain a 360 degree view of our members”, the challenges surrounding online security and profile protection only heighten.
“Businesses across the world are concerned about cyber-security. As are we, which is why we have state-of-the-art encryption within our network, but we’re all vulnerable and it’s definitely an issue we in the sector are discussing.”
Of course, the benefits of these innovations tend to outweigh the reservations of some in the industry.
At ICAEW, Best and her team have begun the process of “linking together [customers’] online experience with their preferred preferences of work, location, and others which feeds into a preference centre so we can track our matching capabilities to build a richer database.”
Professional services marketing however hasn’t received as much focus on newer, digital, marketing strategies mainly because what their marketing is often an “intangible concept, rather than a tangible product, so it doesn’t get interest from institutions and the press.”
It’s important though that every industry receives attention when it comes to marketing transformations being undertaken.
There are methods that only apply to certain industries, but by and large, each concept can but tweaked slightly and be applied to your model, according to Best.
“I think there is still a lot of innovation happening in professional services marketing, particularly around stakeholder relationship management, which can be taken into other corporates and industries for them to learn – there needs to be more sharing of ideas between sectors.