For many firms, brand building activity is often reactive and never tied to a corporate strategy. “Hey, we were just asked to sponsor a golf event. Let’s print some water bottles’. Or ‘We need new customers, let’s design a new brochure’.
As a result, these short term projects never really achieve anything bigger. To effectively engage in brand building you need to align your firm’s overall strategy with your day-to-day brand building efforts. This facilitates growth driven by a deliberate strategy. We recommend using a simple strategic marketing process consisting of ten basic steps:
1. Consider your overall business strategy
Your overall business strategy is the context for your brand building strategy, so that’s the place to start. If you are clear about where you want to take your firm, your brand will help you get there.
2. Identify your target clients
Who are your target clients? If you say “everybody,” you are making a very big mistake. The narrower your focus, the faster your potential to grow. The more diverse your target audience, the more diluted your marketing efforts will be. So how do you know if you have chosen the right target client group? That’s where the next step comes in.
3. Research your target client group
Firms that do extenive research on their target audience grow faster and are more profitable (see figure below). Further, those that do research more frequently (at least once per quarter) grow faster still.
Research helps you understand your target client’s perspective and priorities, anticipate their needs and put your message in language that resonates with them. It also tells you how they view your firm’s strengths and your current brand. As such, it dramatically lowers the marketing risk associated with brand building.
4. Develop your brand positioning
You are now ready to determine your firm’s brand positioning within the professional services marketplace (also called market positioning). How is your firm different from others, and why should potential clients within your target audience choose to work with you?
A brand positioning statement is typically three to five sentences in length and captures the essence of your brand positioning. It must be grounded in reality, as you will have to deliver on what you promise. It should also be a bit aspirational so you have something to strive for.
5. Develop your messaging strategy
Your next step is a messaging strategy that communciates this brand positioning to your target audience no matter what the channel. Your target audiences typically include potential clients, potential employees, referral sources or other influencers and potential partnering opportunities, to name a few of the usual suspects.
While your core brand positioning must be the same for all audiences, each audience will be interested in different aspects of it. The messages to each audience will emphasise the features that are most relevant to them. Your messaging strategy should address all of these needs. This menas that you can stay relevant.
6. Develop your name, logo and tagline
For many firms, a name change is not required. But if you are a new firm, are undergoing a merger or are burdened with a name that no longer suits your positioning, a name change may be in order. Even if you don’t change your firm name, logo design and tagline may help communicate your new brand positioning.
Remember, your name, logo and tagline are not your brand. They are tools to communicate or represent your brand. You must live it to make it real.
7. Develop your marketing strategy
At many professional services firms, marketing strategy should be built around content marketing. Why?
Content marketing is particularly well suited to professional services firms in the digital age. It does everything that traditional marketing does but it does it more efficiently. It uses valuable educational content to attract, nurture and qualify prospects.
Remember that your brand is driven by both reputation and visibility. Increasing visibility alone, without strengthening your reputation, is rarely successful. That’s why traditional “awareness” advertising or sponsorships so often yield disappointing results. On the other hand, content marketing increases both visibility and reputation at the same time. It is also the perfect way to make your brand relevant to your target audiences.
8. Develop your website
Your website is your most important brand building tool. It is the place where all your audiences turn to learn what you do, how you do it and who your clients are. Prospective clients are not likely to choose your firm solely based on your website. But they may well rule you out if your site sends the wrong message.
Further, your website will be home to your valuable content. That content will become the focus of your search engine optimization (SEO) efforts so that your prospects, potential employees and referral sources will find you and learn about your firm. Online content is central to any modern brand building strategy.
9. Build your marketing toolkit
The next step in the process is to build out the remainder of your marketing toolkit. This might include one-page sales sheets that describe core services offerings or key markets served. In addition, there may be a brief pitch deck that overviews the firm or key offerings and an e-brochure about the firm. These are rarely printed pieces anymore.
Often, this marketing toolkit also includes videos. Popular video topics include firm overviews, case studies or “meet the partner” videos. Key services offerings are also very useful. If prepared appropriately, these tools not only serve a business development function but are important for brand building, too.
10. Implement, track and adjust
This final step in the brand building process may be one of the most important. Obviously, a winning brand building strategy doesn’t do much good if it is never implemented. You might be surprised at how often that happens. A solid strategy is developed and started with all the good intentions the firm can muster. Then reality intervenes. People get busy with client work and brand building tasks get put off… then forgotten.
That’s why tracking is so important. We strongly recommend tracking both the implementation of the plan as well as its results. Did the strategy get implemented as planned? What happened with the objective measures, such as search traffic and web visitors? How many new leads, employee applications and partnering opportunities were generated? Only by tracking the entire process can you make sure you are drawing the right conclusions and making the right adjustments.
The beauty of this brand building process is that it keeps your firm focused on strategic growth. That is important because strategic development adds much more value to a firm than unfocused or undisciplined growth.
But remember, no plan is effective unless it’s implemented without a major mishap. Unfortunately, major mistakes in a brand building are all too common. That’s where we turn our attention next.
Humans are visual creatures. We process visual information more quickly and viscerally than we do words. That’s why top firms pay a great deal of attention to the way their brands look and the emotional connections they create.
Brand identity is a powerful tool a firm can use to differentiate its brand and imbue it with positive images, feelings and ideas. When you develop a thoughtful identity system—one founded on a deliberate strategy—you can make a great impression at every touchpoint in the business development and client delivery processes.