The brand building process can be daunting. The payoff is huge and the costs are significant, so the stakes are high. That’s all the more reason to avoid costly blunders.
Here is our list of the most common mistakes made by firms trying to build a strong brand. You’ll notice that many of these mistakes occur early in the brand building process, well before you start brand promotion. A flawed foundation makes for a weak structure.
1. No differentiators
If there is no difference between what you say about your firm and what competitors say about their firms, you have a weak brand. Unfortunately, this can have a negative impact on your firm’s growth and profitability. High-growth firms are 3X more likely to have a strong, easy-to-understand differentiator.
Here is a quick test to see if you have a true differentiator. Think of some way you believe your firm is different. Then ask if a potential competitor could ever say the opposite. If the answer is “no,” it is probably not a good differentiator. By the way, having great people and offering great client service don’t pass this test.
2. Trying to be everything to everyone
This typically results in being nothing special to anyone. Many firms head in this direction because they believe that offering more services creates more opportunities. In fact, they are making it much more difficult to attract new business. Having a clear focus or specialization is another attribute of high-growth firms.
3. Not realizing that your brand is your most important asset
With a strong brand (great reputation for expertise and high visibility in your target audience), a firm can replace people, modify service offerings or even change client segments with the full expectation that they can continue to enjoy success. The firm can be bought and sold on the strength of its brand in the marketplace. A professional services brand can be a tremendously valuable asset and should be treated as such. Failing to understand and invest in your brand is shortsighted and costly in the long run.
4. Branding in a blindfold
Let’s face it, we all think we understand our clients and competitors. But we’re usually wrong — dangerously wrong. When we research professional services firms, we almost always find that internal staff and partners have a distorted view of what their clients really think. Firms that conduct systematic research on their target clients grow faster and are more profitable.
5. Making branding decisions a battleground for other issues
Sadly, many firms turn brand building into a battleground over the future of the firm. For instance, a simple logo decision can become a protracted battle over unresolved control issues. Brand development is difficult enough in its own right. Don’t burden it with unresolved issues around firm direction or control.
6. Aiming too low
Good brands are both real and aspirational. They stand for something that people can get behind and support. Try to be a leader in something. Otherwise, you offer little reason for a prospect to choose your firm over another. Standing for something helps you build a strong brand.
7. Making a promise you can’t keep
The flip side of aiming too low is making a brand promise that you can’t keep. Overpromising will cost you credibility and trust. There is a fine line between being aspirational and being unrealistic. People will forgive you for aiming high and falling short of perfection — if you are still better than others. But if you aim high and deliver a mediocre product, don’t expect much understanding.
8. Forgetting digital branding
The world of professional services has changed. People are learning about your firm in ways they never did before. Don’t make the mistake of focusing on traditional approaches to branding while ignoring digital marketing’s growing role in brand building. The future of branding is digital, so plan for it in your strategy, brand building and rollout.
9. The “us-too” mistake
Fitting in with the rest of your competitors is not a sound strategy: “They use blue, I’ll use blue.” “Every government contractor uses pictures of a flag and a capitol dome, so I should too.”
While adopting attributes of your competitors may feel safer, it is actually playing with fire. It’s hard enough to tell most professional services firms apart. Don’t make it more difficult on your prospective clients. If you can’t be completely different, at least try to look and sound a different. It won’t hurt, and it will probably make your firm easier to recognize and remember.
A Final Thought
Building a strong brand centered on your firm’s expertise can have a profound impact on growth, profitability and overall firm value. The key to success is to base your firm’s brand on a solid understanding of your marketplace, potential clients’ needs and exactly where your firm has an advantage. When you make that advantage widely visible great things start to happen.