It happens time and time again. You learn through the grapevine or through a loyal client that another client has just chosen a competitor for a service that you provide. When you ask your client why he chose a competitor, he says, “I didn’t know you did that.” You feel frustrated and perhaps even angry or threatened by this change to your relationship.
When these situations occur, consultants often blame a lack of marketing volume or effectiveness for the lost business. While this may be the case, the primary cause of “I-didn’t-know-you-did-that-itis” is more frequently a discombobulated brand architecture—one that confuses and overwhelms clients and prospects.
What is brand architecture? Brand architecture is nothing more than a systematic way of organizing the identity of the products and messages of an organization so people understand how clients are served. Here is an example of a familiar company:
It is simple and straightforward and shows clearly a manageable number of channels and services.
Here is an example of a typical mid-sized professional services firm’s list of services (sans industries):
- Strategic HR and benefits communication
- HR branding
- Employee listening
- Learning programs
- Global communication
- Change management
- Corporate communication
- Communicating green
- Mobile apps
- Board advisory
- Equity compensation
- Global compensation
- Management advisory
- Nonqualified deferred compensation
- Performance and rewards
- Sales effectiveness and compensation
- Surveys and benchmarking
- Total remuneration
- Valuation services
- Global Investment Advisors
- Global Technology and Delivery Solutions
- Defined benefit administration
- Health and welfare administration
- Global equity solutions
- Kinetic application technology
- Separation solutions and administration
- Health and Productivity
- Health and welfare plan management
- Clinical strategies
- Consumer engagement
- Health and welfare audits
- HIPAA compliance
- New directions in health care management
- Health and welfare administration
- Specialized services
- Plan strategy and design
- Defined contribution plan consulting
- Plan governance and fiduciary responsibility
- Compliance and regulatory risk management
- Actuarial consulting and financial management
- Multi-employer and governmental plans
- Investment management and consulting
- Ongoing plan operation and administration
- Talent and HR Solutions
- Talent planning
- Talent deployment
- Talent engagement
At which word did you stop reading? (I made it to “Kinetic Application Technology.”) Most firms believe that in order for clients to understand a firm’s full breadth of services, it must list them all. As this list illustrates, the strategy overwhelms people, and they stop listening. This is an issue that plagues large and small firms alike. Large firms want to represent a full breadth and depth of services. Small firms want to look bigger than they might actually be.
There is an axiom among marketers that clients do not buy drill bits; they buy holes. Most firms are just selling ¼ inch, high-speed, titanium drill bits! Clients just want a ¼ inch hole fast, easy and cheap; whether it is made with titanium, laser or water jet is less important. If we intuitively know that simple is better and that clients buy benefits not features, why do so many firms fall into this trap?
There are two answers: opportunity costs and partnership.
Opportunity costs— Many firms believe that if they limit marketing to a core set of services then they limit their growth prospects. Again, firms think that the more they promote everything, then the greater the chance that something will stick. The opposite is true.
Partnership— Firms promote and reward based on an individual’s ability to build a growing practice and keep a lot of mouths fed. By not “listing” a practice on a webpage or brochure, a potential or existing partner feels that he/she is penalized in the business development game. No one wants to put someone at a disadvantage or create a political firestorm.
The fact of the matter is that there is a simple way to overcome these issues. All it requires is strategic, collaborative leadership and answering some key questions. Ask yourself the following:
- What is our current brand architecture and does it align our business strategy and brand positioning for the future?
- Does our current brand architecture focus on our current/future client perspectives or our internal organization structure?
- Does our current architecture foster increased demand generation or confuse the market?
- What is our firm’s value proposition and positioning? Is it clear to the market and our people?
- What should be the driving precept for our brand architecture?
- Does our current brand architecture position us for changes in the industry/category and support our company strategy over time?
Here is a nice example of a client-focused firm’s architecture that speaks the client’s language and makes it easy for the client to see how the firm can help.
- Creating the high performing organization
- Successful M&A
- Global expansion
- Driving and encouraging innovation
- Employee engagement
- Workforce productivity
- Developing top teams
- Attracting and retaining talent
- CEO succession
This firm is from the same industry as the prior example. Which firm do you think makes a stronger impression, is more memorable and clearly demonstrates how it can help?
One of the consistent drivers of firm selection is that the client feels heard and that the firm demonstrates that it understands the client’s business. To make it easier for your client to see how you can help, you must speak to the client’s issue or aspiration and communicate your core capabilities in a simple, straightforward way.
Developing an effective brand architecture is a firm-wide effort, and it requires firms to make strategic choices and investments. These decisions involve opportunity costs and require political capital to prioritize. As you evaluate your brand architecture, keep these goals in mind:
- Business success depends on aligning your firm with your clients and their needs.
- Brand architecture should support your client-focused business strategy and play a defining role in how you communicate your firm’s value.
- As a client-centric firm, your business and marketing messages should articulate and reflect the needs of your clients by making your offer simple and relevant to your clients and prospects.
- Your brand architecture should be composed of the elements that you deem the most important to support and extend your brand in the marketplace (not just the biggest practices).
- Your brand architecture should exist to help the marketplace understand the many elements of your offer and not reflect your internal structure.
- Brand architecture will influence and inform all of your brand activities –- from people to process, products, services and environments.
Remember these key goals and you will go a long way in curing “I-didn’t-know-you-did-that-itis.”