Successful companies recognize the power of brand and thoughtfully construct identities that reflect their core values and resonate with customers.
As consultants for professional service firms, we’re bullish about the power of brand for driving B2B growth. Strong, differentiated brands draw greater recognition in the marketplace, attract top talent, and grow at a faster rate than companies lacking a strong brand presence.
Your brand is the single most important investment you can make in your business.—Steve Forbes
In our work with up-and-coming clients in the professional services industry, we’ve sought to identify the key brand elements that, if improved, would make the most difference in their brand expression and effectiveness. We’ve found one element that consistently scores low in our evaluations.
A Surprising Finding
We've conducted brand and website audits for hundreds of professional service companies. We evaluate firms based on 30+ factors related to their brand identity and online presence, assigning a value of one to five for each. This helps us to hone in on developing a prioritized action plan for a company. It also allows us to identify patterns when evaluating the industry as a whole.
What we have found is surprising.
The area that we most often recommend needing the most immediate attention often has to do with what’s being said (or not said) on a company’s website. While we've all seen poorly designed logos and websites, we didn't expect to encounter so many firms with ill-defined or hazy messaging. For some firms, it is hard to understand exactly what it is they do, let alone why a potential client should consider them.
Some of the common issues we see include the following:
- Broad use of overly generally, undifferentiated statements
- More discussion of themselves than what they can do for their clients
- Poorly-defined solutions
Read more: 10 Mistakes Professional Services Firms Make with Messaging.
Learning From Top-Performing Professional Services Firms
When we look at the top performing consulting firms, a number of best practices emerge. Here’s what we’ve found they do:
Communicate a Strong Value Proposition
Often what is most compelling to a potential client is the value that engaging with a consulting firm will bring. This isn’t about the services you offer, the expertise you have or even how you deliver. This is about outcomes. Successful firms cast a vision for what it would be like to work with them. They paint a picture of what they can expect after working with their company.
Emphasize What Makes Them Different
In a sea of other firms who are also selling their expertise, the most successful firms highlight what makes them stand out. For many this has to do with some combination of service and industry—what they do and who they do it for. For others it could be their methodology or approach. The top companies identify what makes them unique in a way that their audience finds compelling.
Lead With a Memorable Catchphrase
The hero section on the home page of any consulting firm’s website is the most valuable real estate when it comes to communicating to your audience. More than 80% of all people who hear about your firm will visit your website, and the top of your home page is the first (and perhaps only) thing they will see. It’s your chance to find the few words that will be most compelling for them. The best consulting firms work to make sure that what’s communicated there really hits home with their audience.
Craft Succinct Headings That Tell a Story
Very few website visitors will read a page word-for-word top-to-bottom. Instead, users will scan and scroll, slowing down or stopping when something grabs their attention. Short and succinct headings are much easier to scan, and should craft a story. Many firms miss a major opportunity here by burying the lead in the supporting text. For example, instead of including a section title “About” and then including content that discusses the company’s strong growth trajectory, a better approach could be to use a heading such as “25 Years of Uninterrupted Growth”. Even if a user doesn’t stop to read that section, they’ll get the cliff notes version as opposed to skipping over a generic “About” section.
Demonstrate Their Expertise
The most successful professional service firms recognize that, as consultants, they’re primarily selling expertise. For clients to hire them, they must be confident in their abilities to deliver. Third-party validation like client testimonials, awards, and recognitions can be helpful. Case studies that communicate challenges, processes, and outcomes are even more compelling. Hearing directly from your firms’ experts in webinars, videos, white papers, podcasts and other thought leadership content provides insight and provides a direct channel to your perspectives. This type of content can be very effective at growing trust with your audience.
Why We Start With Messaging
We recently audited a firm that was objectively unattractive visually. Their use of color was abrasive, their logo straight out of the early 80’s, and their selection of stock photography almost satirical. Yet they got one thing right. They had a very clear and compelling value proposition centered in bold on their home page. The message was so simple and effective that I’m confident despite their site’s lack of visual appeal, they likely converted users at a high rate.
The lesson is clear: get your messaging right first.
Of course, this firm could be even more successful if they were to elevate their visuals, especially among a more savvy audience. But the lesson is clear: get your messaging right first. Everything hangs on your core brand messaging. If you get it right, you’ll have a brand that is compelling to your target audience, and the foundation for a solid visual brand.