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What to consider when building your accounting firm’s brand

Will Hill, MBA  Product Manager — Tax Professionals Advisory, Thomson Reuters

Will Hill, MBA  Product Manager — Tax Professionals Advisory, Thomson Reuters

As your firm emerges from the busy season, you may find this an opportune time to start refreshing or building your accounting firm’s brand. However, the process of a brand refresh can be intimidating to many firm owners.

In this episode of Pulse of Practice “A Brand Refresh”, Paul Miller, CPA from Business by Design, and I are joined by Tessa Sussner, Owner of Sussner Design Company. Together, we discuss the benefits of branding, and why accounting firms should consider allocating some time and resources to a consistent, successful brand refresh.

What is brand?

A few years ago, Paul started considering what was the next step for building his accounting firm’s brand. He did not think of this as personal growth, but what is the next step for evolving his firm’s culture and identity. He brought on the expertise of his client Tessa Sussner.

“I think the first thing to do is define the word brand,” said Tessa. “Many people associate the word brand with a logo, and it is more than that. We always consider ‘brand’ as your firm’s reputation.”

A brand is made up of three things, Tessa noted. First is clear messaging, which is messaging that helps people understand what is unique about you and how your services will benefit them. Second is the logo, and all the creative that helps you look different than your competition and attractive to your clients. Third is the customer experience. This includes all the ways your clients and employees interact with your company (i.e. website or marketing materials). How do your customers feel when they walk into your firm?

“In over 20 years of business, we’ve discovered about eight main reasons that companies refresh their brands, and it’s anywhere from attracting more clients to attracting top talent,” added Tessa. “When people are considering working for you, they go to your website. What is the feeling they get from that?

“And speaking of a website, we always tell our customers your website is the hardest working thing in your company. It’s working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. How much attention are you paying to it?”

Where should you begin when building your accounting firm’s brand?

Once you recognize the need for rebranding, how do you start the process of not only coming up with a logo but creating a sense of identity? Tessa runs her clients through an exercise called desired brand attributes.

“This is aspirational,” noted Tessa. “It is about 50 slides that help us facilitate a conversation that lands on eight or so aspirational traits that you want people to associate with your brand.”

Do you want your brand to be perceived as formal or casual? Traditional or progressive? Fun or serious? After about 50 of these questions, in what Tessa describes as a “therapy session”, you discover your desired brand attributes.

“We take those attributes, and we start to paint a picture of what those mean,” said Tessa. “We might have some clients that think the word ‘sophisticated’ in their head, and they are thinking Apple. For another client, a certain shade of blue means sophisticated.”

Tessa avoids misunderstanding on the meanings of the word by creating a mood board, a collage of photos, typography and colors to put visuals to these words.

“We also use vehicles a lot,” added Tessa. “You might drive a Mercedes to work, but the way you want your firm to be perceived could be the highest end GMC Expedition. It looks hardworking and professional, but it is approachable.”

The most important factor is showing you care about your brand.

There is clear value in outsourcing this expertise when building your accounting firm’s brand. Firm owners are not experts, and companies like Tessa’s can bring out the brand identity from owner’s subconscious.

“It’s what we’ve been doing for 20 years,” said Tessa. “These sessions are like therapy, and we make this process quick and easy for the firm.”

Some firms may still feel intimidated by the process. They may not be convinced that they should spend the money on an expert, but they know they are not skilled enough to make this journey on their own. However, a brand refresh does more for your company than meets the eye. It is necessary for growth, attracts new clients while retaining existing clients, and attracts new talent—all because you are showing you care about your firm.

“A brand needs to be refreshed, but it doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul,” added Tessa. “The big message is making sure that people know you’re paying attention to your brand and that you care. You all have been on websites that people haven’t paid attention to for years. If you’re staying on top of it, people know you’re proud of your business and your brand.

“The way you decide what you’re going to wear when meeting a new business prospect, that is your brand perception. The same thing should apply to your website.”

Listen to the “A Brand Refresh” episode of the Pulse of the Practice podcast on your preferred platform (Google Play, Apple, Spotify, Stitcher) or here.

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