If you are an industry veteran, you probably already know the value of having a strong professional services brand. If not, consider these benefits:
With a Strong Brand, You Can…
- Command higher rates
- Generate leads more easily
- Achieve a higher win rate
- Recruit more effectively
- Have fewer competitive bid situations
Who wouldn’t want these advantages? The question is, how do you build a leading brand? That’s where branding tools come into play.
Branding Tools Defined
Think of your professional services brand as the product of your reputation and your visibility. A branding tool is a technique that helps you build and refine your firm’s reputation or increase the visibility of that reputation. The best branding tools manage to do both at the same time.
Here’s our take on the top 10 branding tools for a professional services firm:
1. Write the definitive book on your signature topic.
This requires that you know your stuff. (Your brand has to be based on reality, so don’t complain!)
Note that the book should be written for target clients, not fellow professional practitioners. Make a complicated topic easy to understand, and you’ll be seen as a leader by the people who matter most.
We know from our own research that writing a book is one of the most best ways to build credibility and one of the quickest ways to increase the visibility of your expertise.
2. Produce a signature-quality video.
Increasingly, people don’t read—they watch. For the cost of an impressive brochure, you can produce a memorable signature video that tells the story of your firm and positions you as a leading brand.
Don’t skimp on the production budget. A ho-hum, talking-head sales piece doesn’t impress. Do it right or not at all. Here are some video cost guidelines.
3. Develop a must-read industry blog.
Make sure your blog is something that potential clients and referral sources want to read—having a blog just to have one won’t cut it. Start by defining a clear blog strategy.
Publish frequently and give your blog some features that stand out. A good blog is almost like an online magazine, with topics and features that people talk about and share with colleagues and friends.
Remember that blog posts and articles are at the top of the content funnel. Their purpose is to grow your visibility and attract prospects.
A top-quality blog will help build online visibility as well as attract search engine traffic to your website. Over time, it can position your firm as a leading brand, so don’t hesitate to get the help you need to do it well.
4. Publish a provocative industry newsletter.
Not sure if a blog is right for you? Focus on a newsletter instead.
More traditional than a blog, a newsletter provides critical industry insight and information that is not easily available elsewhere. Your newsletter’s particular slant can convey your perspective on the industry you serve.
This type of industry-focused newsletter is a proven brand-building tool. But to succeed as such, your newsletter must be robust and useful—it has to clearly stand out from the usual firm-centered fluff piece.
5. Organize a specialized industry conference.
Conference participation is a proven way to build a brand. Speaking and sponsorships are both tried and true.
But you want to be a leader. Why not be bold and develop your own specialized conference?
Let’s say your IT firm handles cloud computing security, and you have a lot of customers in the health care industry. Instead of presenting a panel at a health care conference, organize an entirely separate event centered on your topic.
Set a clear focus on an emerging niche that is not currently addressed. Keep the conference small and specific at first, bringing in as many partners as needed to make it successful. As the conference grows, so will your brand strength.
6. Conduct a groundbreaking research project.
Does a major question remain unanswered in the industry you serve? Do people understand their competitors well, or is perception foggy at best? Industry players rarely conduct research on their own, and when they do, they usually keep it proprietary.
As a service provider to the industry, you have more freedom. Do the research, share the results widely, and you will strengthen your brand.
7. Initiate an awards program.
People love to be recognized. What’s more, when they receive an award, they love to publicize the fact.
Put these two tendencies to work for your firm. Create your own awards program to recognize companies in the industry you serve.
Make the awards relevant to the type of work that you do. For example the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals sponsors the annual Hermes Creative Awards. They have created a program that honors the creative work involved in advertising, marketing, and communication programs. As proud recipients, we display their badge on our our winning projects. Everybody benefits.
Partner with an association or trade publication to increase visibility and participation in your program. You will simultaneously strengthen your reputation as a leading brand and increase your visibility among key players.
8. Start an industry index.
The goal is to develop an index that is closely followed and widely referred to. Perhaps it’s based on industry “confidence” or “backlog” or even “sales activity.” By establishing the industry’s standard index, your firm becomes a leader.
Let’s say that you serve the chain restaurant industry. Start by recruiting a research panel of top restaurant chains. Have the panel members report average tickets and total diners each month. Standardize the information and report on it widely as the “[insert name of your firm] Dining Out Index.” Eventually, everyone in the industry will receive a monthly reminder that your firm is a leader.
9. Cultivate more Visible Experts®.
Perhaps you have some very talented experts within the ranks of your firm (and what firm doesn’t?). Consider working to increase these professionals’ personal brands and visibility. In our research, we found that cultivate these experts can have major impacts on your firm’s brand.
There are several routes to this goal—think in terms of books, publications, speaking engagements, etc.
The key point is that by increasing the visibility of your experts, you also increase the profile of the firm they are associated with. Having one superstar expert is notable, but having multiple world-class experts makes yours a superstar firm.
10. Create a high-profile interview series.
Let’s say that you market your services to CIOs. Imagine that you set up video interviews with the most visible CIOs from the entire industry you serve. Now all these high-profile CIOs know your firm.
Other CIOs are interested in what the leading CIOs have to say—and now they are also exposed to your firm.
Everyone assumes that your firm knows a great deal about CIOs (which it does). In short, your brand benefits from others’ credibility and visibility. The result is a strengthening of your brand.
Share the full videos, excerpts, summaries, etc., in a variety of formats to maximize your overall visibility.
Each of these branding tools can help to reposition your firm, improve its reputation, and increase its visibility. While some of the techniques may be time consuming and can require an ongoing investment, the benefits they return are typically substantial. It’s what leading professional services brands do.