Adviser: Be more image conscious

Link: Small practice guide

The majority of small and medium-sized practices now acknowledge the need for a planned marketing strategy and – in varying degrees – have gone as far as developing one. But there are still too many who consider branding as the way the firm is packaged.

The reality is that branding has little to do with corporate identity.

It is not about logos, stationery design or how the website looks. It is about how the firm is perceived by everyone from the partners and staff to clients, potential clients, suppliers and the whole business community.

Every firm has a brand, whether they want one or not, and that brand has a value that practitioners ignore at their peril.

The strength and importance of a firm’s brand is directly proportional to its ability to locate and convert business opportunities. Firms that pay little attention to their brand image will suffer in comparison with their competitors – and may not even know why.

A business brand is a combination of services and products, corporate characteristics and the firm’s differentiation and is built on a number of key features.

The most important of these is the firm’s own vision of its business. This is created by the partners, but should also be disseminated through every level of the firm so that a consistent message is delivered to everyone who comes into contact with it.

This vision also translates into a consistency of quality of service.

It ensures that a client who has a good experience with a partner will have a similar experience with every other member of staff they meet.

The products or services that the firm offers are also vital in the creation of a brand. The image of the firm should be inextricably linked with those products and services to create both a comprehensive and an accurate representation of what the firm does for a living.

The requirements of the marketplace in which the firm operates and the level of competition for business will also have a bearing on brand positioning.

A high level of competition in a small market will necessitate a much stronger and more robust brand.

Firms that haven’t considered the importance of their brand may well find the image they believe they are presenting to the world isn’t how they are actually perceived. The only way to find out is to bite the bullet and ask.

Those practices that already use client satisfaction questionnaires on completion of assignments simply need to add a few questions pertaining to the client’s view of the overall image of the firm.

Those that do not should compile a relatively simple questionnaire, which can then be sent to all clients. Not everyone will bother to complete them – but the responses can be a real eye-opener.

Firms must be prepared to invest time and money into their business image. A strong brand image will both help to attract new clients, and make existing clients feel more secure.

  • Phil Shohet and Andrew Jenner are directors of Kato Consultancy

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