The world of business is in constant motion. Clients’ needs evolve. New competitors emerge. Regulators rewrite the rules. And, of course, technology changes everything. Every few years, transformations in the marketplace compel professional services firms to reassess their place in the universe and adjust to a new reality.
Rebranding is an ideal way to address these challenges: realigning companies with fundamental changes in the marketplace and revealing new paths to grow your professional services firm. Let’s step you through a tried-and-true process of self-assessment and re-adjustment, so you can recalibrate and reenergize your firm’s brand.
When Rebranding Makes Sense
Before you dive into rebranding your firm, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you are getting fewer leads than in the past?
- Are you are entering a new market?
- Are you are introducing significant new services?
- Has your firm’s growth slowed or stopped?
- Have new competitors entered the marketplace?
- Does your visual brand look tired compared to the competition?
- Do you struggle to describe how your firm is different?
- Are you losing a higher percentage of competitive bid situations than in the past?
- Has your firm changed since you last adjusted your brand?
- Are you struggling to attract top talent?
- Are competitors hiring away valuable employees?
- Are you trying to figure out how to take your firm to the next level?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it may be time to take a hard look at your brand. Your brand may be doing more harm than good.
A Rebranding Process That Works
Branding firms take a variety of approaches to the rebranding process. They may invoke proprietary terminology and complicated models. But when you get past the rhetoric, most serious firms use some variation of the process below. They use it (as we do) because it works. Let’s take a look. In plain language.
Phase 1: Get the Strategy Right
As tempting as it may be, don’t jump into the visual side of branding (logo, colors, website, etc.) without doing the due diligence first. You’ll need to do some research to understand where the market opportunities lie and what changes you need to make to make the most of them. Your branding partner will likely want to research some or all of the following key areas:
- Internal staff—Your firm’s management team and staff provide an internal perspective on your brand. This is particularly useful (and eye opening) when compared to the perceptions of external audiences.
- Current clients—Existing clients will help you understand your strengths and weaknesses. Use this information to improve operations and client communications.
- Former clients—Former clients can offer clues to building more lasting relationships. They can also illuminate weaknesses that you never knew existed.
- Prospects—Prospective clients in your target audience will help you get a handle on your awareness in the marketplace, how you stack up against the competition and valuable general perceptions about your company and current brand.
- Lost prospects—Nobody will provide better insight into your perceived weaknesses in the marketplace than these folks.
- Community leaders—In some industries (such as A/E/C and government contracting), community leaders can be powerful influencers. They can provide a valuable perspective on a firm’s perceived strengths and weaknesses and point out missed opportunities.
- Competitors—If you truly know your competition, you know how to succeed. Learn where opportunities exist to differentiate you firm, how to speak with more clarity and how to build competitive advantage.
For items 1–6, you’ll need to conduct qualitative phone or in-person interviews. If you want to receive honest answers to your questions, however, be sure to employ an impartial third party to conduct the interviews, preferably an individual or firm that can handle the calls with skill and professionalism.
Competitive research can typically be conducted online by reviewing websites of key competitors. What constitutes a “key competitor,” however, can be tricky to determine. Our own research into professional services firm buyers has shown that there is surprisingly little overlap between the firms you think are your competitors and firms your clients name as your competitors. Once you’ve drawn up a reasonably accurate list of competitors, you’ll want to collect brand-relevant data on each, such as their logos, brand colors, taglines, key messages, key service offerings and visual stylistic characteristics.
Your branding partner will analyze this body of research and develop these deliverables:
- Brand positioning statement—This brief paragraph describes your unique sales proposition, differentiation attributes and market positioning. Ideally, this statement is intended for internal use and subsequent marketing message development.
- Key differentiators—A list of the characteristics that set your firm apart from otherwise similar firms in the marketplace (especially your key competitors).
- Messaging architecture—This document identifies your target audiences and provides customized messages to each. In addition, the architecture document presents potential barriers each audience may raise when considering your firm, as well as responses to overcome each barrier. This document will become an invaluable resource to many people in your firm—from sales staff to marketing copywriters.
Some branding firms will add a fourth deliverable at this stage—a visual expression of your brand, which provides a sneak peak at your visual brand.
Once you and your branding partner have finalized the deliverables, you are ready to take this brand platform and begin the building process.
Phase 2: Build the Brand
When most people talk about branding, this is the phase they mean—logos, colors, typography, design. It’s exciting to see a new brand literally taking shape before your eyes. Just remember to stop periodically and check your progress against the roadmap documents you produced in Phase 1. Make sure the materials developed by your branding or design firm are reflecting your differentiators (is that photo of a handshake really setting your apart from your competitors?) and your market positioning.
Build out your brand in a logical order. If you are considering a name change, for instance, do that first. Everything builds in one way or another on your business’ name. Your logo and tagline are the next logical steps. From there, you can go in many directions: stationery, website, brochures, PowerPoint template, sales sheets, proposal formats—the sky’s the limit!
At some point, however, you may want to reign in your visual brand (also called your “brand identity”), impose some limits and protect your investment. Ask you branding firm to develop a set of brand style guidelines. These guidelines, which can range from a single sheet to hundreds of densely-packed pages, ensure consistency across all your visual communications. They lay down the law regarding logo usage, typeface options, color palette, image style—some go into exhaustive detail about grid layouts and other arcane aspects of design. For most firms, a modest document of 10 to 25 pages is usually sufficient.
Phase 3: Roll Out the Brand
Launching a new brand has many implications and dimensions. If your firm employs more than a handful of people, you’ll want to develop and implement a brand rollout plan. This plan may address educating staff on the importance of your new brand and its salient features. The plan might include a launch announcement to clients, partners, referral sources, media and prospects. Keep in mind that a brand launch is a rare opportunity to command attention in the marketplace and make a statement. You’ll want to make the most of it.
What to Expect from Rebranding
If you are still on the fence about investing in a rebranding effort, consider this: people make real purchasing decisions based on perceptions. The more you can influence those perceptions in a positive way, the better off your firm will be. Buyers of professional services may take weeks or months to decide amongst a pool of qualified firms, but they can eliminate a firm in just seconds. All it takes is a weak brand or ineffectual message.
Most firms we work with witness three immediate positive benefits following a rebranding:
- Improved focus—Management and staff really understand—often for the first time—what their firm stands for and where its priorities lie. Everyone in the organization is in alignment and working toward common goals.
- Competitive advantage—Firms become more relevant to prospects because they are better able to fill a need in the marketplace. In addition, negatives associated with an outdated brand have been eliminated, providing an instant credibility boost.
- Confidence—Employees feel more confident in their firm’s future prospects. They know how to talk about their firm and no longer need to apologize for their creaky old website or awkward name.
Rebranding, if carried out in a thorough and thoughtful way, can play out in many wonderful ways over the long term, as well: improved awareness, stronger recruiting, better lead generation and increased revenues. If your professional services firm is considering rebranding, take the time to do it the right way. The payoff will be tremendous.