Here’s a simple fact of life in management consulting – every firm creates a brand. When you start a business, your brand begins to take shape…but that doesn’t mean the process is deliberate, scientific, or effective.
On the contrary, too many new management consulting firms’ brandings efforts are hasty and unclear. Branding is tough, after all, and a learning curve is to be expected. But a murky brand can put you at a competitive disadvantage right from the start.
The need for thoughtful attention to branding doesn’t end once a firm is established, either. As your services evolve and your marketplace changes, you must continually reassess your branding to ensure that it is aligned with your goals and the realities of your industry.
Otherwise, you may lose competitive ground, while sowing confusion about who you really are and what you really do. But like I said before, branding is tough, even for the most successful firms.
Even if you once built a great brand, you might not know how to rebrand in a transformed marketplace. So here are 7 branding ideas that can you help you shape your brand the right way.
1. Understand your field’s unique challenges.
Branding a consulting practice is significantly different from branding many other types of professional services. It has its own opportunities and its own challenges.
Chief among the challenges is the fact that many of your audiences may not know very much about what you do – at least not by default. Most people have some idea of what a law firm or accounting firm does. But management consultants often offer very different sorts of services, and there is less general cultural awareness of what those services consist of.
As a result, firms need to spend more on marketing and business development. In fact, management consulting firms tend to spend a higher percentage of revenue on marketing than firms in other professional services industries, like accounting and AEC. Since you’re typically selling expertise and advice, it’s essential that you help your audiences understand exactly what kind of advice and expertise you offer.
2. Remember what makes up your brand.
It’s hard to fine-tune your brand if you don’t know what it is in the first place. Whenever you brand or rebrand a business, you must remember that your brand isn’t something vague or imprecise. In fact, it’s so specific and quantifiable that you can express it as an equation:
Brand = reputation x visibility
A positive reputation for your management consulting firm can take two forms. People might regard you generally as a “great firm,” or people might know you for your expertise.
Expertise-driven reputation is a particular asset, since it connects directly to your service offerings. One of your audiences’ biggest questions is always going to be, “What do you do?” A reputation for expertise helps you answer those questions clearly.
Your reputation for a specific type of expertise also has another advantage. A recent study shows that it dramatically increases the likelihood of receiving an actual referral.
3. Experts have an advantage.
Speaking of expertise…
When it comes to boosting your brand, there is simply nothing like having individual Visible Experts® on your team. Research shows that firms with Visible Experts build greater visibility and command higher rates. Indeed, the presence of high-visibility experts drives success for the whole firm.
New business development is a particularly high priority for management consulting firms, since by the nature of the work, many clients are not repeat engagements. Visible Experts help generate more leads and cement your credibility in the marketplace, making it easier to close more sales and grow.
4. Your brand should be based on reality.
It’s not uncommon for people to develop grand visions for their brands, but it’s important to make sure your branding is rooted in reality.
What do I mean by “reality”? Start with in-depth research on your clients, prospects, and influencers in your industry. Then move on to study your competition as well.
The tough fact is that you are the worst judge of your own brand. It’s almost a universal rule – most of us are simply too close to our brands to view them objectively. That’s why it’s so important to base your branding decisions on empirical evidence rather than opinions. This way, you can create a brand that truly serves the needs of your business.
5. Position your brand based on real differentiators.
For management consulting firms, research is the gift that keeps on giving. Not only does it help you ground your branding in the reality of the marketplace, it helps you identify or find new and relevant differentiators that will set your firm apart from the rest of the pack.
In the course of your research, ask questions like:
What issues are your clients facing today?
What are they talking about?
What do your competitors specialize in?
Are there areas of unmet need in your marketplace?
The answers to these questions will help you identify differentiators on which to build your new brand.
Some of these potential differentiators may be qualities that you already hold, but need to start emphasizing in your marketing. Others may be opportunities – areas where you can decide to be different. You may find, for example, that there is an opportunity to specialize in an unfilled niche or provide services through a novel business model.
Either way, your differentiators must pass three tests. They must be 1) true, 2) relevant to your target audience, and 3) provable. If you can prove to clients that you are different in a way that helps meet their needs, you’ll be positioned for success.
6. Reflect your brand positioning in all of your communications tools and all of your educational content.
It should be clear by now that a brand is much more than a logo and a tagline. It’s the soul of your firm, and in order to do its work, it needs to suffuse everything you do – particularly your public messaging and educational content.
Think about the various channels through which you communicate with and educate audiences. These might include:
Every single one of these marketing channels needs to be fundamentally aligned with your branding ideas. You need to talk about your firm in a consistent way – ideally guided by well-crafted branding guidelines. Otherwise, your message will become muddled and audiences will grow confused about who you are and what you’re trying to say.
7. Build the visibility of your brand in multiple channels over time.
You might announce a new brand in the course of an hour – but real results take time. Your brand will need to work in the marketplace organically and across many channels, which is to say that people will have to encounter it through your website, social media, and their general experience of you.
To drive this process and reinforce your expertise, you can use a variety of tools. Search engine optimization can help you use targeted keywords to draw visitors to your website. Social media is a great way to engage directly with audiences and communicate in a way that aligns with your brand.
Not all brand-driven communications are online, either. Through public speaking, articles, and seminars, you can help build visibility for your expertise and cement your brand.
Ultimately, all seven of these branding ideas work together and reinforce each other for accumulated effects – visibility and growth. Through strategic and deliberate branding, you can help your firm stand apart and get ahead.