To Build Your Business, You Must Start with Your Brand

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Brian M. Finnigan
vice president and chief marketing officer

1st Global

As the owner of a CPA or wealth management firm, you’ve been told you need to create a “brand” for your practice. Marketing gurus and experts at professional conferences have confirmed that building a successful brand will make your business stronger, help you create a positive reputation within your community and garner your firm more clients.

These are all positive things, right? Branding sounds like a good idea — but how do you do it?

First you have to start with a definition. The American Marketing Association defines “brand” as a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” David Ogilvy, the late Father of Advertising, takes that explanation further, calling a brand “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes: its name, packaging and price, its history, its reputation and the way it’s advertised.”

Simply put, a brand is the essence or promise of what will be delivered or experienced.

Branding is nothing new. In the Middle Ages, symbols were burned — or branded — into the hides of livestock to identify ownership. By the 1800s, when mass-produced goods began to spread to wider markets, the concept shifted to placing names and symbols on packaging so that consumers could identify a particular company’s products.

Since then, branding has grown to include catchphrases, graphics, shapes, colors, sounds and even scents and tastes. Customers remember these images and sensations and associate personal experiences with them, which makes them more likely to buy that specific product in the future. If I said “plop, plop … fizz, fizz …” nearly all of you would follow “oh, what a relief it is.”

So how does this relate to a CPA or wealth management business? Think of branding as a chain reaction: First, your firm designs the client’s experience. That experience is interpreted by clients, who share their thoughts with others, which determines your firm’s reputation. This reputation, in turn, is your brand.

Your brand needs to communicate three things: your business objectives, your beliefs and your vision. You can communicate these with a tagline or slogan. For example, the 1st Global brand has this tagline: “The business development and resource partner to leading wealth management firms.”

What is your company’s mission statement or unique value proposition? Study it to come up with a brief slogan to incorporate into your letterhead.

You already have the two most important elements of branding: Your firm has a name, and hopefully a logo. If you don’t feel these adequately represent your firm or its modern capabilities, start reworking them until they do. When you feel they’re right, make sure they stand out on everything a client or prospect will see or touch, starting with office signage, business cards, paperwork and advertisements.

Here are five tips for branding your firm:

  1. People build brands – Brands don’t develop themselves. Careful planning is needed to first create the image you want to show clients and prospects and then ensure that image or brand is consistently delivered.
  2. Understand consumers well and deliver benefits they truly desire – Know your clientele and make sure the services you are offering are in step with their lives. Pay attention to what clients say during meetings: A mention of a new grandchild or a milestone birthday may give you an opening to offer additional services.
  3. Establish clear, differentiated positioning – Identify your competition and its key strengths. Evaluate your firm’s own strengths and find a way to differentiate your firm from the competition in the minds of clients or prospects. For example, if your competition touts its low fee structure, you can boast your practice’s 30 years of experience.
  4. Deliver superior service quality — Give your clients the red-carpet treatment while they’re in your office. A feeling of being appreciated reinforces a client’s decision to work with your firm. Take special care to communicate your commitment to your clients.
  5. Monitor and evaluate performance and incorporate learning into future plans – Periodically check in to see how consistently every member of your firm is delivering your brand’s message. Make sure that old habits that do not reflect your brand, such as previous employers or work experiences, haven’t fallen back into practice. Get feedback from clients on how effectively you are communicating your brand.

Remember, your brand needs to communicate your business objectives, your beliefs and your vision. Use your brand consistently and you will find that your firm’s reputation and clientele will grow. Branding is just the start of an effective marketing strategy. Read why marketing isn’t as hard as you think.


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