How Your Brand Positioning Affects Your Firm
After working with professionals for many years, we’ve heard a lot of the same promises. Most firms claim to provide great service, technical excellence or expertise, high quality, and so on. Words like “service,” “excellence,” and “quality” have lost their meaning. You want to stand out from the firm down the street.
The branding process is a work in progress comprised of
- What you say you are or aspire to
- What your community knows about you
- What your clients depend on
- What your competition does not own
Our clients are focusing more and more on their brand positioning in the marketplace. When we create a set of themes to distinguish their firm from competitors, we start by listening to four audiences: the firm itself, clients AND prospects, the competition and the community at large. Addressing these four groups with brand research and objective interviews will lead to clarity about your firm’s competitive differentiators. The results may surprise you.
Brand Research and Client Messages
Sometimes the messages we hear from clients and from firm leadership are very different. For example, a CPA firm might focus internally on their knowledge and expertise in a niche industry, but this isn’t what their clients remember. For one firm we worked with, the firm’s most treasured niche client revealed that “I chose to work with Joe because he is always accessible, answers my calls promptly and clearly understands my financial situation. I know that, no matter how busy he is, I am his most important client.” As a result, we focused the firm’s new brand messaging not just on niche prowess, but also on responsiveness and paying attention to client details.
Client interviews should be conducted by an experienced brand consultant. This provides more objective and detailed feedback because the viewpoint is fresh. In addition, your best clients hold the key to discovering how to attract more clients of that caliber. Asking the right questions can bring out open and honest feedback, which helps you align your message with how your clients view you.
At this point you can also talk to prospects about what they’re looking for in a firm. You may know prospects who are willing to talk to you, or you can ask your brand consultant if they can locate prospects in your key industry to interview.
This phase ends with a list of all the feedback and messages about what your firm values internally, what your clients value and what prospects assume is your value in the market.
The second step in the brand positioning process is to conduct a competitive analysis. To do this, look at competitors’ websites, advertising and social media, as well as information that came up about competitors in the client/prospect interviews. You can also hire a secret shopper of your competitors to find out how they talk about themselves. Often when we’re researching competitors in an industry, we find that there are messages shared by multiple companies. For example, a recent competitive analysis found these messages flooding an industry: “agile,” “strategic,” “proactive.” Those phrases are from three different competing firms! Take these competitor messages and put them side-by-side with all the messages that came out of your firm leadership and client interviews. Eliminate any message that is already overused by competitors. This does not mean that you cannot use the phrase if there’s a value that’s strong for your firm. If you really do have exceptional customer service, come up with a new way to speak about the service you provide and how it thrills and delights your clients. Share some customer success stories to demonstrate this brand message.
Lastly, competitive differentiators show up in your community. Some firms are already known for a level of charitable participation, a landmark building, an outrageous personality or some other unique feature of their community involvement. If you’re working on your differentiation internally, you may already be aware of what your community knows about you. Is it consistent with the messages from clients and prospects and your leadership? Is there something new to add?
Using Brand Positioning
At the end of this process you should have a list of three to five elements that distinguish you from your competitors. State them as phrases that are easy to remember. The end goal isn’t to have some words that your people parrot out at networking events, but for each person to remember the core ideas that define the brand of your firm. For example, at Ingenuity one of our consultants might say, “We market people, not products,” while another might tell you, “I know that your ability to promote your knowledge directly impacts the growth of your firm.” These are two versions of the same idea – one is less personal but catchy and might be used as an introduction to a large group; the other version creates a personal connection. When you give people core ideas, they can customize these to fit the situation they’re in at the time. The same ideas can be represented on your website, in public relations and community participation and also in the ways your clients talk about you when giving referrals.
In an information-flooded world, the beauty of clearly stated key messages leads to consistent branding and client expectations. If you want to be positioned for growth, all of the people associated with your firm need those messages on the tips of their tongues.