It seems everyone is talking about “brand” these days. Given the many tangibles and intangibles involved in creating and managing a brand, giving it a concrete definition can be a challenge. However, one thing is clear—brand is important.

In many ways, brand is a promise. When buyers—whether they’re retail consumers or business users—consider doing business with a firm, they’re looking not only at the product or service being offered, but the firm’s reputation and perceived value. How potential and current clients perceive your organization is the foundation of your brand.

There are certain times in your firm’s existence that warrant taking a closer look at your brand. Perhaps you are facing a major business decision that you can’t afford to get wrong. Or a new challenge that has high stakes. Situations such as these are the opportunity to take a step back and look at the bigger picture as it relates to your brand.

Here are 10 business challenges that brand research can help you solve:

1. Difficulty describing your firm

Have you heard the old Indian parable about the blind men describing an elephant? Each touched various parts of the animal and, based on their individual experiences, each described a very different entity. Sometimes different business developers describing their accounting firm can create the same confusion.

Brand research can help you determine where you’re creating value and what’s most important to potential clients so you can better align your value with their needs and create a more focused yet comprehensive description of your firm.

2. Changed target audience

If your target audience has changed because you’ve changed the services you provide or the industry or industries you serve have changed, then your brand message needs to change as well. Brand research can help shed light on the new target’s issues and needs, as well as how and where they get information so you can more effectively address your new audience.

3. New firm name or identity

Brand research will uncover how your market thinks about your firm now, what kind of brand equity you might already have, and how your target audience might react to a new brand name or identity. Our research has shown that often names which seem clear, effective and sure winners to the stakeholders appear weak, confusing and even nonsensical to potential clients.

4. Outdated firm appearance

No matter how well thought out your original logo, typeface and tagline, all things eventually look their age and need some revision to stay current. Brand research can tell you what your target audience prefers for the look-and-feel of an accounting firm they would want to do business with.

5. Downward pricing pressure

As markets and competition evolve you may find yourself facing increasing pressure to lower prices. Brand research can help you escape the clutches of commoditization and thinning profit margins by revealing where you have credibility to charge more because of greater expertise and specialization.

6. Stalled growth

Sometimes an accounting firm runs into stiffer competition or an evolving market in which previously successful sales approaches no longer work and growth stalls. Brand research can reveal how the marketplace has changed, where the market is going, and the best ways to reposition your firm and reconnect with current and potential clients.

7. Changed competitive landscape

As your firm grows it will run into competition that may dictate a more sophisticated approach or a change in focus to attract prospects who may not be aware of your firm and its value. Brand research will help you determine your competitive advantage against your rivals as well as your potential value to a new, larger audience.

8. Merger or acquisition issues

Perhaps a merger or acquisition is the source of your growth. M&As often mean entrance into a new geographic market or the addition of new service lines and client types. Brand research can reveal how strong the acquisition’s brand is, how strong your brand is in the new market, and what may be complementary or competitive between your two firms.

9. Introducing new services

Introducing new service lines can be fraught with danger. It may be unclear what would be most appealing about the new service to potential clients. Or what kind of operation within the industries you serve would align best with your offering. For example, let’s say you provide accounting and tax services to the financial industry and you’re thinking about launching a new service. What kind of financial institution would be best to target—regional banks, local banks, credit unions, savings and loans? Brand research can help find answers.

10. Top talent acquisition

One of the biggest challenges facing accounting firms today is attracting and retaining top talent. Our recent employer brand research study revealed that online searches and firm websites are much more important to potential employees than most professional services firms realize. Brand research can help you understand what’s valuable to top talent in terms of workplace environment, advancement opportunities and employee benefits so this kind of information can be utilized to attract the kind of employees you seek.

There’s a lot to learn with brand research. Everything from how the marketplace views your firm to who your true competitors are and how you differ from them. Best of all, you can gain insight into the entire client journey—from how to first attract them to the best ways to keep them.

Lee Frederiksen

Lee Frederiksen

Lee Frederiksen, PhD, is managing partner of Hinge, a branding and marketing firm for professional services. Hinge conducts research into high-growth firms and offers services for firms that want to become more visible and grow.