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Stay Ahead of Your Competitors with Brand Research and Differentiation

person holding chalkboard with the words "who are you" on it

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


 

Why Should Your New Leaders Get Brand Training? video header

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.


 

Video clover slide for How to Conduct a Brand Survey

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.


Video cover slide for Add Personality to Your Online Brand

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.

Title for Four Ways to Attract Great Candidates

Four Ways to Attract Great Candidates

A firm’s greatest asset is its people. In today’s competitive talent market, there’s growing concern over recruitment and employee retention. We put together some easy ways you can communicate the culture and value of your firm to prospective and even current employees. In this video, Leah Spielman, marketing consultant, provides four ways you can attract great candidates to your professional services firm. Apply these concepts to help your firm stand out.

Gain insight into your firm’s culture and employee satisfaction through comprehensive research and employee surveys. Ingenuity can help!


Testimonials build brand confidence

How to Make Testimonials Part of Your Marketing Strategy

Most professional service marketers have heard the old adage, “People buy with emotion and justify their decisions with logic.”  And yet, many professionals who sell an intangible service don’t know which emotions they are provoking and why anyone buys from them.  

Why do people buy from you? 

Quality service emerges as a compelling reason why professionals believe their clients buy from them. Interestingly, we have discovered that what signifies quality to a practitioner and what signifies quality to clients are often two different things. Professionals tend to focus on professional designations and internal process as measures of quality. Clients tend to focus on timeliness, impact, proactive communication and relationships.

The way to find out why your clients buy from you is to ask them. One of the first things we do with any new client is to call up some of their customers and have a good chat. We ask why they chose you, what they would say about you to a friend, if they would refer you to others, what you are best at and how you can improve. We ask them if they have worked with other firms in your field and what those experiences were like. We ask them how long they have worked with your firm and if they have ever considered switching.

Are your clients considering another service provider? Listen to our webinar to find out: Boosting Your Net Promoter Score.

At the end we have a transcript of the conversation and some juicy sound or word bites you can use on your website or in proposals. This gives you the opportunity to clearly understand your value proposition (sales-speak for what makes you unique and why people should buy from you). Your value proposition tells you how your clients feel about you. The conversation with your clients also gives you a chance to address any issues before they consider leaving.

Testimonials not only explain your unique-ness to the world in an independent voice, but they also build your confidence by taking a minute to bask in all those wonderful compliments. Every professional, and every firm, needs such affirmation to help strengthen conviction in the brand and value proposition. It makes you understand why you go to work every day, too! 

Practical Testimonial Writing

We have learned some best practices over the years, as well as a few things to avoid when undertaking a testimonial-gathering effort.

Here is our checklist for curating high-quality testimonials:

  • Consider using an outside party who is good at drawing people out. Your clients will tell you that you are “great” but “great” is hardly compelling sales copy. They will be more expressive with someone they do not know. Make sure your interviewer has done this before; it is an art to draw people out and get the language that persuades.
  • Tell your clients who will be calling them and why. A heads-up from you means they will be much more comfortable with the interviewer.
  • Always use the telephone or in-person interviews. If you ask folks to write a letter, the letter will almost always be stiff and formal. Again, that’s not compelling copy. When you interview them, you have the chance to craft the words. Clients appreciate word crafting as long as it’s still accurate to the tone of their experience. 
  • Craft a variety of testimonial quotes for use in your promotional campaigns.
  • Send each quote you might ever consider using to the client and get approval. Make sure they know it may be used on your website, media releases, proposals and for a variety of promotional uses. A testimonial template is helpful in this process for written documentation of their approval.
  • Whenever possible, use the person’s full name, title, and company. “Pat Z. in Wisconsin” sounds like a late night, diet-aid commercial. “Patrick Zuber, President, HealthCore Company, Madison, Wisconsin” is more credible.  
  • Keep a file of testimonial approvals for future reference as you develop marketing materials and campaigns. 
  • Send a copy of brochures or newsletters where the quote is used to the client. Most people like seeing their name in print.


Read This Final Referral Tip

One huge advantage of a persuasive testimonial is something called the second person referral effect. Most people choose professional service providers from personal referral — in other words, a referral from someone they know and trust. A testimonial is from someone your prospect may not know. However, this stranger does know you and is willing to brag about the intangible — how it feels to buy from you — in print. While not as powerful as a personal referral, it carries more weight than you saying the same thing.
Finally, if your brochure claims your service is wonderful, it probably sounds to readers like common advertising fluff. If a real person testifies in detail about how it feels to work with you, the resulting impact will be much more persuasive. Having a file full of testimonials will enhance the quality of all your promotional material. Of course, testimonials also help you understand just why people buy from you. Plus, these tales of loyalty will help you build confidence to go out there and tell your story.


Four Steps to Take to Align your Brand Across Multiple Markets

Is your firm struggling in other markets? Does your brand awareness seem to fall flat in some markets but thrive in others? Dawn Wagenaar, principal at Ingenuity Marketing Group, shares four steps to take to align your brand strategy across multiple markets. Learn brand positioning best practices for your firm, how to assess your competition and where you may have some gaps in your current positioning. Implement these steps to better align your brand across multiple markets.


Rebranding? Tips for Brand Positioning and Roll-out

Is your brand muddied by years of neglect or “remodeling” by a few industrious staff? You know, the niche leader who adjusts a logo for a sponsorship ad or the administrator who doesn’t stick to the branded colors?

Aside from wrangling internal staff to present a consistent visual brand, the biggest weakness and threat for professional service firms is often the outdated look and feel of their websites. The top offenders?

  • Old font styles
  • Cluttered home pages
  • Content that is too focused on firm services rather than visitor needs
  • Not responsive on mobile devices

Does My Firm Need a New Brand?

A rebrand is in your future if your brand is five or more years old. Also, if competing firms have already invested in updated branding, you can’t lag behind on first impressions. Most cold to warm leads today are creating a short list based on your website and online impression. You can’t afford to ignore your brand when your pipeline depends on it.

Are you ready to rebrand? Check out our branding services.

Branding is more than a visual image or color.  A brand is the promise you make to clients and potential clients about what it will be like to work with you. Your brand promises a certain experience.

The promises of your brand are based on:

  • Stories you and your staff tell about the firm
  • Stories your clients tell about the firm
  • Name of the firm that is easy to pronounce and memorable
  • Strong brand positioning statement, key messages, and tagline
  • Visual image of your packaging, including logo, font type, brochures, stationery, proposals, and website
  • Your delivery of the client experience
  • Your talent brand to attract and retain professionals

If everyone is saying something different about your firm, it’s hard to distinguish your value from the crowd through marketing messages or sales communications. It’s also not competitive to say that your firm delivers “quality service” or “seeks long-term relationships.” Those messages are table stakes that everyone says. You must dig deeper to your firm’s true value.

Why is Branding Hot?

The secret of good branding is in integrating what staff, clients and the public think and expect from your firm. The best branding gains a strong and permanent place in the mind.     

A complete branding process in a professional service firm involves:   

Research

  • Leadership research – Five or more leadership interviews to seek common themes
  • Client research– “A” client phone interviews
  • Competitive research – Research on three to five top competitors
  • Community research– Current marketing materials, involvement and sponsorship/philanthropy review

Themes

  • Create a positioning statement – a summary that distinguishes your firm within a target market or markets
  • Create key messages – essentially the experience you promise to deliver in three to five themes that is different from other firms
  • Gather feedback from leadership and key employees
  • Conduct client focus group(s) to gather feedback on the themes

Tactics

  • Finalize competitive themes and positioning statement
  • Train leaders and staff on use of themes
  • Develop marketing and business development tactics surrounding themes
  • Develop or refresh of visual branding kit, including colors, logo, stationery, website, etc.

 

How Long Does It Take?

This initial branding process can be completed within one to two months, depending on the availability of clients and leaders. But its value for getting everyone to speak the same language about your firm will pay dividends in the consistency and ease of promoting your firm going forward.   

New Brand, Now What?

To the roll-out! Finalize your new brand program by scheduling a firm story/key message training and integration of the brand into everyday use. Make it fun for everyone to embrace the new brand. Change is hard, so get everyone on board early in your roll-out. Consider a small celebration internally before you announce to clients and the world through your materials, client communications and public relations.

Learn how to roll-out your new brand in this blog post.

Remember that good branding is not safe and not always pleasant! If there is controversy about the brand promises or the images used to portray them, it probably means the work is good. It often forces a culture shift. Not everyone may like it.

How Do You Know That Your New Brand is Working?

It’s working when it allows you to talk about your firm with confidence and explain how it’s different from the competitors. It’s working when people respond with affirmative nods and additional questions. Now you have an opening to share your unique story and build stronger relationships. 

See how we created an award-winning brand for Casey Peterson, Ltd.

 

 


 

CPA Firm Sets New Course
of Trust

At the time Ingenuity started working with the leadership team at Rudler, PSC, this mid-sized CPA firm’s managing shareholder already anticipated a longer tenure before he could exit. However, talent retention and client loyalty were strong due to a dedication to flexible schedules and community involvement.

The firm really needed a consistent focus on marketing and business development to remain independent — avoiding the merger trend among CPA firms in their city.

Working with leadership and niche team members, Ingenuity has assisted with the following:

  • Competitive research and differentiation
  • Brand messaging and visual brand refresh with new tagline
  • Training on distinct brand messages and leadership types
  • Website updates to emphasize niches, improve SEO, build out careers pages and improve bios
  • Leadership coaching
  • A process for client highlighter meetings to expand cross-servicing
  • Public relations support, including award copy review
  • Eblast copywriting and content strategy
  • Social media support to showcase culture and talent brand

Internally, Rudler revived its coop program to introduce interns to the firm culture and services — resulting in an 85% retention rate for interns offered a full-time position. The firm leadership developed a three-year strategic plan and positioned emerging leaders for the partnership track. Involvement in an international accounting alliance, BKR International, opened opportunities for new business through referrals from other independent public accounting firms across the country. Technology investments now allow remote employee opportunities to support recruitment. ING provided employee case studies to promote flexible career options on the firm’s website. A new president is also positioned to lead the next generation of professionals.

Today, Rudler has a solid foundation to remain independent: talent, marketing savvy, technology investment and client loyalty.


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Six Reputation Builders

These items should be on your reputation bucket list to improve your visibility and credibility as a professional.

1. Write an article for your target audience.

2. Post and comment in select LinkedIn Groups.

3. Add client video testimonials to your website.

4. Win an award.

5. Take a leadership position on an association committee or board.

6. Speak as a subject matter expert in a webinar or to a live audience of prospects.

Need more tips? Call Ingenuity about creating a comprehensive reputation management strategy.