While a comprehensive verbal and visual system forms the foundation of a brand, it’s only the beginning of executing an effective branding strategy. To be successful, a brand needs to be expressed consistently across all internal and external touchpoints. Consistency is critical to establish a well-defined brand and eliminate confusion in the marketplace.
The consistency challenge
Achieving consistency can be a real challenge for professional services firms. Given the importance of relationships in professional services, employees’ words and actions are a crucial component of consistent brand expression – but they can be difficult to influence and control. Star performers are particularly challenging, as their desire to build personal brands may be at cross-purposes with the objective of creating a consistent corporate brand. Additionally, since multiple people are involved in professional services purchasing decisions, the need to appeal to diverse audiences presents many opportunities to stray from the corporate brand.
Messaging is key
Messaging is a valuable tool to help professional services firms achieve consistency: it’s the translation of a brand platform into practical statements about an organization and its offerings. With messaging, brand communicators have ready-to-use, brand-led language they can apply to both external and internal communications. Without needing to create wording from scratch or guess at what to say, they can hit all the right notes. While designed for use by brand communicators, the repetition of words, phrases, and ideas throughout communications materials will help drive consistency across the entire organization. Although messaging doesn’t solve all of the consistency issues a brand faces, it is a critical element in creating a strong professional services brand.
For effective messaging, these are the key principles to keep in mind:
1. Develop your core.
Every organization should have a set of core messages — short statements that embody the spirit of the brand and can be used in all brand communications. As distillations of the brand platform, core messages remain unchanged and are a key driver of consistency across geographies, practice areas, sectors, and audience groups. They appear in materials that are applicable to all audiences, such as website homepages or overview brochures.
2. Tailor for your audiences.
Because professional services brands need to connect with a variety of audiences with differing concerns, priorities, and needs, creating brand-led messages customized to your most important constituents will ensure your brand resonates at all levels. For example, when pitching a solution to an executive team, a tech services company may want to emphasize ROI to the CEO but focus on technical capabilities and innovation with the CIO. For recruits — an important audience group for any professional services firm — messages may instead focus on exciting professional development opportunities, or emphasize that the firm blends a strong business perspective with a desire to make a positive impact on the community. Audience messaging is also the place to emphasize relationships and partnerships, something that many professional services clients are looking for.
3. Customize per practice area.
It is also helpful to customize messaging per practice area, particularly when an organization has diverse horizontal and vertical offerings in its portfolio, as is the case for many professional services firms. Like audience messaging, practice-area messaging uses the core corporate messages as a starting point, pulling in the most relevant information for each segment. Ultimately, these messages can be treated as practice-area elevator pitches that anyone – from marketers to business leads – can use.
4. Get down to the details.
Messaging is an opportunity to share details that don’t belong at the highest level of a brand but are important to specific audiences or practices. Often, details shared in messaging are proof points that support the brand promise. For example, a financial services firm may include details about transaction size, headcount, and geographical footprint in messaging. While including these details is important, communicators should be careful to keep messaging concise and avoid laundry lists of features, capabilities, and accolades that may muddle the message.
5. Set it in stone.
All messaging should be codified in a message map, a document that includes core messages as well as audience and practice area messages. This document should be owned by a few stakeholders who are responsible for keeping the content current but should be shared with all communicators in the organization. Having one message map for all members of the marketing and communications team — and training everyone on how to use it — will help create cohesion, particularly in large organizations, where marketing and communications teams tend to be spread across offices.
Employing these principles makes it all the easier to establish a coherent professional services brand. And who knows — it may be enough to get your organization’s top performers clamoring for their own copy of your message map.