Get in the fast lane: How professional services brands can up their game

30 May, 2019 Share socially

In the face of success stories over the years like IBM and their Smarter Planet brand, TED and its platform of more expressive communication for modern day business, and even our own FutureBrand Index with its proven link that the most future-proof brands outperform the average market capitalisation of the top 100 companies year on year, most professional services companies still chose to use their brand merely to match their competitors, rather than proactively compete with them. Consequently, they leave a valuable competitive advantage untapped and waste the opportunity to differentiate to win.

In working with professional services companies – law firms, accounting companies, business consultants and others – we have seen the branding challenges they face up close. The focus on hygiene factors and category conventions, often to the exclusion of more competitive dynamics, makes it harder for both clients and employees, current and prospective, to discern meaningful differences between companies. As a result, there is almost always an experience gap between brand perception and performance that turns up in research studies to signal that people who have worked with your company give higher scores, however leadership teams rarely take the natural next step in defining and shaping perceptions of their company in ways that help them bridge this gap.

On the contrary, they typically double-down on the conventions of the category, talking to all and any of the following clichés from the business lexicon:

  • Quality of work, eg. the company’s expertise and collective knowledge base
  • Strength of relationships, eg. client insight and understanding
  • Reputation, eg. history and heritage
  • People, eg. the very best legal minds with in-depth industry expertise
  • Trust, eg. reliability and peace of mind
  • Seamless experience, eg. working together to achieve results

For those companies who want to leverage their brand as a valuable asset, then the opportunity does exist to reframe these conventions in ways that drive home competitive advantage and build unique brand perceptions and compelling brand experiences for commercial success.

Firstly, we recognise that the nature of any services offering is intangible. As a client of a professional services firm, you cannot necessarily compare what you are getting with what might be on offer from the competition – there is no product per se that you can see, touch or feel – and so demonstrating value under these circumstances can often prove challenging.

Making the brand real for clients, partners and employees is critical, and typically that means understanding the role of brand in driving demand and facilitating the service delivery experience at a strategic level. For example, in professional services companies, that might mean shifting the focus beyond the logo as the shorthand for ‘reputation’ and highlighting the role that brand language can often play as a strategic tool for embedding a brand’s purpose and personality in a way that is accessible and easily understood by one and all.

Secondly, it is essential to look beyond services to creating experiences – not only are these more memorable but they are also more personal for clients, thereby enhancing the quality or duration of any relationship.

Understanding the professional services client journey from end-to-end, the ups and the downs, the opportunities and the pain-points, can enable a company to understand how and where to create measurable value. This can also help to identify those points at which the brand can be engineered to contribute to individual interactions or amplify the overall experience.

It is essential to look beyond services to creating experiences – not only are these more memorable but they are also more personal for clients, thereby enhancing the quality or duration of any relationship.
Richard Curtis
CEO, FutureBrand Australia, New Zealand & Asia

Thirdly, personal relationships and reputations are vital to the success of any professional services company. However, they are typically highly subjective and difficult to scale beyond any one individual. It is essential to identify the people, the relationships and initiatives that will embed this reputation proposition, and to use the brand to reinforce it more broadly through whole-of-company activities, behaviours and communications.

To take a meaningful look beyond the category conventions, start by considering these three questions:

  1. How does your brand make your services real for your clients and employees?
  2. What is the brand experience that you build around your relationships and services?
  3. How does your brand stretch from individual impact to collective meaning?

The answers to these questions will not only help you challenge your service sector conventions but also uncover more creative, innovative and commercially viable areas of competitive advantage for you to future-proof your firm’s brand.