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Rebranding Strategies for Professional Services Firms

There are a lot of different reasons that professional services firms consider rebranding. Sometimes there is an easy to understand event such as a merger or a catastrophic failure (think Arthur Anderson). But most often it is driven by a desire to accelerate growth or enter a new market.

Sooner or later, the discussion gets around to the “how” question. That's where rebranding strategies come into play. While there are a lot of variations and combinations possible, there are five basic re-branding strategies to consider:

1. Brand Refresh

A brand refresh is simply updating the look and feel of a brand that has no fundamental problems. This strategy is best used when the markets and competitive landscape are stable and the brand is well positioned against the competition.

While some background research may be helpful, the main task is to avoid anything that could inadvertently harm the existing brand — updating the firm's visuals to be more contemporary, for example. The logo may be tweaked slightly but will still be very recognizable.

2. Brand Extension

A brand extension allows a firm to market a new service to an existing client group. It can also be used to extend an existing service line to a new group of clients. For example, a technology company may have a brand associated with serving the small business marketplace and now wants to apply those same solutions to the health care marketplace.

This type of rebranding requires significant understanding of the new market segment, as well as an understanding of how the extension will impact existing client groups. A name change is seldom required. A typical approach is to add a modifier to the basic name. For example, XYZ Solutions may simply add a XYZ Healthcare Solutions.

3. Brand Reposition

This is perhaps the most common rebranding strategy. It typically occurs when a company realizes that the services they offer are out of sync with marketplace perceptions. For example, your firm may have been known as a developer of high-level strategies. Over time, you have concluded that you also need to offer hands-on implementation of those solutions. You may have developed the capabilities to do just that, but your historic market position keeps you from being considered for implementation projects.

The solution is to reposition and rebranding your firm. To pull this off, you will need to conduct research into both existing clients and prospective clients to understand which elements of the existing positioning need to be carried forward to the new brand and what new elements are required. The new brand's launch will provide an important signal to the marketplace that something important has changed. The message must be reinforced repeatedly over time if you hope to make it stick.

4. Brand Combination

This is primarily a situation that arises as part of a merger or major acquisition. Often times the goal is a repositioning by means of acquiring a new skill set or marketplace exposure. It is one of the most challenging situations as you want to mingle two different positionings to come out with one that adds real strength.

There are of course, real concerns around compatibility of the two positionings. Research is aimed at seeing how the the combination fits into the clients view of the competitive environment. Is this a combination that makes sense to current or potential clients or is it a combination that raises new issues and concerns.Also of key importance is the integration of the two separate employee and partner groups. Often a name change is part of the re-branding strategy. ABC Solutions merges with XYZ Consulting to form AtoZ Solutions. This is a re-branding strategy that is very common in legal and accounting circles. Think Ernst&Young.

5. Brand Relaunch.

Sometimes a firm needs to get as far away from the original brand as it can (Arthur Anderson, mentioned earlier, is a prime example). But even when the issues are not so black and white, there may be a compelling case to give a firm a new name and identity. This situation may arise when a firm's reputation has been tarnished but not ruined or when a firm's business strategy has gone through a dramatic reorientation.

In many (though not all) cases, this sort of rebranding strategy results in a new name and a complete identity change. Before it comes to that, however, the firm needs to research the new target client group, as well as any existing clients that are to remain with the firm. It is also very important to research any staff perceptions that need to change. You have to change the pig, not just the lipstick.

Selecting appropriate rebranding strategies is often harder than it looks. Your situation may be more complex. And many successful solutions involve components of two or more of the basic strategies described above. For some more perspective on rebranding, check out the free rebranding kit below.

Author: Rebranding Strategies for Professional Services Firms

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