How to create a differentiated and authentic professional services brand

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Professional services branding

This How to guide contains a step-by-step guide for professional firms who are looking to make changes to their brand. This could be a major brand refresh, a small-scale tweak to existing brand messaging or changes as a result of a merger. It is based on Meridian West’s near two decades of experience working on brand proposition projects for a range of professional firms.

Sample extract

Section 1: Why does branding matter?

Within the professional services sector brand reputation is paramount. A good brand tells clients something compelling about the experience of working with a firm and sets it apart from its competitors. The most effective professional services brands are also true to their firm’s values, and are aspirational for people within the firm. At a time when professional firms are competing to attract the best talent, having a standout brand can help a firm to become a desirable employer.

“Having a client-focused brand that supports a clear value proposition is critical for the continued success of any professional firm.”

Unlike other industries where customers can touch, taste or try before they buy, most professional firms sell an intangible product: their professionals’ experience and expertise. This can make it very difficult for buyers to evaluate one firm against another in any meaningful way. This challenge is compounded by the fact that many professional firms deliver similar services in very similar ways at similar price points: an audit from one accountancy firm is very similar to an audit from another firm. As a result, buyers place significant emphasis on brand and reputation when choosing where to send their work. They will often ask for recommendations from colleagues or peers to check whether a firm’s reputation measures up.

As the professional services market becomes more competitive, brand also becomes more important. Having a client-focused brand that supports a clear value proposition, therefore, is critical for any professional firm to win business. Firms need to work harder to win work, and having a clear brand message that cuts through the noise of competitors is a core foundation to support business development and marketing in a competitive market.

Despite its importance, many professional firms still struggle with brand. Some firms talk about having a client-focused brand without backing this up with a compelling client experience. Other firms use generic language to talk about the experience of working with their firm, which fails to make the firm stand out in a crowded market.

For firms with a range of diverse practice areas, serving many different client types, it can also be difficult to define a singular brand identity. The risk averse mind-set of many professionals, and the need to find a unifying message that works across a diverse portfolio of services, often means that professional firms find it hard to agree a simple, bold brand message. Brand messages get watered down to the lowest common denominator and lose impact.

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Table of contents

Section 1:   Why does branding matter?

Section 2:   Demystifying the language of branding

Section 3:   What makes a great brand?

Section 4:   Developing a brand: a step-by-step guide

Step 1: Assemble your internal project team

Step 2: Audit your existing brand

Step 3: Gather internal views

Step 4: Refine messaging through external research

Step 5: Prepare the brand roll-out

Step 6: Aligning brand proposition with behaviour change

Step 7: Measuring the impact of the new brand

Section 5:   Five lessons from firms with a compelling brand