The power of brand for the professional services sector

This post is co-authored by Dan Holt, founder and MD of Boss Digital, and John Maffioli, founder and MD of Maxop. John was the youngest ever director within the business development department of Ernst & Young and now delivers business consultancy to the majority of the UK’s top 20 legal and accounting firms.

The post is written with professional and financial services in mind but the principles extend to most B2B organisations.

While each professional services firm is completely unique, from the outside they have always looked frustratingly similar. For many years that was fine. They used their heritage and credentials to secure new business and once their teeth were sunk into a client they were usually with them for the years and decades that followed. Those days are over.

The 2007 Global Financial Crisis followed by the birth of ‘Tesco Law’ have fundamentally changed the way that professional services firms need to market themselves. The unconditional loyalty that so many clients used to show to their providers has fast been eroded and they’ve left in their droves in search of better value. Better value of course means one of two things; lower price or more for the same money, so professional services firms have an option. Either drop their price or communicate a clear and compelling reason why clients should continue to choose them over the cheaper competition. The latter is what we call the brand experience and it matters for three reasons:

  • Your clients – for the clients that you actually want, competing on price isn’t really an option. In fact the best clients will be suspicious of anything that appears cheap. They want to pay for the best and get the best, which means it sure as hell better look and feel like the best.
  • Your team – if you want to attract and retain top talent then you need to have an exciting brand. Salary alone isn’t enough. These special few are looking to make a dent on the universe and they therefore want to be part of an organisation with a clear and ambitious vision.
  • Google – people love brands and Google exists to give the people what they want. The search engine is working day and night to find any sign that you are a trusted brand that deserves seriously. It’s looking for mentions of your brand across the web. It’s looking for signs that you have an active social following. It’s monitoring the way that people interact with the content on your website and most importantly of all it’s looking at how many loyal supporters of your brand are typing in its name each day into Google or visiting the website directly.

When people hear the word ‘brand’ they tend to think about logos and adverts, but it’s so much more than that. The brand experience is everything:

  • First contact – the brand experience begins the moment the client meets one of your partners. Accountants and lawyers are notoriously bad at these initial encounters, and as the saying goes ‘you only get one chance to make a first impression’. You must be clear on your USP’s (I mean actual USP’s, nothing generic) and elevator pitch.
  • LinkedIn – the next step is typically to connect via LinkedIn. Does your profile, experience and recommendations convey the same impressive message that you delivered in person?
  • The website – presumably your elevator pitch explained why you’re not just another firm of accountants or lawyers, but that there is something special about you that means they should consider leaving the company they’ve been with for the last 20 years. If this message isn’t clearly reinforced on the website then why should they believe that the message you projected is a true reflection of your company? Every USP and value must be clearly communicated on the home page, about us section and every service page throughout the site.
  • Visiting your office – professional services offices tend to be stuffy, formal, dull and intimidating. If that’s the message you’re trying to convey then fine, continue with your sign-in books and name badges. If not then it’s time that we should start digging out that personality that you claimed to have.
  • The follow up – most people commend (polite) persistency. This is particularly true of business owners who themselves built their businesses on persistency and admire it in others.
  • Email and social – switching accountant or lawyer is a big decision and unlikely to happen on an impulse. They need to gain familiarity with your brand and that means regular contact via email and social.
  • The service – this is the single most important part of the entire brand experience. Your USP’s and core values must be demonstrated throughout every stage of delivery.
  • Gaining feedback – no matter how good the brand experience, there is always room for improvement. Understanding the best techniques to gain open and honest feedback on service delivery is essential to the long term evolution of the organisation and its brand.

Communicating your brand throughout every part of your business should be one of your highest priorities over the next five years, however that does imply that you actually know what your brand is, which in our experience is rarely the case. Fear not, our next post will give step by step instructions for identifying the defining characteristics of your organisation and building your brand around them…

Dan & John

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