Today, I heard another partner at a professional services firm express a desire to “have a brand like Apple.”  Every time I hear that request I chuckle.  Why?  Because so many people do not know how unique Apple is and how Apple’s brand came to be Apple’s brand.

I like to continue the conversation with some simple questions:Professional services firm brands and cultures

  1. What do you like about Apple’s brand?
  2. What makes the Apple brand so powerful?
  3. How is Apple’s brand aligned with your strategic direction?
  4. What do you think it would take to translate Apple’s brand to your firm?

The answers to number one come quickly and usually are focused on words like “cool,” “different,” “creative,” “innovative.”  The answer to number two often evolves around the “products.”  When we get to number three, the answers aren’t as free flowing. I hear things like “growth,” “innovation” and “hiring the best.”   At number four, the conversation is getting really quiet.   I hear things like “cool office designs,” “more whitespace in marketing materials” and “be more innovative.” The reason numbers three and four are so difficult for partners to answer is because Apple’s brand does not translate to the professional services world very easily, if at all.  Why? Three reasons.

1.  Apple was Apple because it was created and run for three decades by a creative, maniacal, ruthless genius with a passion for product.  When was the last time you saw a personality like that successfully manage an accounting firm? A law firm? An engineering firm?  Autocracy does not play well in a partnership.

2.  Apple had focus. Where did that focus come from? You guessed it: that maniacal leader.  Often, by the time a partnership gets a consensus on a focus, the result is so watered down that it means nothing.

3.  Apple was ruthlessly product-centric.  Professional services firms are client-centric. I have met very few consultants, accountants, and architects who are not passionate about solving client issues.  Steve Jobs had contempt for his customers. He felt it was up to him to show them what they needed.

Takeaway

There is much to be learned from Jobs and Apple. History will prove it one of the greatest companies of all time. How the passions of your firm take form and are delivered is unique to your firm. Don’t try to be the Apple of accountants, lawyers, architects, or any other service firm.  Build on your own unique strengths, personalities and peccadilloes. Let Apple be Apple.  Focus on your passion. You, your firm, your industry and your clients will be better for it.

Be prudent.

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