Your brand is among your professional service firm’s most valuable assets, and solid positioning of that brand can help you to attract both clients and top talent. When leveraged correctly, your brand can even be the key to accelerated growth and profitability. But professional services firms often misunderstand the importance of branding and thus miss out on valuable opportunities.
Branding should convey your firm’s values and reflect your goals in the marketplace. But the process of branding involves more than a mission statement or a logo. it should account for client perceptions of your firm, as well as core competencies, competitive advantage, strategic goals, competitors, market positioning and messaging. By working with an experienced branding expert, you can strengthen your firm’s positioning and better reach your target audiences.
The benefits of a good brand
A strong brand can make it easier for a professional services firm to generate leads and even improve closing percentages. In fact, research indicates that high growth firms are twice as likely to favor differentiators that are both easier to prove and more relevant to potential clients.
Additional benefits of branding include the following:
1 – Improved competitive advantage. Branding can establish your firm as a preferred leader in your marketplace. A clear brand, exhibited through visible examples of your firm’s expertise, can help potential clients understand when your goals are aligned. This will make your firm a clear choice for their next project.
2 – Greater referral opportunities. Having a strong brand can establish your expertise within a specific market segment. According to Hinge research, perceived expertise is the most important criterion for selecting a professional services provider. In addition, firms with specialized expertise are more likely to receive referrals than those with a broad reputation for “doing good work.” Branding, combined with visible expertise presented through thought leadership, can land your firm referrals—even from companies that have yet to use your services.
3 – Reduced risk. Branding helps professional services firms to accurately target ideal clients rather than pursuing a broad range of opportunities outside of their given niche. By matching your firm’s expertise to your clients’ needs, you can reduce the risk of poor referrals and increase opportunities for repeat work.
4 – Highlight blind spots as to your competition. Branding can clarify your niche and help your firm better understand your target market—and the true competitors in that market. If your current marketing is focused on your existing clients,(and competitors), then the research that comes with branding may reveal that this audience isn’t truly representative of your market.
5 – Increased confidence. If your employees don’t understand your company’s brand, you are missing opportunities to express your value to potential clients or partners. Branding can provide your employees with the appropriate messaging and the confidence to share your message. For example, which would you rather your employees tell prospective clients: “I work for an architecture firm” or “I work for the Mid-Atlantic region’s leading designer of integrated healthcare campuses”?
6 – Improved operational focus. When your employees understand your brand—including your firm’s goals, areas of expertise and priorities—they will be better equipped to recognize and pursue ideal clients and projects. You will also find that branding can better align your employees’ actions, achieving operational consistency.
7 – Elevated visibility. An intentional brand allows firms to expand the reach of their firms—both online and offline. With a strategic approach to a firms’ go-to market strategies, prospects travel naturally through the business development funnel, staying engaged at every touch point.
What to expect from the branding process
Considering the importance of branding to your firm’s growth, it is crucial to select a branding partner that is knowledgeable in all aspects of branding, including research on client perceptions, core competencies, competitive advantages, competitors, market positioning, messaging and creative engagement.
Branding works best when led by a small in-house decision-making team—ideally 3–5 individuals, including the C-suite (includes operations and marketing)—and a branding firm with experience in evaluating stakeholder perceptions, the competitive landscape, positioning and other brand-related efforts.
Your team should expect the branding process to consist of several phases and last upward of 12 months. These phases might include:
- Getting the brand strategy right. Once your firm’s goals are clearly understood, it’s important to conduct the research that will inform your new brand positioning statement, differentiators and messaging architecture. This research is the framework for your brand, and will identify your target audiences, the messages to each, points of resistance and arguments to overcome them. Research may involve interviews of current and former clients, prospects, new target audiences, competitors, and your own staff and management team. When conducted by a third-party, these interviews can provide honest insight to help your message better resonate with your target audiences.
- Building the brand. Once you have identified your audience, you can begin developing the individual elements that go into a brand. This should start with foundational elements such as the name, logo, tagline and style guidelines, and then expand to items such as business cards, stationary, templates, brochures and so on. The most crucial component of this effort will be your website. Our referral study found that 7.6 percent of survey respondents believe a professional looking website to be among the most critical examples of visible expertise, as it’s the first place that potential clients go to learn more about your company.
- Marketing/brand rollout planning. The marketing/brand rollout plan should begin with an introduction to your staff of the new brand, both before and after the project is complete. It should also include a redesign of your firm’s marketing plan. Take time to consider how you will communicate your new positioning and maximize your brand investment. It is important to use measurable marketing activities so that you can see your progress and improve your efforts over time. A comprehensive brand rollout includes both digital and traditional marketing techniques.
- Putting your marketing plan into action is, of course, the most important aspect of your branding efforts—but it’s also the area where many firms struggle. Consistent marketing keeps your name before potential clients and further establishes visible expertise and leadership. To do this, you’ll need to put in place a systematic, scalable and measurable approach to marketing and business development.
Establishing a realistic branding budget
How much should you expect to budget for an extensive rebranding? To determine a good baseline, you might first ask yourself “what’s a new client worth to my firm?”
Depending on your firm’s size and annual revenue, you can anticipate a thorough rebranding to cost between $60,000 and $150,000 and to last 8 to 14 months. Talking with experienced branding companies about your firm’s goals and the importance of branding can help you to establish a realistic budget—and ensure a significant return on your investment.
- Develop a stronger and more valuable brand with Hinge’s Brand Building Guide for Professional Services Firms.
- Discover the surprising factors that drive referrals in our free Referral Marketing Study.
- Our Rebranding Kit gives you the tools and knowledge you need to lead your firm through a rebranding.
How Hinge Can Help
Hinge has developed a comprehensive plan, The Visible Firm℠ to address these issues and more. It is the leading marketing program for delivering greater visibility, growth, and profits. This customized program will identify the most practical offline and online marketing tools your firm will need to gain new clients and reach new heights.