More Accounting Tomorrow Posts

Do-it-yourself branding research

May 18, 2011

Earlier this month, Accounting Today posted an article on building a new brand. In the article, it spoke specifically about the value of doing your due diligence before actually going through the branding process.

Most accounting firms go through a rebranding thinking its strictly about the graphics. It’s not. The graphics, in my humble opinion, are only a small portion. What you say and how you position yourself is the most important part of any branding effort. Ensuring you understand very clearly what that is before you add in the graphical design is important to any successful rebranding.

Unfortunately, research like this can come with a hefty price tag. Firms are often left to choose between actually doing the research or doing the branding. You can imagine which one usually wins out. With a little knowledge, patience and time, firms don’t have to choose. Many can conduct the majority of the research themselves with a little guidance.

What to evaluate

There are three major areas you should look at when conducting this type of research. They include: the perceptions of your current employees, the perceptions of your current clients and referral source, and finally, an analysis of your competition.

Your employees

Gaining feedback from all your employees is extremely important because each will interact with your clients in a different way. When evaluating your employees, a mix of a survey and interviews can provide you with great insights. The interview can usually help validate or even clarify certain perceptions, while the survey will give you the overall pulse of the organization. Questions and topics to evaluate might include:

  • What they think makes you different
  • What they hear from clients that makes you different
  • The value of the services you provide
  • Why they choose to stay with the firm
  • What opportunities you afford them
  • How they think you compare to the competition 

Your clients/referral sources

Internally, your perception about your services and what make you unique is important. However, even more important is how your clients view you. Often times, there is a disconnect in how your clients talk about you and how you talk about yourself. It’s important to understand this, as well as the language they use to describe you. This is an exercise that is usually best conducted via interviews. Relying on a survey alone won’t give you enough detail. While it’s not feasible to interview all your clients, narrowing down the list to your top 10 to 25 can give you a nice start. If you have already conducted the employee research, these interviews can be used to help validate your findings and uncover new information. Key information you will want to obtain in the interviews conducted include:

  • Why they chose your firm (if relatively new) or why they choose to stay with you.
  • How they think you stack up against your competition in the marketplace
  • What they think makes you different (ask for descriptive words)
  • The value of the services you provide.

Your competition

Understanding how your competition positions themselves is important. Everything from the visuals you see—like the colors, graphics and tagline—to the soft information is critical. Much of the marketing position can be researched by looking at their website or some of their online profiles. The softer information typically comes from your employees or even your clients. I find that developing a master spreadsheet that allows me to take a quick snapshot of my competition really helps when I need to synthesize the data.

Other considerations

Beyond the three major areas above, some firms may need to account for other factors that will impact their branding efforts. Additional considerations may include:

  • Office locations
  • Client size variations (large companies versus small/mid-size companies
  • Company name
  • Recent acquisitions
  • Industry or marketplace trends

Once you have conducted the research, you will need to synthesize the information into a document that outlines your current brand (a.k.a. positioning). This can then be used as the basis for your rebranding effort.

Sarah Johnson is the chief growth strategist with Inovautus Consulting, a firm that works with CPA, law and professional service firms to help them grow more effectively. Her counsel and strategies have helped move firms to the next level in their marketing and sales efforts. Connect with Sarah at 773-634-9902, or  


Comments (2)
Thanks Scott. I appreciate the feedback.
Posted by Sarah j | Monday, May 23 2011 at 3:55PM ET
Sarah - some very good observations about a topic that typically confuses firms and accountants. You managed to say what others TRY to say in a very succinct way.
Posted by Scott C | Thursday, May 19 2011 at 9:53AM ET
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