How your accounting firm can achieve a position of privilege in the market
Once upon a time, 10 to 15 years ago, many accounting firms — if not most — worshiped at the altar of reputation. The names on the door mattered more to firms than the amount of press they generated. This worked exceptionally well because reputation was the key driver for growing a firm’s customer base and establishing loyalty. Both clients and firms were happy. Everyone benefited.
Back then, brand and marketing were viewed through a fairly narrow lens. Brand was a logo and marketing activities were limited to distributing a newsletter, issuing a press release and sponsoring a cause. This worked well, and all was good in the land of accounting.
And then the world changed. Today, firms — no matter how small or large — are coping with a tidal wave of disruption. Retaining employees and recruiting for talent is fierce. New technology platforms like blockchain, AI and chatbots are starting to influence and shape client engagement. And the regulatory environment continues to flex and shift. Market change is the new norm, and the role of brand in a firm’s repertoire for success is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a must.
Accounting firms that grow and succeed today don’t just shadow their competitors’ footsteps; they lead with brand. They do this by creating a 360-degree experience deeply rooted in what the brand stands for and not just what it looks like or says on paper. These types of accounting firms operate very differently from those that pay lip service to brand. They view brand as the fundamental driver that influences and shapes every aspect of their business. Brand is not just about how you communicate and go to market. It’s about how your firm behaves across every single touchpoint in order to establish a unique position in the market.
Achieving this is no easy task. Building your firm’s brand muscle requires the commitment of senior leadership and buy-in from every employee. However, once established, and over time, a strong brand produces tangible results.
Firms that exhibit brand leadership achieve success because they are able to:
Make the investment: Leadership recognizes that brand and all the firm’s respective marketing activities are a fundamental part of their day-to-day business that requires an ongoing commitment and investment that never ends. Marketers at these types of firms work closely with leadership to define how brand contributes to the firm’s top line.
Tell their story: These accounting firms build a brand story that is unique to who they are and what sets them apart from their competitors — a story that reflects their values and culture and comes across with a distinct way of expressing itself. These firms have successfully established a unique point of view in addition to a recognizable look and feel. Their stories are so pervasive that their unique position is communicated consistently across every touchpoint and makes it easy for outsiders to instantly understand what the brand stands for.
Connect with stakeholders: Firms who lead are relentless in having an ear to the ground and behave in a way that truly resonates with what matters to clients, employees and other stakeholders. They continually push to innovate and adopt ways in which the brand experience can add value to their service offering in a manner that ultimately connects and strengthens the bond between firm and client.
View digital and brand equally: Savvy accounting firms recognize that the digital experience and the brand experience go hand in hand today. Leveraging one without the other is like trying to row a boat with a single oar. It’s harder to do and requires twice the effort. Instead, these types of firms tackle both brand and the digital experience as a single, integrated endeavor.
Accounting firms that make the commitment to brand and stay with it are more likely to reap significant benefits. They tend to grow faster, recruit the best talent and keep their clients happy. Because when you build your brand and let it flourish, it unlocks real business value and competitive advantage. Firms interested in figuring out what they could be doing to boost their brand as a strategic business asset can begin by answering a few clarifying questions.
Does Your Firm Need A Brand Tune-Up?
Marketers looking to get a quick read as to whether they are a brand leader, follower or laggard can do so by quickly considering the questions below:
1. Does everybody in your firm, from receptionist to partner, understand what makes you different from the competition? Are employees able to quickly identify your firm’s purpose?
2. Does your story create an emotional connection? Does it have a point of view, attitude or personality that reflects your culture and values?
3. Does your content resonate and convey the value you provide? Or is it predominantly focused around the “we” as in what you do?
4. Does it pass the logo swap test? Does your website look like it belongs to your firm, or could it be applied to other firms just as easily without any noticeable difference? Does it feel dated or stale?
5. Are you always struggling to catch up to what other firms are doing? Or are you a first-mover when it comes to adopting new approaches to better manage the client relationship and create a seamless experience across every channel — from in-office to online?
6. Do you find that your firm is having a more difficult time recruiting talent or keeping talent?
If you find your firm is struggling with any of the above questions, it may be a cue that your brand could be working harder to support your business and could potentially benefit by implementing a brand tune-up. Marketers interested in making their case to senior leadership to invest can take a first step by conducting a brand assessment of their own brand along with a few of their top competitors. This is a relatively cost-effective way to engage leadership and initiate a conversation on how your brand could be working harder on behalf of the business.
No Risk, No Reward
In general, accounting firms, along with other professional service organizations, tend to be risk adverse and conservative in their approach to brand. These cultural traits are often inherent given the nature of the work they do, where the need to establish trust and confidentiality is considered coin of the realm.
Accounting firms that do break away from the brand pack are able to lean into the future, without compromising their credibility. They’re open to learning how to adopt new ideas and ways to tell their story and express their brand with compelling content and a strong visual expression. By taking calculated risks, accounting firms who are willing to go all-in on brand are able to facilitate greater growth and move into the future with confidence.