Clients Don’t Care for Sea of Sameness was previously published for accounting firms in The Bottom Line, Mid-September 2011.
What stops most accountants from becoming meaningful brands?
Their self concept.
Accountants that see themselves as not unlike their peers may not have fully nurtured, or even acknowledged, their own unique and valued difference. They may have concluded that, within certain areas of practice, accounting services are pretty similar from firm to firm.
Self concept isn’t necessarily reality, however.
Try to think of a client, circumstance or challenge that puts you in the zone where your energy and interest peak and where it’s not just about accounting anymore. It’s about solving complex problems, improving someone’s life, providing trusted insight, creating simplicity, delivering the truth when it’s needed or simply communicating empathy. When you are in the zone, you are setting the stage for life long relationships.
You are also setting the stage for a meaningful brand.
Branding is a process. How far you go with it will have as much impact on the result as your commitment to any individual step. Let’s take a closer look at four major steps in this process: knowing your own unique value, unleashing and communicating your vision and, finally, delivering on your promises.
Branding step #1: Know yourself.
Getting to know your professional self involves dealing with a wide spectrum of guarded behaviour; even when we don’t hide our truth completely, we bury it so that it’s not the first thing people learn about us.
The first and often biggest hurdle to developing a meaningful brand, for accountants and other professional practices, is fear. Fear of sharing the whole truth about our professional selves, even with ourselves.
However, facilitating connection isn’t about sharing everything. It’s about focusing on your core values in the sequence in which they matter to you, beyond the obvious biography details.
Here’s a helpful exercise. If you try to make a list of all your professional strengths and interests, you might end up with as many as fifty different qualities. It may even be true that you’ve got strengths across the list. But can you pick the one to three qualities that put you in the zone? Are they even on the list?
Branding step #2: Unleash your vision.
Once you’ve carefully considered what gets you in the zone, you can begin making decisions that will enable you to build and nurture those qualities and invite those circumstances.
What does committing to a new concept of your professional self change?
Depending on how meaningful, specific, different and entrepreneurial it is, such commitment could change everything from vision and values to services, target audience, staffing and marketing. A meaningful professional brand is intrinsically tied to the firm’s strategic plan.
How will you know if your vision is making an impact?
When your audience decides that there’s no substitute for your brand. You save them headaches, contribute value to the businesses, make them feel better or even safe and, essentially, they trust you. They arrive at a point where it is difficult, and in some cases just about impossible, to replace you because they are no longer just looking for an accountant. Their attachment to your brand changed because your self concept changed.
Branding step #3: Communicate, clearly.
Have you ever noticed how accountants focused on a common area of practice and audience profile will latch onto the same marketing messages, almost word for word? We tend to share what we think our audience wants to hear and what we expect will keep the most doors open to opportunity.
Carrying forward a big vision isn’t complete, however, until your visual identity is a true reflection of your professional self and vision. Becoming a meaningful brand involves getting out of the sea of sameness.
If you know yourself and you’re holding fast to your vision, this third step in the branding process, clear expression, should be entirely focused on the delivery. You can facilitate this process by taking these fundamental steps:
- Learn how to evaluate and work with a marketing professional. This relationship is about fit and shared vision. It’s also about skill and talent. Your marketing professional’s role is to extract and express the most meaningful aspects of your brand, in a manner that facilitates connections. Your role is to decide whether or not it rings true to you, at every stage in the process.
- Build consistency across your marketing program. There’s no need to reinvent positioning statements and graphics from website to brochure to newsletter. Rather, these materials need to build on each other, in a manner that optimizes their ability to deliver impact.
- Balance the need to stay steadfast and true to your vision with a nimble approach toward fine-tuning your brand, as appropriate, in response to new opportunities or changes in your business environment.
Branding step #4: Deliver on your promise.
A meaningful brand is a promise that doesn’t take breaks. It continues to deliver, always.
The single most important factor influencing your clients’ experience is you. You can extend that influence by way of your team with an internal aspect to your branding strategy:
- Hire people who share your vision.
- Don’t underestimate the essential role that everyone plays in achieving this vision, from the way calls are answered and meetings are booked to the way that information is shared. Take the time to build your brand internally by sharing your plans, inviting input and noticing when someone gets it just right.
- Don’t assume that you will get the results you want from your team, your processes or your systems. Develop a training program to ensure that you do.
Branding is a process.
Becoming a meaningful brand is a process. It accounts for making, expressing, and delivering promises aligned with your vision, your values and the way that you wish to practice.
The point of branding isn’t to come up with snazzy logos or taglines that roll off your tongue, unless they are grounded in meaningful vision.
Furthermore, while such vision may already have a place in your accounting practice, it may need some coaxing or guidance to shift your professional identity. This process not only begins with, but is dependent on, an honest, and often courageous, self concept.
How far down the road has your brand travelled? Are you ready to take the next step?