For most professional services execs, anticipating the work involved in a rebrand may be analogous to a kid standing before a messy room, with a parental edict that it Needs.To.Be.Cleaned.
Where to even begin? What gets tossed, what gets saved? And why, exactly, does it need to be done in the first place?
As a parent, I have the reasons for cleaning the room down pat. Explaining to a busy executive why it might be time for a rebrand—that’s a more involved conversation. Particularly when all seems to be going well with business: revenues are stable; growth is stable, recruiting—stable. But therein lies the problem—stable doesn’t equal growth.
Further, it leaves us out of sync with changing market conditions and the evolving needs of our clients. New competitors, varying customer tastes, disruptive technologies—a whole host of factors are continually altering the dynamics of the marketplace. In this dynamic environment—the firm that fails to adapt, loses.
Adaptation takes more than refreshing tired corporate colors or redesigning an outdated logo. It takes strategy.
The Rebrand Building Blocks
Firms facing a rebrand need to approach the process understanding the optimal sequence of steps, or building blocks.
While these essential elements of a rebrand may be familiar (research, communicate, market) there are nuances that may not be immediately obvious to even the most veteran executive. It is these subtleties that mean the difference between a rebrand that wows! and one that wanes.
Building Block #1: Research your Brand
There’s an old saying: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” I’ve often thought that this is nowhere more true than in business. Sure, you may know where your firm is headed, and you may know what you need to do—operationally and even strategically—to get there. But do you know what you don’t know?
The only way to answer that question is to go to the source—your target audience. That’s why the first building block of a successful rebrand is to map your firm’s direction to that of your target audiences. Knowing where your audience is headed, and molding your brand so it is in sync, will result in rebrand that delivers a return on your rebrand investment.
The best way to figure out this direction is to conduct primary research. Research will help you understand your audience’s most pressing issues; how they like you to communicate with them; how they choose experts for projects, as well as their priorities and plans for the future. Understanding these critical needs will result a deeper insight into your target, and a stronger overall rebrand.
Need proof? At Hinge, our research has proven that firms who conduct regular primary research on their target audiences grow faster, and are more profitable.
Here are the perspectives your primary research should be capturing:
- Your current clients: Existing clients will help you understand your firm’s strengths and weaknesses, information which can be used to improve operations and client communications.
- Your former clients: Former clients can offer important clues on how to build more lasting relationships. They can also illuminate weaknesses that you never knew existed.
- Prospective Clients: Prospective clients in your target audience will give you a general sense of the awareness of your brand in the marketplace, how you stack up against the competition, and how your company and current brand are perceived.
- Lost prospects: No one likes to lose, but lost prospects will provide better insight into your perceived weaknesses in the marketplace than any other audience. Their insights are critical into understanding and evaluating multiple areas of your business.
- Influencers: Well-known industry experts, bloggers, community leaders, or even insiders who work with your decision maker…they provide a valuable perspective on a firm’s perceived strengths and weaknesses, as well as point out missed opportunities. These influencers can steer purchasers to certain firms and their services.
It is also imperative that you balance findings from your target audience with the perspective of your own firm. Comparing how your target audience views your brand and where you fit in with their top priorities in relation to how your firm’s management team and staff sees those same things can uncover large gaps—and provides strong clues to what stays and what goes as you rebrand.
So, what should you ask all of these people?
- Ask about their priorities. Questions that assess your audience’s organizational priorities, and their perception of where (and how) your brand fits into these priorities, will guide you and help define what you should write and speak about.
- Ask about their processes. Questions that assess the approaches your audience will take to addressing their priorities will guide you in figuring out which of your own services or solutions will be most relevant to them. And, how you should be talking about these services.
- Ask about their plans. Questions that assess why your current clients are selecting you, as well as who are your key competitors (through your audience’s lens) will guide you in determining your differentiators.
Building Block #2: Communicate your Brand
There are two ways to communicate your brand: through words, and through visuals. Research helps you understand how to communicate your brand using both, and in a way that will resonate with your target audience.
Words help you communicate through the following:
- Brand positioning statement—A brief paragraph that describes your company’s unique value proposition, defining attributes, and market positioning, a brand positioning statement is intended for internal use and ideally, used for all subsequent marketing message development. It provides the foundation for all of your brand’s external language, such as: marketing copy on your website, printed advertising collateral, and even what comes out of you employee’s mouths when they give their elevator pitch.
- Key differentiators—A list of the characteristics that set your firm apart from otherwise similar firms in the marketplace (especially your key competitors).
- Messaging architecture—Customized brand messages that speak to your different audiences. When architected correctly, these nuanced ways of speaking include potential objections each audience may have to your brand, and your responses to those objections, as well as proof points your business development, sales, and marketing staff can use when communicating your brand to potential new prospects.
- Educational content—Knowing how your brand should be positioned, and how it is truly differentiated is also a clue to what aspects of your expertise are valued by your target audiences. Everything you write about, speak about, etc. should be tied to the central issues you’re known for, valued for, and—offer a truly unique perspective on.
Now, let’s look at communicating visually.
As you undoubtedly know, your brand’s visual identity is composed of all of the visual elements of your brand, including colors, shapes, images, typography, font, and layout. This visual tone and attitude should align with the brand’s overall strategy and create a strong emotional reaction.
iPhones aren’t just popular because they are fun to use. The visual identity of Apple has a lot to do with their ubiquity. When your visual identity is communicated effectively, potential clients will be attracted to your firm, even if they can’t quite articulate why.
After your name and logo, arguably the single-most important visual portrayal of your brand will be your website. Why? Because the vast majority of your prospects are getting their first impression of you from your website.
In fact, let your website be the guiding strategy for the rest of your visual assets. Collateral, pitch decks, proposals—all should follow the visual strategy that informs your website.
A successful website should convey three simple things about your brand:
- What you do
- Who you do it for
- Why clients should choose you
Building Block #3: Market your Brand
In addition to your website and other visual assets, you’ll want to proactively market your brand through education, not just sales. Think of it as expertise marketing—the very best kind!
A basic outline for expertise marketing includes two key things:
- Stick to your strengths. Remember, we are still talking about building blocks. Primary research guides the words and visuals, and words/visuals help guide the marketing. What you write about should be issues and topics your firm can speak to authoritatively and are part of your core business offering.
- Expertise matters. Marketing yourself (or your firm) in a way that showcases your expertise (i.e. how you solve problems or address the main pain points of your audience) goes a lot further than marketing yourself as the most trusted or lowest costing advisor. What do those say about you as an expert? Exactly—nothing. While cost and a good/trustworthy relationship may absolutely be important to your audience, they aren’t likely to be the thing that tips the scale in your direction. But your expertise? That will.
What Buyers Value
Source: How Buyers Buy
So to sum up, when done strategically, a rebranding only stands to help you grow faster and become more profitable.
- Attract core customers more easily. Done correctly, a rebrand can help generate leads and close sales because it resonates directly with your target audience. And then when those core customers are ready to make referrals, your firm’s brand can provide the credibility to back up their enthusiasm.
- Attract business partners. These can include project/teaming partners for specific contracts, promotional partners for joint marketing efforts, or even referral sources.
- Command higher fees. A recent study showed that brand leaders in specific niches can realize a higher fee than competitors. In fact, the average premium is a whopping 32%! And a brand can only be a leader if it’s branding is strong.
- Attract top talent. Everyone wants to play on a winning team. An effective brand targets the right kind of recruits with messages that speak to their unique needs and desires. Your brand should communicate your firm’s vision, values, and culture so that recruits can decide if the firm is a good fit.
- Sets the standard. When done well, a rebrand lets your firm set the standards for daily operational performance. It helps management decide what level of service and expertise is required to maintain your competitive advantage, fulfill your brand promise and live up to your firm’s values.
By starting with these basic building blocks, you set your rebranding project up to succeed—and you will enjoy significant returns on the investment of time and effort.
- Develop a stronger and more valuable brand with Hinge’s Brand Building Guide for Professional Services Firms.
- Our Rebranding Kit gives you the tools and knowledge you need to lead your firm through a rebranding.
- For more ways to drive new business growth, expand current client relationships, and build your firm’s brand, download a complimentary copy of How Buyers Buy Professional Services.
How Hinge Can Help:
The best brand building strategies help your firm connect with its buyers, builds your reputation, and increases your marketplace visibility. Hinge’s Branding Program can help your firm stand out from the competition and build a brand that drives sustained growth.