Avoid the Sea of Sameness

A few years ago at the Association for Accounting Marketing annual summit, a keynote speaker called out the “sea of sameness” she saw amongst CPA firms. She went on to explain that it appeared as if one firm could pick up another firm’s marketing material, put their logo on it and use it.

Guess what? She was right.

You can see this in web copy, especially with those firms that illegally “borrow” copy from another firm for their own sites. You see it in tag lines that can apply to virtually every firm in existence. You see it in sales collateral that lists the same services and benefits.

The accounting profession is a mature profession. There are many traits of mature markets; one of which is the fact that competitors are less distinguishable from one another. Since that’s the environment we find ourselves in, what can we do about it?

Positioning in Mature Markets

You can differentiate yourself by the way you position your firm and the services you offer.

Wait! Before you stop reading because you do position your services, let’s look at whether you really do. A position is not a marketing ploy, tagline or generic verbiage. Positioning is a strategy. And it starts with truly understanding how you are different. Then you need to be able to describe that uniqueness in a way that your competitors don’t.

The 2016 High Growth Study released by Hinge Research Institute found that high growth firms had 20 percent more differentiators that no growth firms. But quantity is not always quality. Good thing the survey also found that the differentiators used by these high growth firms are easier to prove and more relevant to clients.

Phrases related to your wide range of services or commitment to helping clients meet their needs don’t mean a thing. How do you prove that you’re more committed than another firm? And do your potential clients really care? They probably assume you’ll help them with problems; after all, it’s that what all CPAs do?

So what is a true differentiator? It could be many things, but a good example would be your business model. How do you use technology to reduce the time spent on-site at a client’s business? How are you putting the client first by bringing their voice into your processes? How are you using data analytics to provide proactive and relevant advice to those you work with? The answers to these questions are easier to prove, they directly impact the client in a positive way and they shouldn’t be an exact match to any other firm.

Positioning is More than a Marketing Strategy

Your firm cannot be all things to all people. What you sell does not help all people in the same way. But too many firms focus on being full-service firms and selling offerings that work for everyone.

Rather, successful firms are thinking smaller to get bigger. They are deciding what segments of the buying population they can serve and developing service offerings that appeal to this smaller group of buyers.

The Complete Positioning Guide for Professional Service Firms, released earlier this year by madtown, states that positioning strategies typically stem from one of three areas: expertise, specific client type or process. If you were to combine these attributes together, the areas where they overlap get to the heart of your unique strategy.

“These strategies are way more than marketing tactics—they’re fundamental shifts in the core of a business,” the guide states.

Your position becomes the way your build your business. Your go-to-market strategies are built upon it. Your hiring decisions are made because of it. Your expansions plans are dependent in it. When you find yourself in such a well-defined market, you can increase your revenue by winning more clients and your profitability by charging a higher price for the value you provide. Those are both treasured things to come by in mature markets.

If you are going to stand out in a sea of sameness, then you need to have a specific strategy for doing so. That starts with defining a unique position in the market that you can hang your hat on. Put it at the center of daily operations, and you’ll have a guide for better decision making.

Quit trying to be like someone else and focus on being yourself – that’s your best position.