While on a semi-holiday (not in the office, but working), I read a blog post by David Maister entitled Digital Marketing for Professional Firms. As usual, I enjoyed reading his post — but the comments are better.

Michelle Golden wrote a great response and I must cross post and comment. Emphasis added is mine.

I agree entirely with “‘demonstrate don’t assert’ remains the key to effective use of web technology, and that websites need to have voluminous amounts of easy to search and easy to find content, so that you can you can prove that you have something to offer (and are generous and professional enough to share it.)”

Here is what I struggle with…

The perspective, “I suspect that key decision-makers and buyers are not spending much time on the net. Their staff subordinates (HR people, marketing directors, strategy people etc.,) may use it more, and you may be found that way, but I doubt that there is much of a direct executive audience.” is purely anecdotal. Web use studies show that high percentages of US business owners–of all ages– rely on the web, especially for research to precede decision-making (such as reading partner bios before agreeing to meet with a firm).

Partners in firms tend to be very myopic. It’s our job (as marketing experts) to change their perspective. They think everyone else behaves they way they do and likes what they like. That’s why practically every CPA or law firm website looks like the others. And they all have to make sure that all the partners like the site so, in most firms, everything gets reduced to the lowest common “preference” denominator.  In other words, just about everything cool or unique gets stripped out by the time approvals are granted.

When creating a new site, the first thing partners say to web developers is: “go and see what all the other [insert type of firm] firms are doing.”

What they should be saying is “go see what our clients are doing” or go see what “service experience leaders” like Fed Ex, Disney and the Ritz, are doing or go look at other service sectors are doing such as hospitals/medical, insurance, financial/investment management, high-end event or destination wedding planners, cruise lines, and other big dollar personal services.

I say “who cares” if the partners like it, UNLESS they are the intended audience (usually not). Let those marketing to them offer them boring, brochure sites if that’s what partners are attracted to. There is nothing that says firm’s audiences like or want dull and conservative and empty meaningless text.

In fact, fewer than 1% of clients even go back to a firm’s website. Why is that? We have given them no compelling reason! There’s nothing there!

Often when we, as innovators, come in and develop cutting edge content and approach, partners will insist upon editing the content and redirecting design to make it look, navigate, and sound like everyone else’s!

For instance we strip out BS and fluff and unsubstantiated claims. They add it back in! We beg of them to stop presenting themselves to the world by creating their sitemap to mirror their org chart and to be more client-centric. And yet they get all caught up in their internal politics and insist on navigation schemes that are illogical, non-intuitive and unclear because “that’s how our departments are set up.”

Today’s web is an interactive marketplace and they need to adapt because they are already being left far behind.

She’s right on target. Today’s partners might not notice the change in their personal business and income but future partners will. Design for your customer, not for your own company.