The challenge of developing a brand for a professional services firm in management consulting, architecture, IT consulting, engineering, law, etc. begins with the concept of brand.
I say “concept” as opposed to “definition” because while there are innumerable definitions proposed by branding gurus most fall to a common concept – some collection of experiences represented by imagery and words that creates a strong emotional bond between the consumer and the product.
The concept of brand works great for consumer products or commodities because the role of emotion in consumer product purchases is significant. Some minimal level of utility is usually required that can be met by many products so the way for a consumer to sort out which to purchase is to defer to an emotional decision.
For example, even though the utility and price of many brands of SUV are very similar – making them essentially a commodity – some people choose to drive a Chevy because they feel that it appropriately represents the image they have of themselves to the rest of the world. Others feel that a Volvo or Mercedes might better reflect who they are and would choose those instead.
So with this in mind let us move forward with this idea that a brand is an emotional connection to a product.
But what if you are a consultant, architect, engineer, lawyer, etc? Are you a product that is bought and sold the way beer or cars are purchased?
Is your firm selected because of an emotional connection you have with the buyer?
Absolutely not – consultants are hired for their expertise and utility to a client firm. Emotion cannot be ignored entirely but it does not drive the selection.
So if branding a professional services firm is the process of creating an emotion-based reputation for a professional services firm, then it would seem fair to say that branding is a waste of time for professional services firms because their clients make utility-based purchase decisions not emotion-based purchase decisions.
So with that in mind I suggest you stop trying to brand your professional services firm and instead adopt the idea of positioning a professional services firm – defining, communicating, and proving a reputation in the market place based upon expertise.
So now that we have accepted the idea that emotions are not a factor in the hiring of a professional services firm we should acknowledge that that is not entirely correct.
In professional services the emotional perspective a client has of a consultant is simply a reflection of the quality of the consultant’s expertise and therefore emotions can manifest in positive or negative ways depending upon the evidence the consultant provides that they actually have any expertise.
It can be positive as in “That woman really knows what she’s talking about and we could use some of her advice around here” or it can be negative as in “He sounds slick but there’s really nothing there of any value to us”.
In consumer product branding the emotion is a contrived emotion based upon affiliating the product with images of scantily clad models (beer) or glory shots of off-roading steel and chrome perfection (automobiles) and is rarely challenged for proof of those emotional promises.
While you might terminate a project with a management consultant if their delivery fell short of what their reputation promised, you would be unlikely to demand a refund for your beer because no supermodel dragged you off to their bedroom after a glass or two of ale.
The traditional concepts behind branding in order to sell commodity consumer products do not translate well to selling professional services because consumer products and professional services are bought very differently. While branding is like trying to get a first date (low risk, short-term sale) positioning is like to trying to get married (high risk, long-term sale).
The role of branding, in a professional services firm is not to create an emotional connection to sway an inconsequential impulse purchase as you go through the checkout at the grocery – it is about communicating the reputation of your firm to your potential clients to demonstrate relevance and value and begin the very long and potentially high-risk engagement process.
Always be careful to avoid applying the principles of emotion-based consumer product branding to the functional utility-based professional services environment.
Click here to read How To Respond To A Bad RFP
Click here to read Key Performance Indicators of Sales Success In A Professional Services Firm
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"This should be required reading for consultants AND their clients - especially the part about RFPs." - Blair Enns, Win Without Pitching