By, Troy A. Waugh, CPA, MBA, Waugh & CO, Inc.
Many accounting firm owners and marketing professionals have been deliberating the concept of branding during recent months. Most branding efforts end with wasted dollars and little results. One managing partner said he’d “thrown $100,000 down the rat hole.”
The problem with branding accounting firms, particularly in the middle market, is the lack of consistency from one partner to another. The reason that McDonalds has one of the most successful brands is not because of the gourmet quality of their food. It is because of the consistency of the customer experience – worldwide. The potential customer has developed trust in McDonalds that each experience will be similar.
The fundamental reasons why brands work are: 1) Client Trust and 2) Service Consistency.
In his book, Trust in The Balance, Robert Bruce Shaw says that trust requires integrity, concern and results. From the client’s point of view, an accounting firm can have the highest integrity and achieve excellent results but, without concern, be unsuccessful in establishing trust. The key ingredient to any marketing success is for your existing clients to tell other people about you by saying, “Go to these guys, you can trust them.”
Branding is a way of packaging an accounting firm. If your clients read your branding campaign and have a disconnect, the campaign is dead. Branding should not only attract new clients, but reinforce your existing clients’ buying decisions.
Service consistency is an opportunity most mid-sized accounting firms are striving toward. The journey is quite difficult because of the lack of communication with existing clients around the quality of the service being delivered today. Accountants seem content to send out useless client surveys in the mail, but are quite resistant to go see the clients personally.
The only way to establish service consistency is for the owners of a firm to set down the service laws: Promptness in dealing with client concerns, maintaining client comfort in difficult circumstances, regular communications during engagements, no training of junior staff on client’s nickel and so on. Then, for every significant engagement, the managing partner or marketing professional should visit the client face-to-face and ask the two key questions: How did we do? How can we get better?
The service consistency equation becomes more difficult when a firm is focused on growing inexperienced staff members. Will each one of them be able to deliver consistently, or must an owner always be present? McDonalds delivers a consistent product because they have clear service standards and train the young team members to deliver your food the same way, every time.
Before you throw your money down the rat hole of branding, make sure that clients trust your message and you can deliver services consistently.
Permission is granted to publish this article.
Troy A. Waugh, CPA, MBA
Waugh & CO, Inc.
PO Box 1208 Brentwood, TN 37024-1208