Marketing, Practice Management

Marketers Are Brand Advocates (And Police)

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” ~Warren Buffett

Branding has always been instrumental to CPA firms, but it has not always been intentional. A firm’s brand was likely developed by chance over the years as people formed opinions about the practice. Not a lot of thought was given to logos, colors, taglines, positioning statements and more. It was only since the rise of the digital age that firms started really paying attention to their brand and taking conscious steps to shape and build it. After all, the internet opened the firm up to a wider audience without geographic boundaries.

Firms started to realize their digital presence was basically the front door clients and prospects began to utilize. That’s why marketers in CPA firms have been advocating for rebrands for years. They truly understand that your brand is more than your visual identity; it is a springboard for all your future marketing activities. And when done correctly and utilized consistently, your brand impacts the prospect decision-making process.

According to James Hirchak, president and founder of Astute Review, a corporate brand is built on your:

  1. Business strategy
  2. Services/products and the story they tell in the market
  3. Customer service
  4. Your people, including the way your employees speak
  5. Visual identity: logos and marketing materials including the consistency around them

“Ultimately, brand is how people differentiate your product or service from the competition,” Hirchak said.

The Cost of a Bad Brand

Yes, there are actually monetary costs to a bad brand. In a McKinsey & Company survey, it was found that companies that display strong and consistent brands outperform their peers by over 20%. Firms that don’t pay attention to brand experience a big hit to the top line.

“A bad brand is going to create ambiguity and inconsistency in the market,” said Hirchak. “Potential customers are going to perceive your firm as unstable if they have different experiences every time they interact with you.”

Inconsistency has a negative impact on trust – one of the main reasons people work with you to begin with.

You Have to Police Your Brand

Marketers who have worked hard to craft a brand for the firm must ensure it’s being used consistently. Whether you call it “policing” or not, there needs to be a holistic focus on brand governance.

“As marketers, you work hard to create guidelines, templates and digital assets to be used in the marketplace,” Hirchak said, “but it’s sometimes difficult to understand how colleagues might be misusing the brand you worked so hard to build.”

In a perfect world, marketing would have a chance to review every file or document before it goes out the door, but that’s not realistic. But that doesn’t mean you still can’t ensure consistent usage. Hirchak advises:

  • Keeping Your Brand Guidelines Simple. This means using limited colors and font types to make things easier for coworkers to grasp. If they find them too complex to follow (i.e., different fonts for headers, subtitles, body, etc.), they won’t do you much good. Be practical and consider the application of brand standards.
  • Ensuring an Easily Accessible Asset Repository. Most firms have a single location where marketing files are stored, but that doesn’t mean employees use them. “In fact, 70% of business docs are started from blank documents or previously created documents, not corporate templates,” Hirchak said. Accessibility is where many firms fall down. If it takes 15 to 20 clicks to access, people aren’t going to go find them.
  • Conducting a Brand Audit. Marketers have an anecdotal idea of how a brand is being used…or misused. You have to take steps to actually understand the problem. A brand audit focused on consistency will help you quantify the problem and see where areas exist for improvement. There are third-party consultants and or software that can help here.
  • Getting Feedback. Bring the team together for honest feedback and informative conversations. Do it over lunch and people will show up; free food is a motivator. It’s important to understand how people in the firm are using marketing material. Look for improvement areas. While it’s difficult to change behavior, people are more likely to implement when they have a say in the process.

Remember, an inconsistent brand is going to result in clients consciously or subconsciously judging your brand.

M&A Requires an Enhanced Brand Focus

Anyone who has been part of a merger or acquisition can attest to the fact that it comes with a lot of chaos. Change is hard. Clients are afraid of changes that are coming. Employees are concerned with how their jobs will change. A solid and consistent brand can help alleviate ambiguity.

“Developing a strategy for a brand transition will help minimize uncertainty in the market, too,” said Hirchak.

After the acquisition, the back-office integration of the brand can be challenging considering all the other changes taking place.

“The devil is in the details,” Hirchak said. “Everyone gets excited about the big picture, high-level messaging, but few people want to do the dirty work. Marketing materials for the merged entity need to be updated and monitored consistently.”

Catching misuses and providing accurate files early on in the transition will be easier on both the new clients and the team.

Branding Consistency Produces Results

Efforts to enforce consistency will produce a positive ROI as it will help you sell 20% or more than your peers over time. The exact number may be difficult to calculate without the help of a consultant, which likely doesn’t make sense to invest in. However, you can establish a few key metrics to help you ensure a positive return.

“You should see improvements in your inbound leads,” said Hirchak. “If more people are reaching out to you organically, your brand is resonating in the market.”

You should also see improvement in your social media and email marketing stats, too. Another metric to consider would be the results of a follow-up brand audit, perhaps six months later, to quantify consistency.

A brand is a gut feeling people have about your firm. A logo helps paint an image of your firm, but it’s not the only factor people consider. Put your brand to work for you. Create a unique visual identity that demonstrates who you are and make sure it’s used consistently. Then, reap the rewards that come from your hard work.

A brand is an important part of a CPA firm’s marketing strategy.

Learn why your firm should build a brand manual, how email signatures amplify branding and how a firm can transition from brand management to brand stewardship. And if you recently focused on rebranding, consider submitting your accomplishment for a Marketing Achievement Award.

About Katie Tolin


Katie Tolin is the president and chief growth guide at CPA Growth Guides. She’s a former in-house marketer having spent time at regional, super-regional and national accounting firms. Today she helps CPA firms drive top-line revenue and profitability through data-driven marketing strategies. She’s a past president of AAM, a former marketer of the year and was inducted into the Accounting Marketing Hall of Fame.

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