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Professional Services Marketing Blog
Branding a professional services firm comes in two flavors, rebranding an existing firm or service line and launching a new one. They are similar in overall process but distinct in their twists and turns.
Rebranding, by definition, involves an existing firm with ongoing clients, staff and valuable brand equity. Not so much with a brand launch. There, you are starting from scratch with nothing but that big empty flip chart. Your brand equity is zero. And cash is always tight.
When faced with this scenario, most firms botch the opportunity (please forgive me if I'm offending you here). Their firm name often incorporates the founders names or a generic service-related term (think "professional," "systems," "technology," "services" or "associates"). The resulting name is long and promptly get abbreviated into an acronym that lacks any meaning or memorability. The name spills over to the web, where their URL is difficult to remember. And when you finally get to the website, it looks like it was built on the cheap.
When they need credibility the most, many startups miss all the opportunities to build it. It's the equivalent of showing up at the senior prom in your sweat pants. Yes, there is a better way.
Brand Launch Defined
Simply put, brand launch is the process of creating a professional services brand where none currently exists. As we mentioned above, brand launch is different from rebranding or repositioning an existing firm or service line. It is also distinct from a brand extension, where you are adding a new service line to an existing firm's offerings. (For example, if XYZ Systems introduces XYZ Cloud Services, that's a brand extension.)
With a brand launch, you are starting from scratch. But you have a unique opportunity to choose how you wish to position your firm in the marketplace and which client benefits you want to provide. You also get to select your target client. It is the perfect time to develop a compelling value proposition.
Brand Launch Benefits
It may not seem that a new brand has many benefits to sell. With no clients, no track record and no cash, what's to envy? But a new brand does offer a couple of key advantages::
- The thrill of new. In many cultures, and especially in the US, we are attracted to the new. It's no coincidence that "new" is right up there with "free" as killer marketing words.
- Strongest positioning platform. It is far easier to introduce a radically different positioning with a new brand. Your client doesn't have to change their perception of your firm (always a tough proposition). You are free to shape it however you wish.
- Less brand equity at risk. If your positioning is not quite right out of the starting gate it is much easier to adjust it without confusing the marketplace. This is why an existing firm may choose to launch a new brand for a radically different positioning rather then put existing brand equity at risk.
Brand Launch Process
Just like a rebranding process, a brand launch has three phases. But with a launch, those stages tend to play out over a shorter time period. Think days and weeks, not weeks and months.
Phase1: Get the Brand Strategy Right
This phase is aimed at making sure you have the firm positioned properly and have a compelling, easy-to-understand value proposition. As with any branding exercise, it starts out with research. Since you don't have existing clients, you must rely on interviews with prospects and competitors.
Often you are relying on the founders' reputations as key elements of your positioning. If that's the case, you can research their past clients to understand key positioning elements.
From there you devolop a core set of brand documents. These include a positioning statement and a messaging architecture, which identifies your primary audiences, the key messages to each, barriers to overcome and the proof points that will be required to defend each message. Together, this platform forms the strategic foundation for your new brand.
You will, of course, lack case studies — a deficiency you will need to address quickly as you build a base of clients.
Phase 2: Build the Brand
In this phase you develop your firm's name, tagline, logo, website, as well as your marketing and identity tools. In most cases, it makes sense to begin with the most essential pieces and add more later. This allows you to conserve cash and (because you are not locked into an expensive set of business collateral) gives you room to evolve your messaging as you gain more experience.
In most cases, the most useful tools will be your website, a PowerPoint pitch deck and a single-sheet overview of your firm and its story. Since you are unlikely to have a wealth of case studies, you may want to talk about why you founded your firm and what compelling benefits you bring to your clients. That may not be enough to build critical mass, but it should give you enough material to convince a few clients.
You may also want to consider exploring online video, which can be an excellent tool to tell a new firm's story.
This stage is usually capped off by the development of a brand rollout plan. This plan lays exactly how the brand will be introduced and developed. In the context of a brand launch, the rollout plan takes on a lot of significance.
Phase 3: Brand Rollout
Next, you'll need to implement the plan and introduce your brand new brand to the world. In our experience, most folks are excited by the initial reception of a new brand. If your new brand is well positioned, it will represent an innovation in the marketplace, offering prospective clients a benefit that is both unique and compelling. That tends to get people excited.
When new brands stumble at this stage, their problems can often be traced back to a failure to get the strategy right. They rush to market with a "me too" market positioning that fails to deliver any real differentiation or competitive advantage. Attempting to be just like your competitors without the benefit of a track record is not a formula for success.
Minor adjustments to the messaging and positioning are quite common during rollout. These adjustments are a normal part of the evolution of a new brand and not a sign of failure.
After the Brand Launch
Success can be a double edged sword. If you have tapped into a healthy market and are offering a compelling set of new benefits, you very well may experience a surge in demand for your services. That's when you are faced with the prospect of delivering on your brand promise.
You must be able to do what you said you would do and deliver the benefits you promised. This can be a tough challenge for a new firm. More than a few firms have stumbled at this stage.
The other major challenge is not losing the focus of your brand. As you help clients with their critical problems, you will find that they tend to ask you to take on issues that lie at the periphery of your core offerings. Do you accept the assignment?
It's tempting. After all, diversifying risk is important, right? Be careful. You can easily dilute your brand by taking on too many things. While there may be short-term financial benefits to stretching your service offerings, the real value of a brand comes from it's distinctiveness and clarity.
The strongest, most valuable brands are clear, focused and consistent.
For a related article, please read How to Develop a Tagline for Your Professional Services Firm.
To learn more about branding in a professional services firm check out the Rebranding Kit below.