Accounting firms are all the same, right? Nerdy, dad-joke-telling professionals who drive sensible cars and wear beige suits to work every day. Unless they’re feeling saucy, in which case they throw caution to the wind and go with the branded polo.
Of course, these accounting stereotypes come straight from the ’90s and, more recently, Parks and Rec.
But the industry isn’t exactly doing its job in busting that myth.
Most accounting firms:
- Claim to be “more than just accountants.”
- Use blue and sometimes green in their branding.
- All on a mission to come across as a little more human than a calculator.
Of course, we know these stereotypes don’t reflect the people working in the industry. And we’d like to help.
Here at Resound, we thought it would be interesting to see exactly how differentiated—or how homogenous—the industry actually is. So we grabbed 40 data points across 1,485 accounting firms, crunched a little data, and named it the “Remarkabrand Index for Accounting Firms.”
The index reflected our desire to give firms a measurable standard against which to judge their branding efforts. Basically, “Are we different, or are we undistinguishable from our competition?”
Why? Because differentiation is a real challenge. Accounting firms struggle to distinguish themselves in a competitive market. And until now, there was no quantitative, benchmarking tool to objectively measure brand differentiation.
So How Did We Collect the Data?
Tons and tons and tons of manual, sometimes painful, data entry (we’re working on automation for this now).
But other than that, it was easy. We looked at 40 data points, including SEO scores, naming conventions, word-choice differentiation (e.g. in tagline), and color and logo style ratings, to name just a few.
The index revealed insights into effective differentiation strategies used by top firms.
Here’s an overview of the data collection:
SEO via Domain Authority Score
We used a standard measuring tool called Domain Authority from Moz, which acts as a good summary indicator of SEO strength. For additional context, we looked at inbound links as well.
Can Small Firms Compete?
Toward the end of data collection, we started asking what company size and revenue had to do with the index score. Surely, bigger firms by revenue and employee count would do better, right?
We’re glad we asked, because the results were a bit surprising, with many of the top-performing firms having fewer than 200 people.
Visual Was Huge
Through the Eyes of a Designer
Some of the data wasn’t so straightforward from an evaluation standpoint. After all, there’s no math formula we know of to evaluate the quality of a logo or even the decade that inspired it.
So we brought in the professionals.
And lest you think designers are kookie, impractical, blocky-framed-non-prescription-glasses-wearing artsy types with no grounding in reality, we’ll have you know…our designers are pros.
And it’s a good thing they are because we have deadlines.
We asked them to evaluate based on design and branding principles. They tagged the logos and websites, collected colors, and, yes, even estimated the decade of the logo based on style.
Does Accounting Look Old?
In addition to how firms differentiate, we wanted to know: is it time for a rebrand? Has there been deferred maintenance on the brand? Who needs a new brand makeover?
To get to the bottom of this, we ask a few questions:
Design Era Classification:
Was the logo designed in the 2000s by a guy who’s been unemployed ever since he designed the Windows 95 logo?
Was it designed only this year by a design school student who’s so progressive that she lives in the future where styles from 20 years ago are cool again?
To find this out—or at least assign a decade—designers went all antiques-roadshow and used style indicators to put the logos on a timeline.
Differentiating—or not—with Color
The industry loves blue. If it could, it would marry blue. It has eyes for no other.
Except green. If it was going to have a mistress, it would be green.
The point is that the industry lacks variation in color.
But Names and Taglines Matter Too
Firms love to use their founders’ names. It’s a near obsession.
Over 90% of the firms used the founders’ names or an acronym based on the founders’ names in their branding. This suggests a huge lack of imagination. It also suggests a great opportunity to differentiate.
Taglines were a lot of fun too. In fact, once we found the most popular words and themes in taglines, Sam Pagel created a script that amalgamated the perfect cliched tagline:
“Beyond numbers, we deliver clear solutions for business success, helping clients secure a trusted financial future since 1982 with personal service and value that goes beyond tax accounting.”
Because which one of us doesn’t wake up at night all “I want to secure a trusted financial future, especially if it’s beyond numbers?”
Rebrand: The industry is competitive, but the branding is not. Maybe the biggest opportunity is for brands who decide it’s time to re-evaluate. Because if you’re ready to do it, you have at least 6 months—at least—before the rest of the industry realizes what’s going on and decides to own its space.
Need proof? Get your copy of the index and see the actual numbers. You’ll have all the data you need in just our first annual report to justify your rebrand. Now it’s up to you to sell it.
Cross-platform video: We didn’t see firms using a lot of video, which gives you a way to stand out with knowledge, education, and thought leadership. LinkedIn, YouTube, and other platforms present an opportunity to address people personally, whether that’s new business or recruiting.
Don’t Encourage Us
We’re like the guy at the party who’s ready to show off some sick dance moves. All we need is an excuse.
Cue the disco and the mirror ball, because we’re about to get down.
This first year created a monster. And for better or for worse, the positive response from the industry got us all worked up.
It’s almost like the industry needs this kind of data.
So we’ve been working on a list of ideas we think will make it a richer, more useful report in future years.
We may not get to everything in the next edition, but we’ll try:
- Including more small firms. Although this is a little more challenging, with less public information available, we’d like to see what it looks like when we get data from a wider swathe, size-wise.
- User feedback. We’re looking for ways to formalize the feedback process for future years, so we can get useful ideas from accounting marketers. This includes new data points.
- Automation and AI in data gathering and analysis. Although online data repos like LinkedIn frown on scraping, and we don’t want to run afoul of their policies, we’re working on ways to automate data gathering in an ethical way, and in a way that will deliver more reliable results and avoid mistakes introduced by human error.
Accounting Firms Aren’t All the Same
We know all accounting firms aren’t the same. But in order to fix a problem, sometimes you need to make sure those in charge of marketing see the opportunity.
You see, when an entire industry fails to differentiate, the ones who decide to move—to initiate the conversation in the firm—to get started. They’re the ones who can give their firm an advantage.
All firms aren’t the same. But differentiation can be a real challenge. Especially if you don’t know what an advantage it gives you.
This is our attempt to show the accounting firm the state of affairs and let them know it’s possible to distinguish themselves in a competitive market.