I usually prefer to focus on the positives but sometimes you have to look at what’s wrong before you can understand what’s right. And when it comes to branding for accountancy firms, there are a few common mistakes to be aware of.
First, though, let’s be clear about what ‘brand’ means. Your logo is not your brand. It’s not your colour palette or font, either.
Those are all important parts of your brand identity but brand goes deeper than that – it’s the meaning that people attach to your firm and the services you provide. What makes your firm different? What are your values and beliefs?
The elements of brand identity I mentioned above are tools for representing those ideas visually and helping people recognise your firm in a crowd.
So, to use a famous brand as an example, sportswear firm Nike’s brand is all about energy and inspiration. Their brand assets include a logo – the famous swoosh – and a slogan, ‘Just do it’, which underline those values.
That reminds me of another important phrase – brand codes. Nike’s brand codes are so well known that if you see an inspirational phrase written in their brand font, Futura Condensed, in black on white background, you instantly think of them.
Now you’ve had a quick briefing on branding, let’s look at how it can go wrong.
Branding mistakes: the details
If the point of a brand is to help people notice and recognise you, why do so many accountants play it safe?
The same shades of blue, the same imagery of laptops and people in suits, the same promises of professionalism, proactiveness and friendliness…
When I speak to accountants, they sometimes say they’re worried about coming across as unprofessional. But you can be distinctive, bright, informal, witty, challenging – and still be professional at the same time.
Look at your local competitors, or the fastest growing national firms, and you’ll probably find they’ve got the confidence to stand out.
When you decide to build a brand, all the hard work really happens up front, long before you think about visual design or copywriting.
Done right, brand strategy will help you find a point of difference that is real and that your whole management team, or whole firm, can buy into.
Sometimes, though, people focus on what they think clients want to see or hear and then struggle to live up to it.
If you’re chatty, relaxed and down-to-earth, lean into that. Equally, if your firm’s culture is quiet, thoughtful and studious, take that as the starting point for your brand.
There’s no point pretending to be something you’re not. You’ll exhaust yourself and probably end up disappointing clients when they don’t get what they think they signed up for.
Don’t rebrand every five minutes. Brands, and brand identities, take a while to bed in and develop.
Once you’ve done the work and rolled it out across all your channels, let it sit.
The challenge is that you’re exposed to your brand more than anyone else and so you’ll be the first to spot things you don’t like, or to feel bored by it.
But for clients who only visit your channels once or twice a month, maybe, that familiarity will be reassuring. It’s how they know they’re in the right place.
Letting things get stale
Equally, brands do need to be refreshed and reviewed at regular intervals – perhaps once every two, three or five years.
It’s easy to end up looking old fashioned as trends in graphic design and copywriting move around you. For example, I mentioned ‘professional and friendly’ above; that was fashionable five or six years ago but, now, has become a cliche.
Another cliche is ‘small enough to care, big enough to cope’.
If you do feel the need for a change, evolution is often better than revolution. Consider retaining some elements so clients can still recognise it’s you.
A full rebrand and relaunch – perhaps even with a new name – should probably be saved for when you fundamentally change your offer or target market.
Your logo isn’t your brand but it is really important as the first thing people see on your website. It’s your entire brand boiled down and condensed into a few pixels. And you’ll probably be living with it for years on end.
That means it’s worth investing time and money to get it right.
A great logo will have a story behind it and a concept. Your designer will be able to show their working, perhaps with 50 or even hundreds of rejected concepts and stages of evolution.
Cheap-looking, amateurish logos are unfortunately common in accountancy. They don’t have a story or much thought behind them, just text and a generic clip-art style image.
They often also try to cram in too much information. The logo isn’t the right place to state your business structure or place your tagline. Keep it clean and simple so it works at different sizes, in different contexts.
Mike Crook is managing director at PracticeWeb, a specialist digital marketing agency who work exclusively with ambitious accounting firms to help them differentiate themselves, connect with the right prospects, and achieve their business and marketing goals. website | LinkedIn | Twitter