What is a brand?

Basically, your brand is the total of what makes you, you.  Your brand is comprised of the messages, visuals, and experiences that collectively represent your firm.  There is naturally a compounding nature to your brand.  If every time a client visits your website or opens your email newsletter there is fresh, relevant content; every time she visits your office she is offered a cup of coffee and you start your meeting on time; every time she gets an invoice it is itemized and seems fair for the solutions you provided; and every time she is asked by a friend who helps with (whatever service your firm provides) she emphatically recommends your firm, then you are building on your brand in a positive way.   Similarly, if a client’s experience is varied in quality or her expectations are not met, you are also reinforcing your brand… it’s just not the brand you want.

But how do you describe your brand to those you meet?  

Just as it can be difficult to answer the question “So, tell me about yourself” personally, it can be difficult to differentiate in the marketplace among your fellow professional service providers.  After all, every firm wants to claim high quality and well trained team members, a commitment to quality service, superior product or advice, technology, etc.  You need to dig deeper for a way to describe your firm that differentiates you from the competition.

Similarly, how do others describe your brand to their contacts?  I previously wrote on the topic of a referral source with the best of intentions whose description of my business and services was so far off from my own perception that I hardly recognized myself in what he said.  There was a misalignment between my internal and the public perception of my brand.  The brand review process provides the language you can use to reinforce your firm’s strengths and differentiation so that your referral sources get it right when talking with others.  The added benefit here is that you start to get better referrals who are more likely to become clients because the prospect is a good match for your firm and is attracted by your brand message.

Overview of the brand review process.

To discover the public’s perception of your firm and what makes you great, a brand review process can be very helpful. Are you scared to find out what people think?  Keep in mind that the public perception it is what it is whether you know what it is or not.  At least knowing means that you can choose to take action.

If that external perception aligns with your internal perception, you’re ahead of the game.  If your external and internal brands align and that brand will allow your firm to reach your short and long-term goals, you’ve just won the branding lottery.  If not, then a shift is needed in one of the three areas; internal brand, external brand, goals and growth.  The vast majority of the time, a shift is needed. (Not everyone can win the lottery!)

First things first… As I wrote about years ago, but still believe wholeheartedly, begin with the end in mind.  As we’ve just discussed, one essential pillar of this process is to determine your future direction and goals.  After all, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any road can take you there.” (Lewis Carroll)  So, where are we going?  Do you want to grow?  By how much?  How quickly?  In what service areas?  Etc.  Hopefully there is alignment among the leadership on the direction and goals.  If not, the brand review process should shed light on potential paths, and perhaps the best path forward will become obvious.

Next, we want to know what your team thinks of the firm.  I recommend including people with a variety of job roles in this process.  If you only get the partner perspective, you’re missing the potential insights from someone on the front lines like a receptionist, a manager, or new employee. What are you proud of? What can be stronger? What benefit do your clients have by working with you?  How do you get new prospects?  What is your client retention rate?

Finally, we’ll want to take a look at the competitive landscape.  How much competition is there?  Are the firms strong competitors?  Do the firms provide a good first impression online?  How do the firms describe their cultures and their services?  Is there some clear differentiation among the firms (including yours)?  How does your network of referral sources, clients, and centers of influence perceive your firm in contrast with the others?  (Yes, we’re going to ask for this input directly!)

With this information in hand, we can begin to find your position in the competitive landscape.  We’ll define a brand territory you can call your own that feels authentic and that is clearly separate from any other firm’s territory.  If this was an MBA class, we’d call this your competitive advantage.  We’ll then develop marketing insights such as your value proposition, elevator pitch, talking points for conversations with prospects or referral sources, and potentially a tagline.  If your visual brand isn’t up to snuff, we’ll also discuss whether a new logo or website refresh might be worth the investment.

Lastly, circle back to compare your brand identity with your firm’s direction and goals.  If your current brand will get you where you want to go, great!  If not, as we’ve said, some shift in either brand or goals will need to take place.  You’ll be able to use this information to develop a strategic marketing plan and to set targets and measure your progress over time.   Alignment with your brand message and brand experience will allow you to attract clients that are a good fit for your services and your firm culture.  This should lead to loyalty, cross-selling, and more referrals!

If your firm needs a brand review, I can help!  Contact me to learn more.


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Alison has more than fifteen years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Boston College Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees.