All businesses, including accounting firms, have a brand identity, although most will not achieve the size and scope of a Coke or Disney.
So, what is your brand? Simply put, it is the character and personality of your firm that distinguishes you from others. It is who you are in the eyes of your market. Not too long ago, brand was established solely through traditional marketing and advertising methods. Memorable slogans and jingles were developed, ad campaigns were run, and public opinion was created about what a company and its products or services represented.
Today, the Internet has changed all of that, and both offline and online branding strategies have to be considered as components of a unified whole. Digital and traditional branding are simply two different approaches to communicating with your market and target audience and telling your story.
If you – like many accounting firms – are relatively new to the concept of digital branding, it’s never too late to get started. But the longer you wait, the greater the risk that competitors with a proactive digital branding strategy will gain a greater market share.
So let’s get you started. Here are several key steps you can take to help get your digital branding efforts up to speed:
1. Align your branding efforts with your business goals
What you’re trying to accomplish as a business should inform your digital branding strategy and the metrics you establish to monitor the success of your efforts. For example, if your practice wants to increase new business in specific industries, figure out the metrics you’ll need to monitor to determine if you’re gaining new clients in those sectors with the right size and revenue to achieve your goals.
2. Research your target audience’s wants, needs and preferences
A surprising number of firms have just a vague idea of their target audiences, what they’re really looking for and where they actually look. Today, the majority of professionals researching new products or services start with the web. It’s critical to have a solid understanding of the issues and topics that interest your target audience and the digital platforms they use to find answers.
3. Synchronize your differentiators and brand positioning
Brand positioning is what sets you apart from your competitors and differentiators are the unique features and benefits that define your brand. It stands to reason that they should align, but over time, they can drift apart. For example, your firm may be positioning itself as “the leading specialist in healthcare tax compliance,” but if your sales team is selling on price, or your website is promoting personal service, you have a problem.
4. Build a consistent brand appearance, online and off
It’s easy to have your brand’s visual appearance become mismatched. Often, traditional marketing elements such as logos, taglines and unique typestyles can get overshadowed by newer, easier-to-manipulate digital graphics, resulting in two distinctly different looks. One practical solution is to create brand usage guidelines that cover not only visual elements, such as logo usage and colors, but describe your brand’s tone and style, as well – what you say and how you say it.
5. Synchronize your content and brand strategies
It’s one thing to claim that you have certain types of expertise in your marketing collateral or web copy – it’s quite another to demonstrate it. If you make a claim about your firm, it’s important to have your marketing content back up that claim. For example, if you want to establish thought leadership around a specific topic, make sure that you have valuable, relevant content to demonstrate your expertise. The goal is consistency. You should strive to be consistent in approach and competency, no matter where a prospect interacts with your brand.
6. Develop an effective brand-building plan
Our research on the fastest-growing accounting firms has revealed that it’s actually easier and less expensive to increase the visibility of your digital brand than it is to build your brand by traditional means. In fact, digital brand building is exceptionally efficient and scalable for practices with limited resources. For example, consider networking on social media versus the time and expense of attending a live networking event. Or compare the cost of a producing a webinar versus an in-person seminar.
7. Monitor and manage your plan as needed
The immediacy of digital marketing makes it easy to gauge how your efforts are working and what needs adjusting to improve results. Many digital tools have built-in analytics to make tracking and control a snap. Want to track website visitors? How about social media engagement? No problem. A digital initiative launched in the morning will yield actionable results by afternoon.
Traditional brand-building is no longer enough to drive growth and profitability for today’s accounting firms. Digital branding is not only necessary, it’s preferred. Your current and future clients are looking at you online -- whether you choose to engage them there is up to you.
About Lee Frederiksen
Lee W. Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner at Hinge, a marketing firm that specializes in branding and marketing for professional services. Hinge conducts groundbreaking research into high-growth firms and offers a complete suite of services for firms that want to become more visible and grow.