There’s No Substitute For Branding

In today’s uncertain and volatile economy, companies must do all they can do to acquire and maintain and clients and customers. And one of the most effective ways of acquiring and maintaining clients and customers is promoting both the firm’s and its employees’ brands.

A brand is one of those words, which get tossed around like a beach ball around the world of marketing. You have probably heard of the term yourself. Many marketing experts, themselves sometimes disagree on the meaning of branding. I am a practicing marketing professional and have taught marketing/branding on a major college level for 15 years, so I think I can safely say I know a little about it. At it very core, branding is very simple. It is the sum of all emotional responses or mental images an individual has for a person, place or thing.

So, what does that mean? Here’s an example. Your family has a favorite restaurant. You enjoy the food. The service is excellent. The prices are in line for your personal budget. You love the ambiance. That restaurant has a positive brand with you and your family. On the other hand, another family might have caught them on a bad night. Service was slow. The waiter brought the wrong food to their table and it was pricier than they wanted to spend. As a result, that restaurant has a negative brand for that family.

That is why the definition says, it is the “emotional responses an “individual” has for a person, place or thing. There is no one entity that enjoys the same brand with every one of its customers, client or potential clients. Many times you hear that a company or firm is “re-branding” themselves. What the company is actually doing is “re-positioning” itself with its customers in order to create a positive brand with as many of its customers as possible.

The Value Of The Brand

So, why is branding such an important element in acquiring and maintaining customers and client? Primarily, branding creates relationships, not just customers and clients. There is so much competition out there, merely being satisfied with one‘s services is not good enough to maintain clients. In order to keep clients happy and completely satisfied, you must create a business relationship with them. That is the value of the brand; creating a relationship and loyalty with your clients.

And, this is what all business owners shoot for. Not just a string of customers who come and go. But, a core customer base that offers multiple business opportunities year after year. You prefer your customers not look at you as merely a vendor for outside services. You want them to look at you as a member of their team. Someone they can count on. Some who has their backs. That is the power of a positive brand.

Another advantage of having a positive brand with your clients is the ability to appeal to them on a basic relationship level. People enjoy being with people they like. And, sure there are clients who only care about pricing, but for the most part, people enjoy doing business with people whose company they enjoy. All to say, most of the purchases consumers make are emotional, rather than logical. Most of us use our heart instead of our head when we’re making purchasing decisions. Think about it. When you choose a physician, you surely want someone who is proficient in his or her field of study or specialty. But, if we have had our choice, we’d rather have some who is good and treats us a patients than not. Someone who takes the time to chat with us gets to know us. Someone we feel who is genuinely concerned about us as people. In other words, someone we like. And because we all make decisions based on emotion, as professionals we should market and promote the benefits of our services versus the features.

Features are cold hard facts. A camera offers photos with so many pixels. Tires are made from certain types of rubber. Banks have a certain amount of branch offices. Benefits are what each of these can do for customers and consumers. The camera may allow you to create life-like photos. The tires may be safer and last longer. The number of bank branch offices may make it more convenient for you to run to the bank during lunch because there may be one or more near your workplace.

How Branding Helps Your Firm

I’ve talked a lot about the general concepts of branding. Let’s go back to my original thought. Firms must offer services that go beyond what others offer their customers. You must create a relationship with your customers. Position yourself as a member of their team not just a provider of services. Now I understand, most folks do not consider themselves natural marketers. The thought of thinking outside the perennial box of their core specialties, gives them goose bumps, and not the good kind. But the truth is, many small to medium sized firms cannot afford a marketing department. As a result, they expect the partners and associates be their own marketing/business development professionals.

Allow me to offer a specific example. A year ago, I was hired as a marketing consultant for a medium-sized CPA firm. They have no full-time marketing person, but do have a marketing committee, comprised of accountants and CPAs of the firm. The first day I walked in the door, the senior partners told me that it is incumbent on all of the partners and associates to not only provide their clients with the best services possible, but each would have business development goals they must meet. And, if those goals were not met, there could be dire consequences for that or those professionals. That is why it is so important for today’s accounting and CPA professionals to create a relationship and loyalty with each of their customers. Offer them more than just core accounting and CPA services.

After working with the firm, and assessing their strengths, we created a tagline, which illustrates their commitment to offer customers: Value Beyond The Numbers. In other words, the firm is committed to offer its clients services beyond basic accounting/CPA services. They will act as consultants, meeting with clients, accessing their needs, throughout the year. Looking for ways to ease their tax and other accounting issues. That is how they choose to separate themselves from their competition and create a brand with each of their clients. And the best way for them to provide Value Beyond the Numbers is through informational marketing. Providing their customers with relative, pertinent information, not just in tax season, but also throughout the year, which will help solve their clients problems and help their clients reach their ultimate goals and objectives.

The CPA firm is in the process of turning their web site into an interactive informational source, adding blogs, and a constant flow of informational pieces. They are distributing an e-newsletter throughout the year, which provides specific areas of concentration with information that is relative to their businesses. The associates and the partners are meeting regularly with their clients on a regular basis to access their needs and offer suggestions, pointing them to information that will make their professional lives easier.

And, it is very important for each and every member of the firm, from the secretaries, the office assistants, the accountants, the CPAs, the associates, junior and senior partners to buy into this positioning and brand. If not, the entire concept will fall apart. Each member of the firm must look at themselves as a member of the marketing/business development team. They must find it in themselves to meet with clients, chat with them, and willingly offer them pertinent, relative information.

There must be no conflict between the firm’s brand of providing Value Beyond the Numbers and the staff’s willingness to do so. If the staff is not willing to step up and offer services beyond core accounting and CPA services, who will. If that’s the case their positioning/brand will only be words on a page, or any given marketing message.

However, if each and every staff member buys into the brand, and does whatever they can to offer their clients value beyond the numbers, then each one of them, together with the firm will build and create relationships and loyalty with their clients. They will enjoy less client turnover, lower overall marketing costs, higher margins on services (since clients will perceive their services of greater value) and not only will they continue to be your clients year after year, but they will be happy to refer business to you. And in the end of the day, as professionals, isn’t that we all want.