Professional services firms have not, historically, invested in their corporate identities and design work, relying instead on their people as the principal delivery mechanism of their brand promise.
However as firms continue to struggle to differentiate themselves, clients have become more design literate in a world where developments from the explosion of desktop publishing in the mid-1980s to the extraordinary feats of computer generated animation today have raised the bar on what our world looks like visually.
For firms whose primary audience is an increasingly hard to reach, sceptical and demanding high net worth private client audience, good design can add value in a host of ways:
YOUR BRAND OR PRACTICE STORY
“If you are not a brand, you are a commodity and will not stand out in a sea of indistinguishable peers ”
Professional services firms find it notoriously difficult to build a clearly defined brand positioning that sets them apart from their peers and attracts clients and business partners to them.
While a firm’s corporate identity is only one component of a firm’s brand, it is an important one for professional firms which have weak brand delivery with few direct client touchpoints the firm can directly orchestrate having instead an intangible service delivered through one or two layers of relationship managers, fee earners and advisers.
A strong visual identity consistently applied will support a firm’s brand against the constant forces of dilution and distraction that increasingly buffer it.
THE CLIENT EXPERIENCE
Client paperwork is often seen as a necessary evil but it can be an opportunity to get your message across, to reiterate and reinforce your wider service proposition.
For clients entrusting you with their wealth and financial well-being a visible commitment can be a vital support yet welcome packs for new clients remain a rarity, annual review paperwork is often compiled in a hurry, and newsletters and other communiqués are rarely reviewed.
However well-executed digital campaigns rarely have the wow factor that a carefully thought out package or a beautifully presented hard copy invitation can have. Most private clients would respond more enthusiastically to something that arrives in the post than to an infographic posted in their LinkedIn timeline……
DIGITAL AND SOCIAL
That said strong visuals are increasingly important in capitalising on digital and social media opportunities. For example video plays an increasingly important role in search engine optimisation, photography and infographics can increase a blog post or Tweet’s “shareability”, and increasingly use of mobiles and tablets to access the internet creates a need for responsive websites that work effectively on these platforms. Navy blue brochure covers and fountain pen type imagery don’t stand up well in a mixed media environment.
Firms that invest in communications which are not only transparent but which go that extra mile to engage clients in understanding exactly what they are getting and how much it costs, will have a happy regulator as well as more satisfied clients.
In intermediated businesses effective communications that consider not just your immediate client – IFAs, lawyers, accountants and so on - but your client’s client can also help you avoid the conduct risk implications of long distribution chains as well as supporting your intermediaries’ relationships with their own clients.
A FINAL THOUGHT? THINK LIKE A STYLIST NOT AN INTERIOR DESIGNER
As any home makeover stylist will tell you, updating your sofa cushions is cheaper than replacing your sofa. Similarly firms often think they need to totally redo or overhaul their corporate identities when often a refresh might give them 90% of what they are looking for for 25% of the cost.
Clients rightly don’t want to see their advisers splurging ostentatiously (when they could be reducing their fees!) unless a major change to your business (or preferably your client proposition) clearly justifies the need for a totally new shop window for your business. Making sure your visuals fit with your wider brand values (assuming you have these pegged), ensuring visual consistency across everything you do and raising the bar against your peer group needn’t necessarily require the equivalent of a whole home makeover but the longer you put it off, the more you risk looking out of step rather than merely frugal.