BRANDING FOR PROFESSIONAL SERVICES
Blog Post, Posted on March 26, 2015
I recently had a debate with a very well-respected marketing consultant on the merits of branding professional services. He maintained that brands were for consumer products — not services.
My reaction was obviously to the contrary. Branding has been used as a way to differentiate and build demand for consumer products for decades. Why not professional services? The fact that we even debated this subject points to the challenges of marketing professional services.
Large professional service firms (think CH2MHill, Bechtel, Price Waterhouse, Deloitte, McKenzie, H&R Block) have successfully invested in, and maintained, high value brands as a way of luring more prestigious clients and supporting a higher pricing structure.
Perhaps the reason small- or mid-sized professional services firms don’t focus on their brand is because of how they have traditionally developed and won new work — through word of mouth or referral. In that case, we believe it’s important for businesses that rely on interpersonal relationships to realize how branding fits within that context.
For those of us who market the smarts and expertise of our people and the solutions we can bring to the table (rather than products), it’s easier to think of our firm as a person. And as with all individuals, there comes a dearth of ways to describe someone.
Unfortunately, the position that many firms fall back on is to define themselves by their “mission, vision and values.”
If I were to describe a person based on these three pillars, you might learn about their career path, the type of work they would like to do and that they are essentially a good person. Not necessarily actionable messages that a potential client would respond to.
But if you looking to date that person — or frankly decide if you even want to be friends — don’t you think you need a little bit more to go on? If you wanted to set someone up, how would you describe him or her? Let’s consider the other factors that we take into consideration when we get to know people:
1) How someone dresses says a lot. Are they casual, formal, creative, edgy, colorful, preppy, etc? This is the equivalent of your brand’s visual language and guardrails. There’s a big difference in coming to work in a suit versus a Hawaiian shirt. Figure out what “style sandbox” you’re playing in.
2) How one speaks says volumes. Are they approachable? Humorous? Do they come across as highly educated? TOO educated? This is your personality, tone, and manner. Clients work with people, not corporations.
3) Are you interested/engaged in what they’re passionate about? This is your messaging. How do you speak about what you do to various audiences in a way that resonates/connects with them relevant to them?
4) What is their core driver? What is the fire that seems to drive them? Are they all about conservation and fixing the planet? Are they committed to service? Are they focused on family? This is your brand essence. Just like Disney is about family magic and Volvo stands for safety, your brand essence is the anchor for your brand’s expression. Be authentic. Figure out what drives you (or in this case, your company) and people will take notice.
So back to my earlier debate: does branding apply to the world of professional services? Let’s hear your thoughts.