A brand is not just some fluffy nonsense. A brand is not one single individual. It’s far greater than that. It’s not something only big organisations need to concern themselves with. A brand is just as critical for the growth of smaller firms as it is for large national firms.
When it comes to brand, we have always been told to “differentiate or die”. It’s been said that you must differentiate your brand and positioning to truly stand out and stand for something in the market.
The dilemma you face in the accounting industry is the generalisation across a majority of industry brands. Many firms inevitably reach a position of generic aspirational cliches that buyers have stopped listening to. A large portion of firms demonstrate a brand identity that falls victim to the expectation of what an accountant should look like, and lacks distinctive visual qualities that maximise their visibility in the market… Because they simply ‘blend in’.
Brand Success for Accounting Firms
Fortunately, there are 3 ingredients to make a strong, meaningful, high-performing brand for an accounting firm. One of which so many firms are already quite good at. The other two brand ingredients are unfortunately only evident in a handful of small to medium firms across the country.
Reputation and expertise
Most accountants are great at this. Firms and practising professionals are exceptional at talking about their background, expertise, and how strong their reputation is—whether that be in the industry as a whole, the length of time in practice, or reputation serving a niche industry.
Unfortunately, no one cares. Not immediately, anyway. Accounting buyers have grown weary of the cliches they see on accounting websites and social media. They’ve heard them all before. This is why it is easy for someone to simply keep scrolling, or click the next website.
High-growth firms understand that reputation and expertise are only one part of the brand pie. Yet it is 100% essential in developing a strong accounting brand.
Your reputation is made up of two parts. The first is your general reputation. For example, “XYZ Accountants and Advisors are good at what they do”. The second part is far more effective. It is the expertise your firm is known for, and the purpose is to be a lot more specific and easier to remember. This may be expressed as “They are leading specialists in Fuel Tax Credits”.
What is your firm’s brand known for?
It’s time to move on from a unique selling proposition (USP). Like many other brand frameworks, it’s a fascinating concept. It sounds, with face validity, very good. But one firm cannot own one single attribute for a USP to be effective. When it comes to differentiation and positioning, finding a selling proposition that is unique is near impossible. And if a firm was able to find a truly unique selling proposition, is it scalable given the amount of replicability that is currently in the market? With thousands of accounting firms operating in Australia, a USP just doesn’t yield the brand power it once did.
When we talk about differentiating your accounting brand, we look to reveal a meaningful perceived difference between your firm and competitor firms. This doesn’t mean a firm needs to be the only firm with that meaningful difference or characteristic. It’s about trying to set your firm apart from the large pack of competitors, and not just blend into the noise or fall into the generic column.
Finding a strong differentiator is hard though. Most often, it starts with a very thorough understanding of your ideal clients, what they value in their personal and professional lives, and how you align with these values. Many firms position themselves around differentiators that very few of their clients care about. Soft brand differentiators such as client commitment, superior service, and talented staff are not competitive. Not to mention the common “Not your boring accountants” or “Not your average accountants”. Everyone says it, so it’s not different.
Your brand differentiator must be important to your client, first and foremost. This is why understanding what your clients value on a much deeper level is vital to finding your meaningful perceived difference.
An excellent example of brand differentiation in accounting comes from a firm out of Sydney, Australia. This firm (who we won’t name) understands what their clients value on a much deeper level than just “better service” and “proactive service” and “better commitment to client service”. This firm has positioned its brand around the higher values of its ideal clients.
The firm cleverly articulates how they are different by focusing on their reason for existence:
To make more nights in possible.
To make more time possible.
To make more fancy dinners possible.
To make more profit possible.
They identified what their clients want in their personal lives, and how their business can help them live the lifestyle they want. This is a clever way to demonstrate a meaningful difference that is important to the client.
What’s your meaningful perceived difference?
Being seen to be relatively different from competitors is very important. But being distinctive is far more important. Because it’s not about your competitors. Distinctiveness is about you, your clients, and your firm coming to mind in any accounting buyer’s purchasing process. And the challenge for over 80% of firms is to simply get people to think of their brand. Because an accounting buyer, referred or not, only considers a tiny subset of the brands they already know.
Mental availability is the propensity for a brand to be noticed and/or thought of in buying decisions. Building mental availability requires distinctiveness and clear visual qualities.
The creativity of your brand and your brand communications is the key to building more mental availability for your brand in accounting buyers.
Does your brand have visual associations that allow people to recognise your brand and your marketing? Without distinctive brand qualities, it’s difficult for accounting buyers to digest your communications and easy for them to overlook your brand altogether.
Distinctive brand visuals, iconography, imagery and other codes build memory associations that will allow a firm’s brand to be noticed and thought of in potential buying situations. This rings true for referral relationships, and memory associations that will trigger more referrals to occur because your brand is thought of by the referrer.
If the USP is a thing of the past, distinctiveness has taken its place.
Distinctive brand visuals will deliver more brand power for your firm, and to put it simply, will help your firm truly stand out in a crowded market.
Future Advisory from Victoria has cleverly embraced distinctiveness and demonstrates this throughout its brand and marketing communications. Their brand visuals are quite effective in building mental availability in a specific market segment, enabling them to be thought of in potential buying situations.
BusinessDEPOT, a firm from Brisbane, understands the value a distinctive brand can bring to the firm. For years, they have consistently used their brand codes and visual qualities in every single execution. The yellow brand, quirky illustrations and imagery are easily recognisable in digital environments especially.
What are your distinctive brand qualities?
How strong is your firm’s brand?
Some firms may only consider expertise and reputation as all they need for a strong brand.
But the competition continues to grow in the market with smaller firms commencing operations weekly, if not daily. Digital environments are becoming increasingly noisy with many firms now embracing digital marketing techniques to market their services. And the attitudes and values of accounting buyers, and how they evaluate brands they want to do business with, are fundamentally different. In addition to your expertise and reputation, your differentiation and distinctiveness will give your firm the competitive strength it needs to grow.
Don’t be fooled, your brand is one of your most valuable assets and a driving force in the growth of your business.
If you want a strong brand that makes your firm stand out, get in touch with us at Practice + Pixels to discuss the details of how we can help uncover your unique brand DNA, elevate your digital brand and maximise your brand value. Book a complimentary 30-minute call with our brand team today!