Digital branding is here and like it or not, accounting firms of all sizes have to embrace it just as readily as the biggest consumer product companies.
Back in the day, developing a brand was relatively simple: you created a unique logo, selected a corporate color or two, launched an ad campaign and bingo, you were well on the way to creating a distinctive brand. Oh, how things have changed.
Today, the Internet, global communication channels and more marketing platforms than you can count all create a complex, sophisticated and multi-layered digital marketing environment in which it’s critical to stake out a visible presence.
What is Digital Branding?
Digital branding is the process of creating and promoting the online identity and brand story of a firm or individual and establishing it in the digital space. It typically involves using online channels such as websites (especially mobile-optimized websites), social media, webinars, search engine optimization, online reviews, guest blogging, earned media and digital advertising to build engagement and drive greater exposure.
As an accounting firm, you can think of your brand as the visibility of your reputation as a tax expert, corporate financial consultant or whatever your practice’s area of expertise may be. Your brand exists in both the traditional and digital world. It is clearly shaped by the satisfaction level of your clients, for example.
Your brand is also affected by online content: blog posts, web pages, eBooks, webinars, videos and other tools used to present ideas, discuss topics and disseminate information. All of these methods of digital communication enable you to communicate your firm’s expertise and increase your visibility.
The obvious question is, “How important is your digital brand?” And the short answer is “Very.”
How Important is Your Digital Brand?
As buyers’ eyeballs move from print and television to smartphones, tablets, and laptops, the buying process and how they research their purchases is changing as well. Accounting services purchasers are now relying on digital channels to find, evaluate, and connect with service providers. In fact, in a professional services buying study Hinge recently conducted, we found a 70 percent probability that today’s buyers will use a digital source in the early stages of their research into business challenges.
The process typically starts with a Google search using terms related to whatever business problem the prospective buyer might be experiencing; for example, tax compliance issues. If this is a specialty of your firm, how will you fare in a keyword search?
Does your practice have keyword-optimized content on its website, such as compliance-related white papers or research studies? Does your company blog contain posts discussing federal tax compliance issues and how to comply with the latest changes to corporate tax regulations?
You can see where we’re heading with this. If you aren’t writing on the topics that prospective clients are searching for — and optimizing your content to appear in their search results — you’re invisible to a significant portion of your market. And you aren’t building an online reputation as an authority in your area of expertise.
However, if instead your firm has loads of valuable, objective tax compliance information available online, you’re in luck. Chances are very good that during their Google search phase, prospects will more easily access your content to help them understand and diagnose their problems, making your firm a likely candidate for providing them with relevant services.
Clearly, firms with a weak digital brand are at a growing disadvantage when it comes to making the short list of possible providers. For the lucky firms that made the list, the next step is surviving the evaluation process.
The Role of Digital Branding in Accounting Firm Evaluation
First, the bad news: 87 percent of buyers rule out a firm before even talking with them. Now for the good news: If you’re one of the lucky firms with plenty of valuable, appropriate digital content on your website, you’re significantly ahead of competitors who don’t.
But that’s only the beginning. Across all channels, there is a 72 percent probability that buyers will evaluate you based on interacting with your digital brand, compared to a 28 percent probability of evaluating you based on traditional methods. All of this points to the importance of having a strong, consistent digital brand and expertise-related content across all channels as a key component of your business development process.
The cornerstone for building a digital brand is becoming what we call a visible expert or firm. This refers to an individual or organization with the acknowledged expertise and high visibility needed to command influence within a specific target market.
Our research has revealed that during the evaluation and selection process, buyers value expertise above all else, even above customer service, price and relationships. Expertise rules the new business development process.
So how important is your digital brand? It can help your firm make it through the search and evaluation processes and turn prospects into clients. It can also be the difference between success and failure.
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.