In another working lifetime I had the opportunity to interview Al Ries, a 50-year veteran of the advertising wars who, along with his partner, Jack Trout, operated Trout & Ries, one of the most respected agencies along the Madison Avenue corridor.

Together they demonstrated how the concept of brand positioning established mind share – not to be confused with market share – and published a series of articles on the concept in the B-to-B bible of Madison Avenue - Advertising Age in the early 1970s. Later, they co-authored a number of books on the subject.

He explained that branding establishes a position in your mind and taglines/messages for such products as cars, beer and later, technology, usually nestled into a comfortable – and in my case, relatively empty – part of the brain.

Now despite impressive progress on marketing fronts, no one will ever confuse the frequency of advertising messages and images for CPA firms with those of say McDonald’s, or Budweiser.

But nevertheless, some CPA firms – and not just the Big Four – have been availing themselves of mainstream advertising channels. In my case, I’ve noticed an influx of radio spots for CPA firms during the coveted morning drive slot while on my way to catch the 6:59 to the city.

On one of New York’s most prominent 50,000-watt stations (the most allowed, I’m told by the FCC) I have recently listened to ads for firms in the tri-state area such as Blum Shapiro & Co., Marks Paneth & Shron, UHY Advisors and, of course, J.H. Cohn, which for the past several years has featured the omnipresent Major League manager Joe Torre as its spokesperson.

I’ve also noticed that these firms use “accounting” as part of their message, as opposed to past print ads and poster boards for most of the Big Four firms, where the emphasis was heavily weighted toward consulting as opposed to accounting. As I recall, the word “accounting” appeared nowhere in the text on several of them, culminating in a rather confusing message.

But that was then and this is now. For example, how many firms now have full-time marketing directors as opposed to say, 10 years ago?

CPA firms will probably never be blessed with the ad budgets or the marketing resources afforded to a Big Mac or Bud Light, but it appears they’re gradually making inroads in positioning their brands for a share of consumers’ minds. That’s particularly critical not only in today’s economic climate, but in a culture more influenced by images than perhaps ever before.

It truly is a case of mind over matter.

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