Marketing The Invisible: 4 Tips to Effectively Market a Service-Based Business
If the entire production output of the service economy were compiled into an empty 10,000-sq-ft. warehouse, that warehouse would still have 10,000-sq-ft. of empty space. That’s because, unlike the manufacturing economy that produces cameras, clothing and candles, the service economy produces no tangible goods.
According to Frances X. Frei of the Harvard Business School, this means a service business’s offerings must be focused on the customer experience rather than on the intrinsic characteristics of a product’s utility. Since a customer’s experience is difficult to quantify, service businesses often have a difficult time conceptualizing a message that can clearly communicate how their service will add value to their customers’ lives. After all, how do you measure “convenience,” “entertainment,” or “peace of mind”?
The key to addressing the challenge isn’t always simple, and that’s before a service business even arrives at the equally important step of designing a tactical plan. With that, here are 5 tips to effectively market a service-based business.
1. Define what you do.
This seemingly innocuous task can elicit crickets from service providers, who often have no clear idea of what they do beyond one or two fundamental actions. For example, a web designer designs websites (obviously), but the process of designing the website might also involve discovery sessions to discern a client’s needs, several rounds of client feedback, regular site maintenance, and incorporating different functions into the site. It’s important to have a clear understanding of a business process that can then be clearly delineated for customers. The most important places to explain these processes are on a website, in social media bios, or on introductory print collateral.
2. Make the case for your value.
Like item #1, a value proposition can be difficult for a service provider to compose because there’s no tangible product. A plumber, for example, most commonly uses their skill to repair existing items like toilets, faucets or bathtubs, as opposed to selling the toilets, faucets or bathtubs themselves. So, a plumber might be “selling” their expertise to get the job done, their professionalism in arriving on time and keeping the worksite clean, and/or selling the client the peace of mind that their plumbing will operate smoothly for years to come. In some cases, the effects of the service might have measurable results like greater sales, reduced operating costs, or, as in the example of the plumber, reduced water bills. Tactically, some things to consider incorporating into a marketing plan to help make the case for your value are client testimonials, concise taglines, and images that depict the kind of satisfaction your service can provide.
3. Pamper your repeat customers.
Everyone wants to grow their business, but getting new customers is more expensive than keeping the ones you already have. It’s important to commit resources in a marketing budget to customer retention instead of focusing exclusively on new leads. Especially when providing services that have maintenance capabilities built into the initial offerings, it’s important to nurture existing client relationships to maintain their awareness of the full scope of your offerings. An A/C company might make a sale for installation, for example, but it’s the maintenance that helps support the livelihoods of technicians and will ensure the customers return to that A/C company when they need a new system in 10 years. Some ways to pamper your repeat customers are with regular follow-ups via phone or email, newsletters to keep them up to date on new services or offerings, referral bonuses or discounts, or brief emails to celebrate birthdays or milestones.
4. Establish your expertise.
Simply put, you can do something for your customers that they cannot do for themselves, most often because they lack the know-how. The more you can demonstrate your services require specialized skills and experience, the more trust you can build in existing and prospective customers. It’s important to let people know not just what you do, but all of the time and specialized training it took for you to become proficient at it. Does your service require extensive schooling? Have you practiced your service in multiple industries? How many years of professional experience do you have? Are you a leader in your field? These are questions your customers will want answered whether they ask them out loud or not. Some ways to answer them are with white papers, case studies, blogs/vlogs, editorial commentary, or speaking engagements.
Ultimately, all of these tips are designed to help service businesses make their intangible offerings seem more real. It’s about connecting with your customers in a dialogue in which you can walk them through their journey with you. As that guide, it’s important to communicate clearly, be relatable, demonstrate that you understand their needs and that you are just the person to meet their needs.
Are you a business operating in the service economy? If so, reach out to Next-Mark to see what we can do for you. We’ve worked extensively with clients in banking, medical services, government agencies, public sector, nonprofit organizations, design firms, and professional trades.