Branding used to be for cattle. Now it seems to be for CPAs and lawyers. While you don’t have to burn your brand into your flesh, branding can still hurt your pocketbook and not make a darn bit of difference to the growth of your firm. Before you wield the branding iron, here is some information you should be aware of.
What is a Brand?
A brand is the promise you make to clients and potential clients about what it will be like to work with you. Your brand promises a certain experience. While many people think a logo is the brand, a strong logo and visual identity package is just a part of a vibrant brand. Your brand includes:
One of the strongest consumer brands is McDonald’s. I know this because my best friend and I took our 13-year-old daughters on a tour of southern Europe a few years ago. We had a layover in Athens and both girls headed straight to McDonald’s in spite of several local options at the airport. That bright yellow “M” told them everything they needed to know. They both knew exactly what kind of food, service, experience, and price to expect. They trust the brand.
Why Should You Get a Brand?
Success in branding in the commodity market is well documented. Schroeder Milk, for example, documented a 12% increase in sales almost immediately after the packaging was redesigned. Instead of their more traditional design on milk cartons, their new brand implied “clean, hip, modern, fresh” and was distinctly different from other choices. Branding in the professional service market is more difficult to chart because of long sales cycles, however, you get an immediate impression of a firm by simple things such as:
Even if you have done some branding work, have a terrific website and smart advertising, the two most common impressions of your firm are formed by the words that come out of your staff’s mouths and your business card. Too many firms fail to teach their staff how to communicate key messages about what the firm is and what it does. They introduce themselves without a message, complain about small details of their work, or leave no message at all. Every person they meet is a lost opportunity. You have to make sure your staff really understands your brand and can communicate it.
A business card that looks like the 1970s or looks like it could belong to any company only communicates your phone number. It leaves no impression, develops no recognition, and tells nothing about who you are and what you do. It is also a lost opportunity.
While many graphic designers claim the most important part of branding is visual, I do not agree. The most important part of branding is in the minds of your professionals. Your sales force, whether as new deal closers or as keepers of client relationships, include almost every member of your firm. How they talk about the firm is paramount to branding. Branding in a professional service firm involves creating and communicating stories. A good graphic designer can create an attractive logo. The secret of good branding is in integrating what staff, clients, and the public think and expect from your firm.
That takes place in the mind.
A complete branding process in a professional service firm would involve:
Avoid the urge to hold onto stocks of old stationery. Burn it. Jump into the new brand! Use a variety of games, contests, and mini-training discussions to help people get excited to use it. (It may take some time — change is difficult for many. Expect at least one curmudgeon attorney to keep his old business cards and refuse to use the new ones.) Send out press releases, announce the new brand to your clients, launch your new website.