Meridian West’s Marketing Leaders Benchmark 2022

At a PM Forum  event in January, Alaistair Beddow of Meridian West  presented the results of the 10th Marketing Leaders Benchmark and discussed the results and other topical issues in marketing and business development with a panel comprising: Leor Franks of Kingsley Napley  (law), Lesley Hornung of HLB International  (accounting) and Matthew Allen of Bidwells   (property). SO here is a summary of Meridian West’s Marketing Leaders Benchmark 2022.

Marketing Leaders Benchmark 2022 – Confidence

Alaistair talked through the main findings:

  • Marketing leaders saw 2021 as a transformative period for their marketing and BD function.
    • 49% said they say they used the past 12 months to experiment with new approaches or diversify their offering
    • 35% say they have returned to something like “business as usual”
  • Marketing leaders are more bullish about the outlook for 2022
    • 70% believe the outlook for their firm will improve
    • Only 35% believe the outlook will improve for the UK economy
  • The marketing function is seeing its fair share of growth in the sector
    • M&BD spend as a proportion of total revenue is up from 2.15% in 2020 to 3.35% in 2022
    • 41% anticipate this will continue to rise this year
    • Nearly half (48%) saw their team headcount increase in 2021
    • 54% anticipate growth in their marketing budget and 44% anticipate double digit growth

Marketing Leaders Benchmark 2022 – Challenges

The three biggest challenges were seen as:

  • Continued digital disruption/keeping pace with new technology
  • Shift to hybrid from WFH flexibility
  • Changing client expectations and buying behaviour

Marketing Leaders Benchmark 2022 – Priorities

Client experience and brand come into clearer focus as priorities.

The priorities for 2022 were seen as (2021 shown in brackets):

  1. 29% (17%) Making improvements to client service/experience
  2. 16% (15%) Creating thought leadership and insight campaigns
  3. 14% (9%) Relaunching or refreshing the firm’s brand
  4. 8% (1%) Research into growth markets and client segments
  5. 6% (9%) Obtaining feedback from clients
  6. 5% (15%) Improving/establishing key account management
  7. 5% (7%) Marketing via social and digital channels
  8. 5% (3%) Investing in automation and AI
  9. 4% (4%) Launching new products and services
  10. 3% (9%) Providing training and support to fee-earners

Personally, I found it disappointing that researching growth markets/client segments and launching new products and services were so low on these lists. As we emerge from the Pandemic, I would have thought innovation in new business models, new markets and new products would be of paramount importance.

In terms of the anticipated increases in spending:

  1. 67% Social media and web site
  2. 55% Business development technology and systems
  3. 53% Thought leadership/content marketing campaigns
  4. 51% Client listening initiatives
  5. 50% Skills development for the M&BD team

Again, I was surprised to see these results which felt a bit lacking in innovation, ambition and boldness. Maybe this reflects on the nature of the firms (i.e. larger, global professional service firms?) of the marketing leaders who participated.

Themes from the panel discussion

During the pandemic, M&BD teams seemed to have earned more trust from firms and fee-earners which is good news. There was a sense from panel members that a lot of 2021 was about experimentation. I worry that this experimentation may now be lost as the Pandemic recedes.

All panellists shared a bullish and optimistic view of the growth opportunities in 2022 – with the benefits of using “first mover advantage”. Some cited a surge in client demand.

I was surprised that there were so many mentions of brand refreshes. Despite all the talk of the need for businesses to be more responsible and all the ESG initiatives, there seems little evidence of real change in this area in professional services – with one or two notable exceptions who adopted B Corporation status.

But I was not surprised to hear that many firms were experiencing challenges in recruiting new M&BD talent – especially with regards to digital and analytics capabilities. So it was good to hear that some were increasing their investment in M&BD team development.

Interestingly, there was a general dislike for hybrid events. The benchmark research indicated that the anticipated proportions are 34% in person only, 45% online events only and 21% hybrid events. Most firms seem to be managing programmes with both in person and digital events. The challenge of “reading” non-verbal communication on digital channels was acknowledged. There were comments that audio platforms such as Clubhouse don’t seem to be attracting the required demographic. Some were relying on younger apprentices to explore platforms such as Tik Tok.

There were comments that LinkedIn was now saturated with content and it was harder to cut through the noise and be noticed. In terms of major future developments, it was perhaps a little disappointing (but a recognition of the importance of getting the basics right) to hear about programmes to clean data in CRMs and developing extranets (“bespoke areas”) for clients to deliver tailored content.

There was naturally a discussion about returning to the office and rethinking it as a destination. The research indicated only one in five (21%) will return to a fully flexible model for staff – most will expect staff to spend time in the office regularly. A model appears to be emerging of two or three days in the office and retaining many WFH operations. Some noted that younger staff had missed two years of networking – and this was felt particularly acutely in the property sector. There was an interesting point raised about how it is easier to take junior team members along to meetings with senior people on digital channels.

I shared my views on key marketing trends in December Nine Marketing and Business Development trends in 2021 (