There is a lot of confusion in the world of professional services as to exactly what a professional services brand is. I can say this with a level of certainty because I hear it just about every day. Many folks see their brand as their logo, firm name, and accumulated trade dress. While certainly an important component of the brand, these items fall far short as a complete definition.
Better you should think of your brand as your reputation and visibility in the marketplace if you want to shorthand it.
I suspect that much of this confusion comes from the fact that that many professional services firms are not run by people who are marketers by training or inclination. But even if you were schooled in classical brand marketing you are not likely to fully understand the challenges of building a high value professional services brand. Why? Because professional services brands are very different than consumer product brands.
- Professional services brands are built on the behavior of the people in your firm. That means you have limited control over your “product.” Yikes! The result is that an important focus must be placed on getting consistency in the quality of service your firm delivers.
- It is difficult to differentiate your firm from competitors. Most firms fall back on “their people” or “technical expertise” or dedication to “great service” as their differentiator. If you have ever been on the receiving end of one of these pitches (and who hasn't?) you know how painfully obvious it is that such unsupported generalities are no differentiation at all. You must work at creating meaningful differentiators that give you a competitive advantage. They must be meaningful to your clients and supportable.
- Every engagement is different. Each client presents a unique set of challenges, requiring a flexible response. This is very different than selling a can of soup. As an executive, you must build a firm with a brand that can adapt to ever-changing clients without losing it's distinctiveness.
When you look at these challenges as a whole it is perhaps easier to see why developing and maintaining a professional services brand is so challenging. However, there is a flip side. If you are successful the payoff is that much greater because it is so rare.