If your brand is deliberately cultivated as part of an overarching marketing strategy, chances are it's a strong asset that's helping your firm to grow. If the opposite is true, and your firm thinks your brand is merely your logo and tagline, then your brand may actually be thwarting your growth efforts.
What is your brand?
More important than your logo or the colors on your business card, your brand is what people think and say about your company. What services they believe you offer to the marketplace, how well (or how poorly) they think you deliver on your brand's promise, how credible your experts seem.
We boil this down to a simple brand strength equation:
Brand Strength = Reputation x Visibility
Why is a strong brand important?
Because your brand's success depends on it.
Companies with strong brands have an easier time attracting top-tier clients and employees. They can command higher fees and are sought out for their expertise.
When your brand's weak, you'll struggle to attract clients and often compete, not on talent or offering, but on price.
Many businesses don't really know how their brand is perceived in the marketplace. If you, too, are uncertain of the market's perceptions of your firm, consider a little research.
Through brand research, you learn from your clients, prospects, and employees about both your reputation and visibility. The research results can be very revealing and the insights gleaned will help you to craft messages that communicate the real value of your business.
If brand research isn't in the budget, assess your company against these attributes of a strong brand and see how you match up.
The attributes of a successful brand:
- A well-defined target audience. Strong brands don't try to be all things to all people. Does your firm target a specific audience? Is your messaging effective for that audience?
- A clear message. Do your prospects, clients, and employees all have the same perceptions about your brand. If they don't your brand may be in dire straits.
- A reputation for expertise. A firm with a strong brand is considered a credible source of information, and they do not disappoint. Does your firm have such a reputation?
- High visibility. People know and remember firms with strong brands. They also have a solid digital presence and are near the top of the page when people search for their particular offering. How do you rank?
- Premium perception. The best brands are assumed to be so good and so valuable that they can charge premium prices. The perception is the firm plays a key role in their clients' successes. Does your firm compete mostly on price?
If your brand feels a little feeble when compared to the attributes of more robust brands, it's time to put some brand building programs in place and strengthen your overall market position.
Step 1: Be clear about who you are, what you do, and for whom
Once you have internal clarity on your market positioning, it's easy to communicate with crisp, clear messaging that resonates with prospects and clients - making it easy for them to remember and recommend you to others. Here are some sample positioning statements for an executive search firm:
Strong: "Specializing in executive search for non-profit and academic healthcare organizations."
Weak: "Your trusted executive search partner for today's fast-changing market."
The first statement is from a company that's quite clear about what it does and who they do it for. It's easy to write marketing messages and build a solid brand around that kind of specific positioning.
We often see variations of the second message. It's a weaker message because it tells the reader nothing about the firm's expertise or what sets it apart from any other executive search firm. Marketing efforts built around a weak positioning will never achieve the results you desire.
Again, brand research can help shed some light if you're not sure of your firm's position in your marketplace, you can then clarify your positioning around what the market truly values about your firm.
Step 2: Build your brand around your expertise
A well-planned content marketing program that's focused on your firm's areas of expertise is essential to building a strong professional services brand. When you share your expertise through a blog and online publications, social media, and public speaking, you build credibility in your industry. The more content online, the greater your chances of being found by prospects searching for the answers only you can provide.
Done correctly, content programs can be extremely effective at increasing brand awareness and generating leads. It's important to note that such programs require consistent effort over many months to get any significant traction. And just as important as publishing, a content program has to be reinforced with search engine optimization (SEO), social media efforts, and a website that strategically encourages and manages sales leads.
Step 3: Refresh your look so it reflects your reputation and brand
Although your logo, website and tagline aren't the most critical aspects of your brand, they definitely deserve attention. We know from our research that at least 80% of people who've been referred to a firm will research that firm online before contacting them. If they see a stale, dated website and logo, their first impression may well be their last.
If it's been a few years since your brand and website were designed, consider investing in a brand refresh so your look is as striking as your reputation.
When faced with lagging sales, fewer leads, and lower contract values, many businesses respond by launching ad campaigns, lowering prices, or mimicking their more successful competitors. Those knee-jerk reactions rarely produce the desired results.
A more successful, albeit long-term, strategy is to carefully cultivate your brand's strength so that your company is recognized and referred for your expertise and the services your clients most value.