I was reading an interesting profile this week of Steve Stoute, a respected marketer in the ad world who preaches a message that brands needs to change with the times.Stoute’s agency, Translation Consultation & Brand Imaging, specializes in repositioning brands, and tells its clients that companies need to embrace cultural changes in order to speak with a new generation of clients.

But what really caught my eye was the brand Stoute said that he would love to make over -- that of the Internal Revenue Service. “The IRS should no longer hide behind the stick and allow fear to dominate its image,” Stoute told BusinessWeek in its March 26 edition. “There is an opportunity to illustrate to Americans that the IRS is of value to them in ways both societal and personal.”

That’s certainly a different take on how the IRS should consider tackling one of its biggest challenges -- the balance between enforcement and education. Right now, Congress is again taking a long, hard look at the tax gap. But most of the vague solutions that are discussed, such as simplifying the tax code, don’t seem likely to happen anytime soon. Stoute’s idea is one that, ultimately, might have a lot of merit as part of a campaign to individual taxpayers.

In Allen Adamson's, “BrandSimple: How the Best Brands Keep it Simple and Succeed,” the marketer offers up 10 ideas for how a business can accomplish having a strong brand in a cluttered field. His ideas below are very relevant, and not just to the IRS, but to any accounting firm, no matter how large or small the market is that they're competing in.

  1. Understand that brand and branding are different concepts. The “ing” makes a huge difference in meaning. A brand exists in your mind and is a collection of associations or feelings people have about a particular product, service, or an organization. Branding is the tangible process of creating the signals that generate these associations.
  2. Establish a differentiated meaning for your brand that the consumers you want to reach care about before you try to begin branding. Differentiation and relevance -- not awareness -- make a brand strong and keep it strong. You can’t build awareness without having something to build it on. The most successful brands know this.
  3. Know exactly who you want to talk to -- that is, know your audience. Also, know exactly who you want to beat -- who your competition is -- and make sure the difference between you and the other guy is crystal clear.
  4. To find a different and relevant brand idea, look for the obvious. The best answers are usually right under your nose. Good brand people never stop looking for insights, and they know to look in the most obvious places. They read letters from customers, go to call centers, speak to retailers, hang out in supermarket aisles. The key is to find something meaningful that no one has noticed before.
  5. Make sure your brand idea aligns with your business strategy. What exactly are you selling? Is your brand idea in sync? You can deliver what your brand idea promises to deliver by validating the brand experience at optimal points of customer contact.
  6. Capture the essence of your brand idea in a brand driver -- a simple statement of what your brand stands for. Make sure it’s as succinct, as focused, and as compelling as possible. It has to be able to drive your branding signals, brand actions, and brand behavior -- intuitively. It’s your brand recipe and it has to be simple to follow and remember by heart.
  7. Draw a map of the customer’s journey with your brand. Take everyone in your organization on this journey to give them an understanding of the points of interaction that have the greatest potential to impact people’s perceptions of the brand. Doing so also allows them to see how their role in the organization influences customer perception through the branding signals they bring into being.
  8. Pick your battles. After you’ve established which points of customer interaction have the greatest potential to drive consumer perception of your brand idea, invest your branding dollars in these interactions. These are your power branding signals.
  9. Remember, only the paranoid survive. Make sure you keep your brand difference differentiated, and make sure it’s a difference people care about. Always pay attention to your core customers. Don’t lose the center.
  10. Remember that brand building is a marathon event. Success is not a one-time thing. Make sure you have the nerve and the verve for the long haul. Good brands last and there’s a reason they do.

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