Updating or rebranding a professional service firm can be tricky. Often, it’s hard to differentiate your firm, as the services you provide are similar, if not identical, to your competitors’. A strong brand can help you stand out among your peers in a way that is authentic, engaging and memorable. A brand analysis can help you clarify differentiators so that the messages and images you convey are targeted and on point, resonate with your clients and prospects, and have a better likelihood of success. Read on to learn the basics of conducting a brand analysis for your firm.
To begin the branding process, start by assessing how you are currently portraying your brand. Collect samples of branded materials regularly in use. These may include stationery items, proposals, PowerPoints, brochures, annual reports, advertisements (online and printed), email templates, recruiting materials, HR documents, signage, trade shows booths, branded gift items, email signatures, social media pages, blogs, your website, and more. It’s helpful to place a sample of as much as you can into a box or folder for visual reference. Take note of inconsistencies you see among these items. Then create a spreadsheet to track quantities you have in stock in your various office locations. Outlining the materials you are using regularly is a helpful “baseline” for planning purposes as the project progresses.
Internal & External Interviews
When analyzing your brand, interviews are often an important first step. The goal of interviews is to gather thoughts, feelings and personal experiences that help expose the nuances of the firm’s persona. It is critical that interviews be conducted confidentially. Often, an external vendor is used to handle the interviewing process, so employees and clients feel more comfortable sharing their feedback candidly. Key members of the firm — senior partners as well as new hires and staff — should be included for a true cross-section of viewpoints. Similarly, newer clients as well as longstanding clients should be interviewed. Sometimes, referral sources are also added to the mix. Speaking with new hires and new clients is important because they have recently evaluated your firm against your competition, and chosen to work at or with your firm. Finding out why they selected you can be insightful branding information.
The number of interviews conducted varies. If your firm is small (under 50, for example), you may only need to include five or so internal as well as external sources. But if your firm has hundreds of people in multiple offices, you’ll probably want to include twenty or more internal as well as external interviewees.
Similar questions should be asked to internal and external sources, so the collected data can be compared. Pay special attention to disconnects in the responses. For example, if people at the firm consider “lower rates” to be an important reason to select the firm, but clients don’t mention rates but rather emphasize problem solving skills or high-touch service, you should probably not focus your brand messaging on value pricing.
A note about Client Interviews
Sometimes, partners at the firm push back on client interviews. Usually their hesitation is based on fear of receiving negative feedback, or “bothering” clients. Explain to partners that only the clients they invite to participate and accept the invitation will be interviewed. After the client list is established, we recommend the partner closest to each client send a personal email invitation requesting the client’s participation. The email should also introduce the consultant doing the interviews and explain that all responses will be confidential. Once a client accepts, the outside consultant will schedule and conduct the interview. Interviews usually take about 15-30 minutes, and clients almost always enjoy the chance to give feedback.
Surveys can be used in lieu of personal interviews (for cost savings reasons), or to supplement interviews in order to collect more data. Surveys are a good way to include more employees and clients in the branding process (which is useful at larger firms). Online tools like SurveyMonkey make creating, taking, and analyzing surveys very easy.
In addition to collecting feedback about your firm, understanding how your competitors position themselves is necessary in order to differentiate yourselves from them. After you define your top competitors (the firms you come up against often in pitches), review their websites and any available marketing materials you can get access to. Do they have a prominent tagline or positioning statement? What are the colors and visuals they use regularly? Are they actively blogging or posting on social media? Information of this nature is very insightful and can contribute to a branding SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) that should be included in the brand findings report (see below).
Once the above stages are completed, you must review and analyze all of the data and consolidate the information into core findings. The findings report should include your firm’s three to five top differentiators, or “brand pillars,” as well as a suggested brand positioning statement, or “elevator pitch.” The findings report should be made available to all members of the firm, and serve as a touchstone as you implement your brand.
Conducting a formal brand analysis prior to a rebranding not only helps to insure a more successful result, it also tends to streamline the process, and bring internal stakeholders to consensus faster.
Re-Branding: Laundry List of Common Components Requiring Change
Vanessa’s article first appeared in SMPS Boston’s Outlook, January .