Voices

Why is digital branding important?

There’s no getting around it: Today, we live our lives online. We shop, discover things and learn in a digital world. For businesses, a digital presence is no longer a “nice to have” but a “must have.” And that means creating and nurturing a digital brand.

In some aspects, digital branding is similar to traditional branding: It’s the process of creating a unique identity for your accounting firm that sets you apart from your competitors and creates visibility for your services that attracts the interest — and, ultimately, earns the loyalty — of your clients. But make no mistake — digital branding presents its own unique challenges and utilizes channels and tools that are different from traditional branding. Done properly, digital and traditional branding are complementary parts of a comprehensive branding strategy.

As an accounting firm, you can think of your brand as the visibility of your reputation — you are only as good as people perceive you to be. And today, those perceptions are increasingly formed online. So how important is your digital brand? Two recent studies by the Hinge Research Institute revealed the central role digital branding plays for accounting firms as buyers engage in the service research and buying process.

All purchasing starts with a real or perceived “pain” — “I ‘suffer’ from this (a lack of nice clothes, a broken car, an IRS audit); therefore, I need that (a new suit, reliable transportation, a good accounting firm). For business professionals considering buying accounting services, the process starts online, often with a simple Google search to address the “pain” they’re feeling, such as “tax audit help” or “regulatory compliance consultant.” To rank high in search results requires a significant digital presence in the form of relevant, valuable content that is optimized for search.

What makes this even more important is that the process starts long before the buyer considers specific providers. That means what they discover in their search may cause them to eliminate certain firms — maybe yours — long before you’re even aware they’re looking at you. In fact, almost 90 percent of buyers have ruled out a firm just by what they saw online — or didn’t — without even talking with the firm. That should give pause to any accounting practice with a weak online presence.

However, if you’ve been actively nurturing your digital brand and have appropriate content available online to help executives diagnose and understand their issues, you will have established credibility and will be perceived as an expert in their problem. That will help you make the short list for consideration, if not become the first choice.

If your firm did not surface during that search, you will need some other way to be found to even be considered. Traditionally, buyers will then turn to a friend or colleague to ask for referrals. But our research has shown that referral requests have decreased by 15 percent in the past five years, while online search to identify possible providers has increased by 65 percent.

If all of this leaves you with an uncomfortable feeling, chances are good your digital branding needs a little work. That should start with your website, which is often the first place a prospect will land when researching firms online. If you haven’t visited your website content recently, now’s a good time to review and evaluate it — does it still align with your business goals and strengths? Are you clearly differentiating your firm from the competition and making unique claims that you can back up with facts, expertise and experience?

If you’re lacking valuable, informative content such as white papers, executive guides, blog posts and articles that address topics and issues of interest to your target audience, start producing and posting appropriate pieces populated with relevant keywords. Use your content to test various channels and digital platforms to see what works best for reaching and influencing your targets. There is a 72 percent probability of buyers evaluating your firm based on interfacing with your digital brand and content. A paltry 28 percent will use traditional methods to find and evaluate you.

So how important is your digital brand? Very. If you need to reinforce your online presence to boost your digital brand, it’s time to get cracking.