Web Secrets - Digital marketing checklist for Services firms – Part 1

This week we revisit our suggestions for those providing Services
In the past fortnight I’ve dusted off a series of industry-based recommendations for those embarking, or who have already embarked, on their digital marketing journey from way back in 2008.
This week I’m revisiting digital marketing tactics for business providing services.
By their nature, services are a completely different beast to most other industries due to their inability to be inspected the way a product or property can be.  As such they rely heavily on a range of ‘tangiblising’ devices to provide as much evidence of their quality, reliability and value as possible.
To this end, the internet is more valuable to providers of services than other industries as it can provide information faster, more widely, more graphically and ultimately more cheaply than any other medium.
This ‘on demand’ evidence of one’s capabilities can lead to fast online sales.  The fact that airline and other travel bookings are one of the earliest sectors to embace and succeed in eCommerce speaks volumes on what’s possible.  Add unprecedented capabilities like ‘last minute’ offering of unsold inventory and it isn’t outlandish to say that the web has changed the marketing face of many service industries.
But not all services providers are created equally.  For example the online needs of an airline differ markedly from those of a plumber.  And those of an Agency business are fundamentally different to those in the medical profession.
To this end we’ll look at common ground in this Part 1 and examine the different needs of specific providers next week in Part 2.
But this week a list of the online needs that most service providers have in common. 
1 - We 'tangiblise' our services using evidence such as testimonials, reviews, results and other data
2008: The intangibility of services is the stuff of Marketing 101.  So how can the web provide all important evidence of the quality of one’s services?  As the web grows in both speed and capability, new ways of proving one’s worth are being uncovered on a regular basis.  
If the result of your service provision is visual, the web’s immediacy can provide unprecedented ways of demonstrating results via photography and more recently video.  Content Management Systems allow you to add your latest work to your online gallery or portfolio.  Even if not so visual, a ringing endorsement from a customer speaks louder than an impressive gallery.  And now thanks to eBay, Amazon and their Web 2.0 ilk, customer reviews are now commonplace.  Of course a video on Youtube comprising both customer comments, demonstrations and graphical depictions of results is not only strong evidence of one’s capabilities, but is also viral as both web surfers and search engine ‘bots’ discover the footage and act on it.
2014: Much of the above comments remain pertinent  today.  What is different though, is just how much social media plays a part in helping promote and ‘tangiblise’ your service as well as support it.  
2 - We bundle our services for fast and easy purchase
2008: An obstacle to purchasing services is the delay between briefing on requirements, allowing for estimate evaluation and subsequent response.  But all this can be avoided if you can bundle your services into flat rate packages.  
Smart service providers organise their products into easy to comprehend packages which apart from providing a clear indication of the end result, are able to be enhance with added features or services.  For example my firm offers Search Engine Marketing services.  We started off in typical ‘brief and quote’ fashion without much uptake.  However since we bundled it into a clear and measurable package, it has not only become one of our most popular services but is seamless to order and pay for – increasing both sales and cashflow.
At first this approach may seem untenable for your style of service.  But by thinking outside the square you may discover some packages that are ideal to promote via your website.

2014: Whilst some have embraced this excellent means of selling services online, they remain in the minority.  Service providers should really investigate just how they can bundle their services online for immediate sales.
3 - We blog
2008: One problem larger organisations have is working out who the blogger should be – a problem smaller firms don’t have as ‘service champions’ are usually obvious and communication stakeholders less protective.
There’s no doubt blogging about your area of expertise takes time and discipline – as my wife would attest to after constantly finding me piecing together my latest Smart Company blog at some wee hour.  But the payoff is significant.  Since starting this blog I have expanded my business’ market to most states of Australia whereas previously it was at best statewide.  Similarly it has attracted clients with larger budgets than before.
And as outlined in an earlier post you can repurpose blog content for both of eNewsletters and your own website.

2014: Interesting to look back on how social media was still proving its worth six years ago because now Social networking is a critical channel for promoting your blog as well as providing a day to day commentary on your business and expertise.
4 - We have an online briefing form
2008: A web commandment for all businesses is to take your customer as far down the purchase path as you can online.  Apart from packaging services above, the next best option for services firms is to include a comprehensive briefing form on your website.   This allows you to capture all the information you need to respond as quickly as possible, avoiding the dreaded and costly phone tag and beating your competitors to the punch.
Many good Content Management Systems have survey or form builders ‘built in’ and are worth their weight in gold.
2014: Whilst some service providers have taken this advice, most still rely on phone or email to take a briefing – a potentially risky strategy when competitors are taking full briefings upfront and so are a step closer to the sale.
5 - We freshen up our website with service news and information
2008: Its amazing the number of business of all types that treat their website like a brochure.  That is they spend time planning, preparing and creating the website and then leave it there to fester and become the proverbial ‘billboard in cyberspace’.  
But from both of a promotional and technical perspective, it’s imperative to update your website with your news and information as regularly as possible.  Promotionally, it keeps your website fresh and allows repeat visitors to find out more about services they may not be aware of.  It also is a ‘good look’ to have something new and interesting on your pages next they return – providing a perception of currency, professionalism and attention to detail.    From a technical perspective, search engine ‘bots’ reward changing sites by visiting more regularly and indexing more content – leading to a higher ranking.
2014: While there is now greater awareness of the need to constantly refresh your website with new content, this still remains a challenge to many service providers who struggle to come up with good, regular content.  The one arena it has changed is again social media, which is invaluable in helping business operators understand and practice the idea of constant content generation.
6 - We are members of online communities
2008: One of the best kept secrets of Web 2.0 (and something that will be covered here next week) are special interest Groups that reside in social and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook.  These groups offer one of the very first forms of community on the web – the discussion thread.  These threads (once you get through all the self promotional dross) are often provided by members looking for services that you may be able to provide.
In recent weeks I’ve quoted on our first two eMarketing projects in the US as a direct result of these discussion threads.  While I am yet to convert one, I feel it is just a matter of time before we do.
To find out more, click on the ‘Groups’ tab inside your network and search for special interest groups pertinent to your business.
2014: It’s hard to believe that this recommendation was made as far back as 2008!  Social Networking Groups have indeed consolidated as valuable special interest communities and brilliant means of building your profile among constituents of your market.
Next time I’ll look at the special needs of more specific providers of services:
• Quotation based services
• Appointment based Services
• Tourism, Travel and Accommodation
• Agents and Intermediaries
• Events
Craig Reardon is a leading eBusiness educator and founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which provide the gamut of ‘pre-built’ website solutions, technologies and services to SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.  www.theeteam.com.au