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Stay Ahead of Your Competitors with Brand Research and Differentiation

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Accounting firms and engineering firms often call us when they see a competitor suddenly showing up in their market space and winning bids seemingly “out of the blue.”

A closer look at the competition reveals that those firms have set up a strategy to target a certain buyer, market or industry and are now reaping the rewards of months of focused effort. They didn’t just show up. They’ve been there for a while.

When a competitor enters your market and begins to win bids, it’s time to look at your firm’s brand positioning.

What are your clients saying about you?

The first step is to look at what your clients are saying about you. We often find that what firm leaders think about why clients value the firm is different from what clients say.

You can find out what clients are saying by conducting client interviews. We recommend that these are done 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.

Who are your competitors and what are they up to?

You won’t know unless you do some research to find out who they are and what they’re up to. Invest in a competitive analysis that gives you a side-by-side comparison of key industry and niche competitors and where they’re gaining an edge — before they get the jump on you.

To do this, look at competitors’ websites, advertising and social media. You can also hire a secret shopper of your competitors to find out how they talk about themselves. 

What are your firm’s differentiators?

What is it that makes your firm unique? How are you different from your competitors? 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?

Developing your Brand Message

At the end of this brand research process you should be able to come up with a list of three to five areas that distinguish you from your competitors. State them as phrases that are easy to remember. The end goal is for each individual in your firm to remember the core ideas that define the brand of your firm. 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 proposals, public relations and all your marketing messages. In an information-flooded world, the beauty of clearly stated key messages leads to consistent branding and client expectations.

Ingenuity has the tools to provide analysis and recommendations for preserving or expanding niche business and clients. Don’t be caught off-guard by a competitor creeping into your market.

LEARN MORE ABOUT INGENUITY’S BRAND RESEARCH SERVICES


 

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Why Should Your New Leaders Get Brand Training?

Clearly defined brand positioning and training is highly critical for firms and organizations to understand how they are unique from their competition and to articulate the value they provide to their clients. In this video, hear from Communications Consultant, Christine Nelson, as she shares about the importance of brand positioning for professional service firms and organizations. Her advice includes revisiting your brand positioning often; brand training for leaders and new staff and creating target personas.

PERSONAS CAN ACCELERATE YOUR BRAND POSITIONING. LEARN HOW.


If you prefer to read the video transcript, you may find it below:

When we conduct research with clients and referral sources, we are looking for common themes about how a firm or organization is different from its competition. But we also pick up other things in these surveys and interviews. For example, we might learn that some clients only know about the services they use. There isn’t any cross servicing opportunity.

We see the same thing with our association research. Staff members aren’t always clear the difference from their competitors, so it’s hard for them to share that difference with potential members.

These are just some reasons why you should conduct brand training with newly promoted or hired leaders.

They are the face of your firm on social media, in networking conversations and with new prospect queries. Even if they have worked there a long time, a promotion puts them in a different mindset about how to promote your firm or organization. Newly hired leaders also need to know how to approach recruitment and prospecting.

So here is my advice:

Once or twice a year, revisit your brand positioning. Review your messages. Are they still accurate? Do they feel right? Has something changed?

Schedule a time to train newer leaders and staff on why your firm or organization is different and the types of prospects you are looking for. You could help them create some sales questions to qualify prospects.

If you need help creating target personas or branded messaging, you can talk to Ingenuity! Help your leaders confidently promote your firm or organization.


 

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Brand Positioning: 4 Ways to Enhance Client Service

Person writing brand positioning on a chalk boardWe conduct multiple client surveys and interviews every year to help professional service firms improve their brand loyalty.  Based on our research, the top two reasons that clients leave a professional service firm is that they don’t feel valued and they don’t perceive value from the relationship. 

If you find yourself in this situation at your firm: straying clients, unhappy clients, bad reviews or certain disciplines that don’t handle client service as well as others, it may be time for team training on your client service standards as well as a refresh on your brand positioning. Help everyone serve clients consistently well. 

SEE BRANDING SERVICES AND TEAM TRAINING

To get you started, here are four baseline behaviors that every professional who directly works with clients should exhibit with every client encounter.  

Be friendly. 

Close up of man sticking out hand for handshakeWe understand that some people don’t find small talk particularly easy. But your clients expect a certain level of check-in or friendliness when you communicate. Start calls or meetings by asking about their week, showing interest in them as people. 

You will quickly see if clients appreciate a few minutes of settling into the meeting and also when they want to get right down to business. Keep their preferences in mind for the next time you meet. 

Be organized.

Woman putting a post it into a appointment calendarAs a professional service provider, there is no excuse for disorganization. Before a meeting, build in 15 minutes of time to prep for the agenda, understand the goals for the day or week, see who is part of the meeting and who is responsible for each item on the to-do list. If you have trouble keeping a calendar, identify an app or assistant that can remind you with notifications or alarms for the most important meetings. 

Even if you are in the field, make use of mobile devices and previous notes to  prepare for an efficient conversation with clients. Be the keeper of details. That way, your clients can easily move from your meeting to the next one. 

Set clear deadlines.

Tack stuck into the 22nd calendar dateBefore you set a deadline, make sure that it makes sense for the client as well as for your team. There is nothing worse than setting an unrealistic deadline or accepting a client’s deadline when you know it won’t work. Speak up and work out a compromise. 

Frequently missed deadlines won’t garner much favor with clients. Avoid setting up yourself or your team for failure. Understand the realities of time to deliver quality work in the midst of competing projects and the unexpected. 

With these things in mind, organize the timeline with a mental goal of delivery BEFORE the deadline. It will help set realistic expectations with clients.  

Communicate.

Woman yelling into megaphoneAfter every honest effort, if you can’t meet a deadline, speak up. In our research, we find that if clients simply hear regularly from their professional service providers on project progress, they are more accepting of delays. Communicate honestly and often about issues so they can be a partner in the process. 

Determine the client’s preferred method of communication. Do they like when you pick up the phone or not? Try providing a summary of outstanding items or questions in one email. That way, they don’t have to scan through multiple emails or messages. If you use voicemail, be clear on what you need. Unless you know the client really well and they prefer it, avoid leaving a message that just says, “call me back.” 

Be respectful of the client’s time and money. When it comes down to it, they are trusting you to deliver value and help them reach their goals. Show them that you value them, too! It will enhance your brand positioning. 


Do you have really great clients who are able to give you personal testimonials?
Here are some tips to get better testimonials.


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3 Ways Personas Accelerate Brand Positioning

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Personas, also known as client profiles or target markets, are a description of the types of clients and influencers that choose your services. 

They apply to professional services whether you operate a firm or an association, and they should be a key component of your market research. 

BEFORE STARTING MARKET RESEARCH, DOWNLOAD OUR RESEARCH PLANNING TOOL.

There are three big reasons to create and use personas — and to update them. They   focus your marketing, assist with prospecting and train your team on client service. All of these areas affect your brand positioning because potential clients or members need to quickly know that you understand them and can help them better than anyone.

1. Personas for Marketing

Effective marketing campaigns offer solutions for the potential buyer. Personas should include a description of your target buyer(s) that includes challenges, pains, goals and desires. These descriptions will help you focus your marketing messages on how your services bring solutions and support goals. By articulating how you best serve the buyer, you are differentiating your brand.

Whether you are writing blog posts, creating an ad campaign or writing website copy, personas will help you create content that fits the buyer. You will avoid the common problem of writing all about you instead of what buyers really want to know. Can you help them, and what should they do about their issue?

If you aren’t sure of your target buyer’s pains, interests or desires, interview your current clients or members and find out how you solve their problems and help them. It will clarify your brand positioning. You can include that feedback in your persona description! 

2. Personas for Sales

When having sales conversations, one rule of thumb is to have the prospective buyer speak two-thirds of them and to actively listen to their answers. To get them talking, you need great questions. But don’t just ask any question. Ask a question related to your brand; convince them that you are the best choice. 

A persona description will help you develop sales questions that relate to your target buyer to qualify them, but also to get them talking about what’s most important to them in a professional service relationship. 

For example, if you solve the challenge of training, ask a sales question like, “How important is it to you that your [professional service relationship] supports a well-educated team at your company?” It’s likely that the right buyer will say that it’s very important, which gives you an opportunity to ask about types of education they seek, and then talk about your service offerings.  

The persona description helps you prepare for these conversations with confidence and consistency. 

3. Personas for Client Service

Once you attract a new client — or a new member in the case of associations — you can use your persona descriptions to address how to deliver great client service. The descriptions can be used to train your staff on client service expectations, how you solve problems and how you make a difference. 

You can even create persona descriptions for referral sources and influencers. Help team members understand how to develop industry connections that can refer new opportunities to your firm or association. Everyone can take ownership of your brand positioning with the right knowledge. Personas are just one way to do this. 

If you need assistance with this type of market research or brand positioning, talk to Ingenuity. In addition to personas, here are other things you need for brand positioning. 


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Create a Powerful Brand Identity

Unified standards are crucial for creating a brand that is memorable. How your logo is used digitally and in print can affect your brand perception with clients and prospects. In this video, hear from Design Consultant Robert Wasiluk as he shares how a logo kit and style guide help create consistency for your brand.

Your color and logo looks sharp, but does your brand need a better story?
Check out our storytelling guide to get tips.


If you prefer to read the video transcript, you may find it below:

Create a Powerful Brand Identity

Does your firm use a logo kit and style guide for visual identity consistency and recognition? These are important tools in communicating your brand effectively.

But what is a logo kit? A logo kit consists of your logo saved in a variety of file formats so your brand identity will stay consistent across different media formats. High resolution native Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop files are mainly used for print related materials. JPG, PNG and GIF files are mainly used for the web and presentations.

A style guide works in conjunction with a logo kit and is a set of standards for the design of print documents, website pages, signage and other formats that would include your visual brand identifier. The reason for a style guide is to ensure complete uniformity in style and formatting wherever your brand is used. Some of the items it covers are proper logo formats and their usages, official fonts and color palettes and other elements such as your brand voice, styles of photography and artwork that can be used. 

These standards are crucial for building a memorable brand, one that is easily recognizable and brings a clear sense of reliability and security. It also helps everyone in a firm and vendors of a firm stay on the same page, and present a unified brand to the public.


 

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Refresh Your Brand with Color

As a marketer, it’s important when creating a brand to explore how the psychology of color sends the right message to prospective clients. Choosing the right combination of colors will help your audience know who you are and what you do. Choosing the wrong colors can be detrimental to a company or campaign. In this video, hear from Design Consultant Robert Wasiluk and learn what colors represent for your brand.

WATCH: FIVE DESIGN TIPS FOR SEO-FRIENDLY WEB DESIGN 


If you prefer to read the video transcript, you may find it below:

Refresh Your Brand with Color

Does your visual brand need a color reboot? As a marketer, it’s important when creating a brand to explore how the psychology of color sends the right message to prospective clients. Choosing the right combination of colors will help your audience know who you are and what you do. Choosing the wrong colors can be detrimental to a company or campaign.

Here is a list of primary colors and some of the color philosophy behind them.

For many of our service firm clients we see a predominate use of the color blue, which shows up in 33% of the top brands of the world. The color Blue is commonly used to convey trust, security and confidence. It’s also thought to put people at ease as it reminds them of the sky and ocean.

Red is also another popular branding color. It evokes warmth, passion and stimulates appetites. Restaurant food chains like McDonald’s and Red Lobster use it for that very reason. It’s also great for capturing attention.

Yellow is an ideal color choice for brands looking to instill positivity into their identity. It’s often associated with the sun and its different shades can help bring out hope and optimism. Yellow is often used in point of sale messaging, as it is proven to catch the eye quicker than any other color.

The color green is easiest on our eyes to read. It is a pleasing shade often used to convey calm and rest. Darker tones of green are connected with money and wealth. Like all colors, green has a negative side. It can often symbolize sickness, luck and jealousy.

Having a visual identity with a strong color philosophy behind it is crucial. It can make or break a brand or a campaign. If you’d like us to help analyze your brand’s colors, feel free to contact us through our website at www.ingenuitymarketing.com.

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How to Get More Referrals

Clients are willing to share about their experience with your firm in many different ways including word-of-mouth, online reviews and testimonials. Standing out in an increasingly digital world can be challenging. In this video, Dawn Wagenaar, Principal, shares five tips to create brand loyalty and get more referrals.

 LEARN ABOUT INGENUITY'S BRANDING PROCESS. 


If you prefer to read this content, the video transcript is below.

Clients will share their brand loyalty by word-of-mouth, but also through online reviews and testimonials. Do you want more referrals?  To stand out in a more digital world, here are five tactics to improve your brand loyalty and perception

Number one: Branding messages.Teach your team to talk about your firm in a consistent way that shows how clients gain value.  If you do not have consistent messaging – or your messages are outdated – it is time to do brand research and create fresh messages. 

Number two: Customer service standards.  –  Does everyone know when email or voicemail should be returned?  Is it within 24 hours, by the end of the day, within 8 hours? Should cell phones be in client meetings?  Should you bring an agenda to the client meeting?  What type of message should you leave on your “out of office” if you are in CPE for the day? If you have consistent standards around how you work with clients and provide timely service to them, your referrals will go up!  

Number three: A welcome kit.  Even after you win the engagement, you are still selling and building trust. Send new clients a welcome kit with details about their project, who will be on their team including bios with photos and contact information, a list of services you provide, social media they can follow as well as a service representative unrelated to the engagement team. Send clients this kit and welcome them to the firm.

Number four: A client service retreat and training.  – Your team wants training. They want to know what great service looks like in order to perform beyond expectations. Train your staff on providing great client service, and discuss ways to improve service based on current client and team issues.   

Number five: Secret shopping your digital presence.  – Hire someone to act as a prospect and visit your website, look for directions, call your office, visit your firm and see what kind of follow-up happens. Does this experience reflect what you think happens during a prospect’s exploration of your firm?  If it does not, you will see areas to improve your brand positioning and attract new business from referrals. 

From first impressions to amazing client service, these tactics will help you create brand loyalty and a referral machine.


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How to Conduct Brand Research

In this video, hear from Christine Nelson, Communications Consultant at professional services marketing agency Ingenuity Marketing Group and learn the stages of a successful brand positioning survey.

LEARN HOW TO STAND OUT IN A CROWD THROUGH STORYTELLING WITH OUR FREE GUIDE!


If you prefer to read this content, the video transcript is below.

When you ask clients or employees about your firm’s brand perception, it may be difficult to collect the right data. Even if you do have great data, how should you analyze it and take action?

People can rank you on specifics like staying within a budget and sticking to a timeline, but what about defining exactly how you make a difference? Sometimes you need outside help at different stages. But first, we need to understand the stages of a successful brand positioning survey.

Set your goal. What pain or interest are you trying to address? This will help you create the right questions and ask the right target audience. For example, if you are concerned about a drop-off in new business in an industry sector, ask clients about their perception of that service or what you are most known for within that industry.

Get the questions right. Any good journalist knows that the right questions matter. Be clear. Be concise. Include multiple choice to challenge and measure your own perceptions of firm value. If you only ask about “levels of satisfaction” with services or teams, you will not have anything specific to improve upon. Include some open-ended branding questions to get more detailed data.

Make it easy. Use a survey tool that is easy to navigate, plus send out several friendly email invitations that clearly define the reason for the brand research. How will this survey benefit the survey taker? Make the process easy and about them to boost participation.

Analyze the data. Explore hidden perceptions in the data. For example, if respondents rank your services in order of awareness, are the less well-known services based on reality or simply because of who took the survey? How should you respond to promote less well-known services? Do certain industries rank those services better than others? Pay attention to this phase for the most value.

Do something with your survey results! Brand research should result in stronger brand positioning. If it does not, get help with the stages of your survey strategy.


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Add Personality to Your Online Brand

Learn how to develop your authentic brand personality, connect with the right audience and engage with them in a compelling way. In this video, Natalie Klein, communications consultant, shares three tips to incorporate your personality into your online brand. From identifying your brand’s traits to telling a story, these tips will help differentiate from the competition.

LEARN ABOUT INGENUITY'S BRANDING PROCESS. 


If you prefer to read this content, the video transcript is below.

What is your firm’s personality? It should come through in your communications, on your website and in your social media. It’s not fixed and can change as your firm matures or with leadership changes. It can even change as you add new services and niches. Adding personality to your brand sets the tone for your brand’s communication, it helps form an emotional attachment to your brand and it differentiates your brand from your competitors. Here are some ways you can inject personality into your brand and make a great digital impression with potential clients, retain your existing clients and attract new talent to your firm.

First, identify your brand’s personality traits. Once you know what they are, be real and authentic about them. If you present your firm as super hip and cool, but in reality, you are more of the get the work done, no-nonsense type of firm, your audience will see through the façade. More likely than not, your reputation probably already proceeds you. Take these key brand personality traits to develop your brand voice. If you are uncertain how your firm is perceived, ask your clients.

Next, clearly define who your audience is and what their needs and desires are. When you understand who your target audience is, you can tailor your approach and more effectively communicate in a way that speaks directly to them.

Finally, tell a story. Stories can be engaging and informative at the same time. They can show the human side of your firm. People identify with people, not services. Whether it is a longer story, such as a case study for your blog, or a short story for a social media post, always try to inspire your audience to take action. Create an emotional connection to your brand with your audience though nostalgia, humor, or any other emotion that is appropriate for your audience, your industry and objectives. Telling a story to your clearly defined audience, using your brand’s authentic voice creates a connection that drives action and engagement.

Through these simple ways, you can develop your authentic brand personality, connect with the right audience and engage with them in a compelling way.

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What Makes You Unique

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.

Competitor Messages

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.

Community Knowledge

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.

Learn more about Ingenuity’s brand positioning services.