The name is the easy part

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We receive a fairly steady stream of press releases from accounting firms announcing that they are rebranding themselves to varying degrees, and I often wonder whether there is much point behind these exercises. How much difference can a new color scheme, or a new logo and tagline, or even an entirely new name make? Will adding “and Business Advisors” or abbreviating a laundry list of founding partners to a more manageable acronym really move a firm into the 21st century, or draw in scads of new business?

I still can’t answer those questions, but I had occasion to think of them in a different light when Accounting Today’s parent company launched its own new brand in mid-January, announcing our new name: Arizent. As part of the rollout, our management team explained in great depth how the new brand was built to support the new strategic direction that the company is taking, and how it was drawn from the same values that informed that strategy.

You’ll hear more about that new direction in the months ahead (suffice it for now to say that it will see the company’s publications engaging more deeply, and in many more ways, with the communities we serve to help them rise to new heights), but I want to share a few things I realized from our own launch.

First, the headline above isn’t quite right. Names aren’t easy — our new name emerged over the course of a year, with an initial list of more than 900 whittled down to a presentation list of 68, which was then chipped away at until a short list of 15 remained, which were then researched and analyzed and debated until only three were left, from which Arizent emerged victorious — but they, along with logos and color schemes, are, at least, the easier part of the process.

The hard part is developing and defining the mission and the vision and the values that underlie the new brand in the first place. A brand is not what an organization is or does or believes; it is a reflection of all those things, a reflection of both strategy and values.

Names and logos are the outward signs of inward purpose. They are not there to freshen up your marketing collateral, but to signal to clients and customers what you bring to the table, and — for the brands that work the best and last the longest — to come to embody all of that in the public mind.

I’m afraid that many accounting firms use rebranding to try to signal things about themselves that aren’t necessarily accurate. Adding “and Business Advisors” to your firm’s name won’t improve your advisory services; shortening your name so it’s easier to remember won’t make your firm easier for clients to work with. All the clever concoctions dreamed up by naming consultants won’t change your firm one bit.

In that sense, names and logos really are the easy part; identifying the values and the mission, creating the unique strategies, and building out the service offerings and practice teams to deliver on those strategies — that’s the hard part.

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