How many times has your firm rebranded? Maybe a downturn in business or the arrival of a new marketer has signaled to someone that it’s time for a new visual identity: new colors, a new logo, a new tagline. If you’ve been around for a while, you have probably traveled this path more than once.
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When I speak about branding, I often begin by presenting a small box from Tiffany & Co. All of the women in the audience lean in, while all of the guys (but one, generally) look perplexed.
- Several women will ask, “Is that for meeee?!”
- Someone almost immediately asks, “What’s inside?”
- I ask those gathered why they get so excited at seeing the box. “It’s Tiffany!” comes the immediate response.
I ask, “How did you know that it is a Tiffany box I’m holding?” “Why are you so interested in its contents?”
They identify the box immediately by its distinctive blue color and white ribbon. They want to know what’s inside because they’re confident that it’s going to be something exquisite.
I use this exercise to demonstrate the two dimensions of a brand. The first is visual: in this case, a robin’s egg blue box tied with a white ribbon. The second is experiential: a Tiffany & Co. box holds the promise of an extraordinary gift. What does this have to do with professional services?
Professional services firms have their boxes too. A solid visual identity makes it easy for prospects to recognize your firm when your messages cross their desks. But the experiential dimension of your firm is more important and where the real value is.
Your firm’s culture, expertise, results, relationships, and your great ideas should do the talking in the same way the contents of Tiffany & Co. boxes talk for that company.
Branding is important. Marketers love branding. I’ve never met an agency that didn’t think a brand needed a “refresh.” It is fun, creative, and visible. But, branding is also all-consuming and very expensive. In addition to out-of-pocket costs, the opportunity costs are huge. Rebranding efforts consume partner time, leadership team time, marketing time, training time, marketing resources, and marketing budget.
Firms often get hung up on colors and logos and waste valuable resources trying to get the brand “right”—usually to its own satisfaction. One partner says, “I think the color should be blue.” Another says, “It should be orange.” One says, “The logo looks like (fill in the blank’s) logo.” And another says, “It is not edgy enough.” Back and forth, the debate rages. There are no right answers; it’s all opinion and emotion. In the end, most firms’ brands are the weakened result of compromises and watered-down choices.
There are a time and place for the level of effort and commitment it takes to rebrand a firm. It is called a strategic inflection point: a new strategic direction, an acquisition, a new mix of services, the addition of new markets. This occurs when the change to your firm’s direction is relevant to the client.
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Yes, it is important that your firm establish your “box” (a logo, company colors, etc.). Tiffany has used the same little box since 1878! But, it’s what’s inside that really counts.
Pick a brand and stick with it. And, the next time you are inclined to rebrand your firm, ask yourself why it is relevant to the client and what the opportunity costs are.
Answering these questions will make your decision to rebrand a lot easier and ensure that you keep your firm focused on your clients.