How many times has your firm rebranded? Maybe a downturn in business or the arrival of a new marketer has signaled to someone that it’s time for a new visual identity: new colors, a new logo, a new tagline. If you’ve been around for awhile, you have probably travelled this path more than once.
When I speak about branding, I often begin by presenting a small box from Tiffany & Co. All of the ladies in the audience lean in, while all of the guys (but one, generally) look perplexed. Several women will ask if the box is for them, and someone almost immediately asks what’s inside. I ask those gathered how they know it is a Tiffany box I’m holding and why they are so interested in its contents. They identify the box immediately by its distinctive robin’s egg blue color and white ribbon. They want to know what’s inside because they’re confident that it’s going to be something exquisite.
I use this exercise to demonstrate the two dimensions of brand. The first is visual: in this case, a robin’s egg blue box tied with a white ribbon. The second is experiential: a Tiffany & Co. box holds the promise of an extraordinary gift. What does this have to do with professional services?
Professional services firms have their boxes too. A solid visual identity makes it easy for prospects to recognize your firm when your messages cross their desks. But the experiential dimension of your firm is where the real money is! Your firm’s culture, expertise, results, relationships and your great ideas should do the talking in the same way the contents of Tiffany & Co. boxes talk for that company.
Branding is important. Marketers love branding, and I have never met an agency that didn’t think a brand needed a “refresh.” It is fun, creative and visible. But, branding is also all-consuming and very expensive. In addition to out-of-pocket costs, the opportunity costs are huge. Rebranding efforts consume partner time, leadership team time, marketing time, training time, marketing resources and marketing budget.
Firms often get hung up on colors and logos and waste valuable resources trying to get the brand “right”—usually to its own satisfaction. One partner says, “I think the color should be blue.” Another says, “It should be orange.” One says, “The logo looks like (fill in the blank’s) logo.” And another says, “It is not edgy enough.” Back and forth, the debate rages. There are no right answers; it’s all opinion and emotion. In the end, most firms’ brands are the weakened result of compromises and watered-down choices.
There is a time and place for the level of effort and commitment it takes to rebrand a firm. It is called a strategic inflection point: a new strategic direction, an acquisition, a new mix of services, the addition of new markets. This occurs when the change to your firm’s direction is relevant to the client.
Yes, it is important that your firm establish your “box” (a logo, company colors, etc.). Tiffany has used the same little box since 1878! But it’s what’s inside that really counts.
Pick a brand and stick with it. And, the next time you are inclined to rebrand your firm, ask yourself why it is relevant to the client and what the opportunity costs are.
Answering these questions will make your decision to rebrand a lot easier and ensure that you keep your firm focused on your clients.
Jeff McKay is CEO of the marketing consultancy, Prudent Pedal, where he helps leadership teams set smart growth strategies in motion. His strategies have helped the world’s top consulting firms overcome the “messiness” of pro services and achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value. Jeff was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and he held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. Follow @jeffmckay