Ten Steps to Branding Your Firm

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by Terri M. Sommella, Sommella Market Strategies

Studies show that 75% of firms are either in the process of a branding campaign or are considering one. Why? Succinctly put, branding creates differentiation and client loyalty. It is the purposeful development of a personal relationship between the client and the product or service. A brand is not all consuming but rather, represents a piece of the whole, one aspect of the firm. Encapsulate that one aspect or the associated idea and you create a “brand” or identifiable mark which enables a client or consumer to draw the emotional line between the mark and the product or service, i.e. Hallmark means Quality.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, it becomes important for accounting firms to know what they stand for, how clients, referral sources and the business community perceive the firm. In “Branding Your Law Firm,” GreenfieldBelser, a giant in law firm branding states, “Why do people feel so passionately about Coke or Pepsi when blind taste tests prove consumers cannot tell the difference? Because they identify with something the brand represents.”

Here are 10 steps you can take to identify your firm's existing brand and map out your firm's differentiators to begin your branding efforts.

  1. Strategic Brand Analysis - Since brands are built on reputation, take a look at the basis for your firm's brand from an historical perspective. Where is your firm most profitable? Where are you strong geographically? By industry? Which areas of the practice are trending up? What's in decline? The answers to questions like these will help you determine where to invest resources in the short-term.
  2. Internal Survey - Identify the words that describe what makes your firm unique, special. Find out what perceptions of the firm's identity the partner group maintains. Capture the words the staff uses to describe the firm. Ask new recruits, “Why us? What was it about this firm that made you want to work here?”
  3. External Survey (Clients) - Find out how your clients describe the firm's reputation. Identify an exclusive group of key clients that mirror those you would like to clone. Survey this group by phone. Capture comments verbatim. Ask about the firm's value proposition.
  4. External Survey (Referral Sources) - Survey key referral sources that regularly send your firm quality clients. Ask this group the same questions as you did the client group.
  5. Identify Point of Intersection - Look for common ideas or statements among the responses from the various groups. Distill this data into categories and key words or ideas.
  6. Analyze the Data - Look for overlap between how the firm perceives itself, how clients and referral sources perceive you and how your firm is perceived by recruits. Draw some conclusions about your firm's brand. You may discover that your firm is known for a particular service, i.e. The Tax Firm. Your firm could be a brand name tax firm but that is not the same as the action of branding. A brand is different than branding, which requires continuous action. Branding is purposeful, proactive.
  7. Re-Brand - If you discover the firm has no brand, or a less than desirable brand i.e. “The cheapest guy in town,” re-branding efforts enable you to change the perception over time. Otherwise, your firm is throwing good marketing dollars re-emphasizing a bad brand.
  8. Visual Image - Talk to a graphic design firm armed with the results of your analysis. Create a mark or logo that reflects and defines the one idea or message for which your firm will be known, differentiated, branded.
  9. Know Your Market - Focus your branding efforts where the right eyes will see the message. Find out what buyers in your firm's target market read, what events they never miss and what groups they support. Do the same thing for referral sources. Knowing this will enable you to be efficient in knowing where and how to focus branding efforts.
  10. Develop the Plan - Develop your plan for driving the point home. Determine the metrics by which you will gauge the success of your branding efforts over time. If you institute the survey process every two years, how will the answers change? If you were The Tax Return Firm, are you now the M&A Firm That Gets the Deal Done? Does the buyer think of this phrase when he or she sees your logo?

Branding allows you to take control of the buyer's perception of your firm. Is it worth the time and expense? Yes. How many times have you been passed over for a profitable consulting engagement because the buyer wasn‘t aware that your firm offered that particular service? As buyers look for increasingly specific expertise, you want to make sure the buyer is receiving the right message about your firm.

Research has shown that the average professional is bombarded with over 3000 visual and auditory messages a day. Can the right buyer find you? What will come to mind when he or she sees your firm's name? You can trust to luck or let your firm's brand speak for itself.

Terri M. Sommella, President of Sommella Market Strategies (SMS), is a consultant specializing in marketing and growth strategies for accounting firms. Ms. Sommella can be reached at 1-410-252-6989 or by email at [email protected].

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