Three steps to building a successful professional services brand
In 1916 the Coca-Cola company asked bottle manufacturers to come up with a design that was “so coherent that, should a bottle be smashed into any number of those pieces, any of those shards should be recognisably from a Coca-Cola bottle”.The idea was simple: remove the logo and you should be able to recognise the brand by colour, shape, graphics, and sound. I remember first reading about the concept in Martin Lindstrom’s Brand Sense and was fascinated by the idea that if you smashed up your brand and pulled it apart, you could recognise it from any feature.
It has been about ten years since I first read Lindstrom’s book and I’m still fascinated by the idea of ‘smashing’ a brand, particularly when it comes to professional services.
Professional services branding is one of those intangible, slippery, complex things that is difficult to define and is made more complicated by the very nature of the services provided. In a similar way to the term ‘marketing’, there isn’t a true single definition of the term branding nor do I think there needs to be one. What is more important is the concept of agreeing on what we wish to achieve and embodying that message throughout the firm. Good branding means better client building. It means a more effective and efficient workforce through greater employee retention and more focused messaging.
I think some of the big firms do it particularly well as do many of the boutique and niche firms. There is however, a tendency to talk about trust, relationships and reputation which can get lost in an increasingly commoditised marketplace.
So how do you build a successful brand for your firm? What can you do to position your brand in such a way and deliver on all it promises? How can you get your business to connect with other businesses?
Step one: Brand strategy
As marketers, we need to build something that creates a sustainable competitive advantage. This means getting more than the look and feel right. It means ensuring there is leadership support and understanding the business goals. We then share these goals and values giving a purpose and a vision of what it is we want to achieve. It is not about the words in a slogan, it is about values and actions displayed at every touchpoint and at every interaction. Once you understand these drivers you can begin to build your firm’s brand.
Step two: Brand implementation
The logo, the strapline, the name, the colours, the tone of voice, the business cards, the website, the presentations, the font, and the sign at the front of the building are all parts of the brand but none alone are the brand. They are essential elements of the corporate identity that help give your brand impact. At this stage, consistency is key as it provides assurance which creates opportunity. Get your core components right to help build your brand.
Step three: Brand management
If you’ve got your strategy right, and the components of the brand have been successfully implemented across a multitude of platforms and systems, the final step is active brand management. Give your clients the opportunity to participate. What do they really think of the brand? Are your employees giving them the right brand experience? The usual guidance should be provided to all employees including leadership teams, and suppliers. Finally, bin the idea of ‘brand police’ and instead create brand supporters who are flexible and present realistic options instead of obstructions.
Get these three steps right, and you’re on your way to building a smashable professional services brand.
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Professional services branding is one of those intangible, slippery, complex things that is difficult to define and is made more complicated by the very nature of the services provided.