PracticeAccounting FirmsBranding: how to make your mark

Branding: how to make your mark

Last week, our Top 50 survey revealed that the market for accountancy services is booming. As a result, brand recognition will be one of the driving forces behind firms gaining a slice of the action. So what do we mean by a brand?

Brands are an enigma – living entities ultimately controlled by consumers’
perceptions. The majority of people understand branding as a product or
company’s corporate identify – yet this is only part of the picture.

Brands work to simplify the selection process by representing a company’s
core message, offering and values. A strong brand is embedded into the
subconscious where each consumer applies varying degrees of awareness,
knowledge, reassurance, status and so forth.

These perceptions are awakened and further moulded through interactions with
that brand or their representatives (i.e. during purchase decisions, when
calling customer services and so on) and can determine consumer reaction and

Brands are shaped by, and in turn shape, the way a company acts for example,
providing a blueprint to employees detailing the values, beliefs, messages and
actions expected of them as brand guardians. Equally, every action of the
company from its PR campaign and advertising, to the way it sources its products
impacts upon its brand image.

Brands are without doubt significant and powerful, influencing the volume and
value of sales achieved in both b2b and b2c markets, in addition they effect key
stakeholders from employees whose motivation to join or remain at a given
company is influenced by brand reputation to suppliers and even investors (where
branded companies enjoy a premium on the stock market versus unbranded rivals).

While influential in both consumer and business markets there are key
differences in the dynamics, e.g. in the b2b sector the purchasing decision is
usually made by multiple individuals culminating in a longer and product
focussed process. Equally, product and service attributes are more diverse and
varied culminating in a wider range of differentials.

Clearly selecting professional services involves more deliberation than
selecting a loaf of bread. Yet people are still purchasers in both situations
and so brand, reputation and personality are often identified as points of

So what allows the business elite to stand out? Superbrands, as the
independent authority and arbiter on branding is known, advocate that a business
superbrand is one that is considered one of the finest in its sector, offering
consumers emotional and tangible benefits above competitors.

Business superbrand status is an enviable accolade that is bestowed upon less
than 5% of brands considered by the independent and voluntary Business
Superbrands Council. These brands have created a strong identity, working hard
to far exceed brand promises. Both Shell and Barclays prove that a simple, clear
and yet coherent image is an integral part of success in both the B2B and
consumer market.

So why is this important to the accountancy market? Firstly, the
international market is in the midst of a major transition. The image of Big
Four has been dented following scandals such as Enron, while accounting
legislation such as Sarbanes-Oxley, is demanding more expertise from the

Yet the UK accountancy market is growing at over 6% a year, according to the
latest Accountancy Age Top 50, so it is likely that those with the strongest
reputation will reap the rewards during this period. As a result clients are
looking beyond the Big Four, offering a great opportunity for mid-tier firms to
target larger, higher value clients.

BDO Stoy Hayward, recognised as a business superbrand for the first time this
year, is one example of an innovative brand that has successfully negotiated a
climate of challenging market conditions to its advantage. Internally it
operates an employee-focused approach and promotes key work values such as
honesty, integrity and personal responsibility.

Therefore, as prospective clients look beyond the assumption that size
naturally translates into quality, these brand guardians can make the
difference. This brand sets itself apart from the rest through its fresh va
lue-based approach without compromising on product attributes, that is, the
breadth and depth of its technical expertise.

Towers Perrin, another firm to secure business superbrand status this year
for the first time, is one of the largest and most ambitious professional
services firms in the market. It is striving towards market leadership with a
passion to deliver on its promises. This brand is committed to meeting the
evolving needs of its consumers and initiatives like its client forums are a
mechanism to do so.

As with all brands, understanding clients and their issues is fundamental to
Towers Perrin’s success. These new forums sit alongside a larger classic
marketing programme that includes surveys and workshops.

Both BDO Stoy Hayward and Towers Perrin retain a loyal base of customers
while winning new clients through the power of their brands and their services.
By having a strong point of view and showing genuine thought leadership on
topics important to their market, business superbrands like these make
significant contributions to improving their clients’ business performance and
stakeholder value.

So the challengers to the traditional elite are active but the Big Four are
not resting on their laurels either. PricewaterhouseCoopers is not new to the
award of business superbrand, having achieved it three times already.

It stands tall at the forefront of the market as the largest professional
service firm. It has maintained its position through a clear focus on quality
and integrity and by continually developing its profession by leading on
industry-wide issues such as the future of corporate reporting.

In the firm’s quarterly YouMatter surveys 94% of staff said that they are
proud to work for them (the industry average is 83%). It has attempted to
restore faith in corporate reporting through its second annual Building Public
Trust Awards 2004 and in 2004 invested over £130m in new technology including
Access IFRS.

A 2003 study for Superbrands identified the factors necessary to create a
business superbrand. Perceived leadership proved absolutely vital and so PwC by
owning this enjoys the ‘Factor S’, this dynamic amplifies perceptions of
excellence and feeds them back into higher brand ratings. The study also
identified trust, openness, vision and responsibility as the four key areas that
business superbrands must achieve in.

So what can businesses learn from the business superbrands identified.

Build trust, be open and honest, listen to and work alongside clients, have a
strong vision, achievable goals and a sustained commitment to responsibility.
Ultimately, though, deliver in terms of the product/service quality.

Building a consistent brand message at all customers touch point is an
intrinsic part of building a powerful brand. It has been proven that brands are
an essential part of corporate performance and represent a major source of
value, constantly out-performing weaker models, ensuring that their clients and
customers trust them and their services above and beyond competition.

PwC, BDO Stoy Hayward and Towers Perrin have all achieved business superbrand
status and deservedly; as their respective case studies highlight they are real
examples of branding success stories.

The full case studies can be accessed alongside all of the Business
Superbrands 2005 from IBM, GE, and the FT through to Misys, Corus and CNBC.

Stephen Cheliotis is chairman of Superbrands Councils UK

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