Jan 2015

Guest Blogger Jo Lilford from our wonderful branding agency Clout explains how professional service firms often get branding wrong – and what they can do about it.

The traditional approach

If you work in procurement or law or accountancy, the chances are (unless you are of a creative persuasion), you probably haven’t had more than a brief brush with branding in its purest form. When businesses are looking for another business to work with, they tend to rely heavily on recommendation, word of mouth, sector grapevines, local networks and so on.

There is a reason for this – accountancy firms are great at accountancy. Law firms are great at law. It doesn’t necessarily follow that a solicitor or an accountant should be good at branding too. But not having an inherent understanding of the importance of brand is not a good reason for ignoring branding or putting some time and effort into developing it. As a result, what we commonly see across professional services organisations, are things like this:

We put our clients first

We foster a culture of transparency and trust

We are committed to delivering service of the highest quality

We are results driven

We aren’t all that interesting, are we?

Six of the top ten accountancy firms in the world talk about “the customer” being focal to their business. In the legal sector, similar figures apply to “bespoke solutions“. It’s all blandly familiar, failing to create any sort of differentiation.

Times have changed…

Post 2008, the world of professional services has been forced to become increasingly competitive in order to survive, but you’d never guess it from the mediocre branding that’s out there. The crux of the matter is that saying these things isn’t the same as doing them. And it’s how a business does them that provides that differentiation. If you truly put your clients first, why aren’t you talking to them in a way that will engage and yes, excite them? This lazy approach to professional services branding simply isn’t sustainable.

The thing is, CFOs and CEOs and let’s face it, most of us, are looking for something to believe in. If I’m hiring a global law firm to help my multinational business, then it had jolly well better be able to provide me with a bespoke solution that is customer focused – I wouldn’t even be crossing your threshold if it didn’t. But those things aren’t going to win me your business, your brand and your ability to differentiate are.

We can give countless examples of firms doing a mediocre job who have ridden on their reputations for decades. But in the same way as the likes of John Lewis Partnership are shaking up the retail sector, through the twin virtues of being a great business and telling their story really well, we anticipate that a similar trend will follow in professional services, as organisations and individuals wake up to the fact that the status quo is theirs to change. Once some take the lead, others will surely follow, because their professional sustainability will depend upon it.

From a branding agency perspective, it will come as no surprise, then, that businesses within professional services tend to fall into two camps – those who get it, and those who don’t.

Carbon’s vision

When Carbon Law Partners approached us, it was evident from the outset that they sat firmly in the first camp. Founder and CEO Michael Burne had a vision. To offer the legal profession an alternative path. To shake up the broken traditional offering of legal practice and instead to present a new way for solicitors to practice, within a modern organisation founded upon the principles of knowledge, choice, flexibility and fairness. Most importantly they value relationships.

The Carbon Law Partners brand which we created with Michael has little in common with those of traditional law firms – nor should it.

Visit Clout’s website here