Top 5 Brand Building Strategies for Professional Services Firms
It’s hard to overestimate the value of a strong brand for a professional services firm. It can help you win new clients, command premium fees and attract and retain the very best talent. But how do you do it?
What are the best brand building strategies for your firm? Let’s start by defining what a brand building strategy is, then we'll describe how it works. In addition to this blog post, don't forget to refer to our complete Brand Building Guide.
Brand building strategy defined
There are many formal definitions of a brand. Most define it as the sum of all the customers’ interactions with and perceptions of a firm. But as a practical matter, we can simply think of the strength of a professional services brand as simply being the firm’s reputation times its visibility within its target client group.
There is one additional dimension of a brand to consider: its relevance to the target client group. A firm that is not seen as offering services that are relevant to solving important client issues will tend to have a weaker brand.
When viewed in this light, an effective brand building strategy will help firms improve their reputation, increase their relevance and increase their visibility to the target client. The best strategies do all three.
Top brand building strategies
Here are our top five strategies for effectively increasing the strength of your brand.
1. Content marketing
Content marketing involves providing a steady stream of useful information to potential clients or influencers. Think educational rather than promotional. It addresses relevance, reputation and visibility.
Over time, potential clients learn how you approach problems and develop trust in your firm. When they need assistance, your firm is at the top of their list.
Content marketing relies on winning clients by sharing something of value rather than trying to persuade or “sell” them. As such, it is a great strategy to build a brand as well as generate leads.
2. Develop Visible Experts℠.
Many firms have experts, but few of them go on to become well known and influential with their target client group. We call these fortunate few Visible Experts. By deliberately developing one or more of these high-profile experts, a firm can dramatically increase the power of its brand.
The strength of a Visible Expert's personal brand transfers to the entire firm by virtue of a psychological principle called the “halo effect”. In the same way as a university becomes more prestigious when it has a Nobel Prize winning faculty member, so too a professional services firm benefits by having a nationally known, high-profile expert on its team.
3. Cultivate prestigious partners
Partnering with prominent organizations to take on important projects is another proven strategy for building your professional services brand. Large, well-known businesses, trade associations or universities are all good partnering candidates.
By partnering, we are not talking about simply sponsoring events. While sponsorships are frequently thought of as brand building strategies, they are more costly and less effective than a project partnership and consequently don’t make the list.
Instead, consider conducting a research project together or starting a special educational program. An innovative, high-profile project is more distinctive than your logo on a crowded sponsorship banner — and is a far more powerful brand building strategy.
4. Seek high profile clients and case stories
There are many successful professional services firms that have been built on reputations made with a single name-brand client or a well-known case study. But if you systematically seek out high profile clients and invest in producing dramatic results that can be widely shared, that's a great brand building strategy.
Of course, everyone wants prestigious clients and great results. But surprisingly few firms do the planning and investment to turn that desire into reality.
For example, a firm may land a high profile client, but if their contract prevents them from promoting their work a brand building opportunity is lost. Or similarly a firm may focus on staying within scope rather than investing in the engagement to produce exceptional results. If you make results a deliberate brand building strategy those mistakes are less likely.
5. Dominate the social media space
One of the most highly leveraged brand building strategies available to professional services firms today is based on the growth of social media. Businesses of all types are becoming regular users of social tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.
There's a real strategic opportunity here because adoption of social media by professional services firms is still in its early stages. It is still possible to become a major online voice within many target client groups. Many small firms and solo professionals are managing to establish strong online brands in this way.
While traditional face-to-face networking is still important, consider the time and cost savings associated with an online approach. The strongest brands are everywhere your target client looks, and they are respected by everyone they talk to. A strong social media presence is a great strategy to make that happen.
The best brand building strategy
In most cases, the best overall brand building strategy is one that combines several of these top strategies. For example, a content marketing strategy is a natural fit with a strong social media presence. Social media becomes a perfect way to spread the content, and the content makes great fuel for online discussions.
And, of course, these winning strategies complement traditional brand building strategies. Face-to-face networking or trade show marketing work well with any of these strategies.
But remember, no strategy is effective unless it’s implemented. Build your brand and you will build your business. Check out our complete Brand Building Guide as a great free resource for developing a stronger and more valuable brand.