Superbrands: how to run a successful firm

Accountants haven’t always enjoyed the best reputation; terms like
beancounter hardly help build a positive image while scandals like Enron don’t
aid upbeat perceptions. It’s not all bad of course, but the industry could be
better regarded. So how do individual accountancy firms fair in building a solid

Following a robust selection process that taps the opinions of both experts
and more than 2,000 business professionals (see ‘becoming a superbrand’
) a mere six accountancy firms were deemed to be business superbrands
in the UK. Considering a total of 500 brands are awarded the status it appears
on first glance a poor performance – but we should not be downbeat.

First, literally thousands of brands were considered, so making the final 500
is an achievement. Second, the diversity of sectors is extensive with
accountancy firms vying with companies from industries as diverse as marketing
communications, aerospace and defence. Third, there is an increased blurring
between business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets. As a result many
brands the firms square up to enjoy a halo effect from their complementary
consumer campaigns.

As you might expect the top performing brands overall operate in both
consumer and b2b markets. They have tended to focus on building brand value for
longer, it’s higher up their agenda and brand development is supported at the

Enjoying significant awareness they have built emotional engagement through
long-term and diverse communication resulting in a clear market benefit, thus
the likes of BT, British Airways, BP and Vodafone enjoy their top 20 positions.

When you look closer and particularly at comparable sectors the results seem
to suggest the accountancy industry performs well – perhaps marginally worse
than the legal sector, which has nine firms featured in the top 500, but
slightly better than the management consultants with five featured brands.

The results could be improved nevertheless with firms including Horwath,
Vantis, Moore Stephens, Saffrey Champness, Macintyre Hudson, Menzies, Tenon,
PKF, Smith & Williamson, Haines Watts, Haysmacintyre, Mazars and Chantrey
Vellacott falling at the final hurdle.

So why did they fail? Low awareness and differentiation are factors. How many
business decision makers know, recall and have positive connotations of these
brands? A clear link between size and reputation appears evident in the sector.
But why? Even in consumer markets there are brands that perform strongly though
smaller than rivals – think Green & Black versus Galaxy, the former’s
creativity and uniqueness makes it punch above its weight.

Big budget campaigns are not as important in b2b so the correlation of size
and reputation should be less noticeable?

In design and communication being small can be an advantage and FTSE100
companies would have no concern hiring a boutique agency. Is size simply the
yardstick of quality or necessity in accountancy or have firms failed to
distinguish themselves while convincing buyers of the benefit of going small? It
could be argued they innovate faster, listen and react quicker and offer greater
flexibility and better personal attention.

Whatever the answer in accounting many people still think big is better, but
is that all it has to offer? Melissa Williams, head of brand at BDO Stoy
Hayward, believes that while undoubtedly, the Big Four are well known, there is
very little distinction between them. This creates a huge opportunity for BDO to
be and do something different.

BDO and Grant Thornton, both voted business superbrands, show the Big Four
can be challenged. Equally important in my opinion is that BDO, which qualified
for a second year as a business superbrand, is much more creative in its use of
tactics. It has a clever and award winning team who are bold and robust in the
use of public relations and new communication tools such as blogs. It is also im
portantly distinctive in the way they look, talk and feel.

At present the Big Four still leads the way with the top rated professional
services firm, PricewaterhouseCooper, entering in 21st place overall. PwC is
clearly held in high regard, and rightly so. The other members of the Big Four
feature in the order of Ernst & Young, KPMG and finally Deliotte.

The Big Four, BDO and Grant Thornton are the business superbrands of the
industry but what does that mean exactly? According to the experts and business
professionals they have established the finest reputation in their field
offering customers significant emotional and or tangible advantages over
competitors, which they want and recognise.

They are also deemed to represent quality products and services, are seen to
be reliable, delivering consistently against their promises across all touch
points, and finally distinctive, that is well known, suitably differentiated
from competitors and with a personality and values that make them unique.

In the future I expect further pressure to come on the Big Four from the
likes of BDO and Grant Thornton. I expect more accountancy firms to make the
grade and I expect marketing to continue to move up accountancy firms’ agendas
with growing ambitions, more experimentation, bigger ideas and ingenuity. I
envisage more intelligent and varied marketing, a less conservative approach and
better support from across the firms for brand development, including from those
at the top. Do I hope too much?

In the meantime congratulations to the six firms making the grade, plus CIMA
and Accountancy Age, who also gained business superbrands status. I
look forward to tracking their progress.

Becoming a superbrand

1. An initial population list of thousands of brands is
compiled by independent researchers

2. From this a shortlist of over 1300 brands is produced and
scored by the independent and voluntary expert panel made up of experienced
business marketeers and media commentators. They do not score those they had an
association with or any competitors.

3. A league table is compiled and ratified. The bottom 50%
are eliminated.

4. The rest are voted on by business professionals at
decision-making level. The vote is administered by research agency YouGov.

5. A revised table is produced combining the council and
professionals scores (50/50 weighting). Another 250 brands are eliminated. The
top 500 are deemed to be business superbrands.

Stephen Cheliotis is chairman of Superbrands
Councils UK

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