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Online Marketing: The New Word of Mouth

  |  March 10, 2011   |  Comments

As Tax Day approaches, there are a number of tools service providers can deploy to be part of the conversation when the client is ready to buy.

Tax Day is rapidly approaching and it got me thinking about how one of the oldest institutions, paying taxes, is being transformed by one of the newest, the Internet. Tax prep firms can expect swarms of procrastinators to come knocking on their door as the days dwindle down to April 18. But with online tax services growing annually, and a hungry group of competitors chasing the same customer set, these tax pros can't afford to be complacent. They cannot assume the customers that found them last year will find them again this year.

Many professionals do not put much thought into marketing services beyond word of mouth. They may not fully appreciate that they are providers in a competitive vertical with an increasing online presence. For example, go to Google and search the keyword "tax." Four out of the first six listings will be for online tax services. Moreover, the most aggressive online services are offering electronic filing software that will file your taxes for free. With consumers turning to the Internet to find such solutions, it is as certain as death and taxes that successful service providers, like the tax prep crowd, will need to leverage online marketing tools to be sure they get the word out. There are a number of tools service providers can deploy to be part of the conversation when the client is ready to buy.

Affiliate marketing refers prospective clients to a specific service provider when the client is most interested in the provider's service. This online marketing channel is of great advantage to advertiser service providers because they are only asked to pay after the prospective client is introduced to them. For firms looking to stay consistently in front of the shifting client base and profitable, connecting with the right consumers through an affiliate network is a low-risk investment worth considering. But this is not the only channel that won't tax the budget while keeping you top of mind.

Another channel tax pros and other service providers should leverage is social marketing. Advertising on social sites is poised to experience record growth in 2011 due in large part to Facebook. As that fateful April day approaches, more and more people will be searching for tax help. These searches will be conducted on both search engines and among the social media virtual community. Having a presence on Facebook, where existing clients can recommend you and your services, can best be described as essential to modern word-of-mouth advertising. The trick for most service providers is to be present when a client need arises. A well-cultivated presence on Facebook is a low-cost way to stay part of the discussion.

Both paid search (PPC) and organic search (SEO) can provide service firms access to highly engaged customers ready to act. The benefit of search is immediate relevancy. People who conduct a Google search using tax-related keywords are likely interested in a tax-related product or service. They have a current need and are searching for you; therefore, it is important that you have a Web presence that is easy to find via search. PPC experts can help you determine the most cost-effective keywords to drive customers to your site. Combining PPC with SEO can improve your rankings on the major search engines, putting you in front of potential clients at their moment of need and delivering qualified traffic and increased sales.

Though they are important to your search strategy, PPC and SEO are not the only search avenues to examine. Service professionals maintain steadfast customer bases that are built on trust. Let's face it; nobody wants to hire an accountant that will raise IRS red flags. Similarly, negative comments about your service will hurt your virtual conversations. Online reputation management experts will carry out comprehensive audits of your social media sites, search engine presence, and online blogs to ensure the users speaking positively about your company are most prominent.

Service professionals often experience repeat business from customers confident they are getting sound advice. But even the most loyal customer can be influenced by lower cost services offered by online competitors. To combat the competitive voice, service providers should deploy an ongoing e-mail CRM campaign to existing and prospective clients. This will ensure that your services are top of mind when existing and potential clients have a need.

April is a month away. Accountants have Tax Day circled on their calendars and the clients are lining up. As important as Tax Day sales are for tax prep firms, the remaining 364 should not be neglected. Deploying online marketing solutions will generate ongoing client conversations for all 12 months of the year. Every service vertical has a pivotal month or critical time window to drive new clients and increase revenues. Online performance marketing tools enable service providers to cost-effectively engage existing and potential clients on a continuous basis. This constant virtual exchange ensures the provider will be speaking with the client when the client most needs their services, and that is worth talking about.

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Jonathan Shapiro

Jonathan was CEO at MediaWhiz until July 2011. He was responsible for guiding strategy and operational execution, including overseeing the integration of the company's suite of marketing services, leading the development of new and unique capabilities, and ensuring the organization delivered better results for its performance marketing clients.

Before joining MediaWhiz, Jonathan was president of Lillian Vernon Corp., where he was responsible for the management of the company and its subsidiaries. Lillian Vernon was sold to a group of investors in July 2006.

Previously, Jonathan was the chief strategy officer of DoubleClick, where he was in charge of setting strategy and overseeing M&A. He began his tenure at DoubleClick as vice president responsible for the company's Internet Advertising Network before being appointed senior vice president of the company's Abacus online division, where he created DoubleClick's data strategy and oversaw development of new online targeting products and services.

Additionally, Jonathan was the executive responsible for developing United Media's original Web businesses (The Dilbert Zone, Snoopy.com, and Comics.com), and was a senior consultant with McKinsey & Co.

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