Rebranding hardly ever happens in perfect conditions. But it’s those challenges that grow us into leaders who can push through and win. For example, in my Remarkabrand podcast conversation with former client Jaimi Koechel—an award-winning marketing director with deep experience in accounting firms—we covered branding for accounting firms, rebranding during transitions, and what a successful, inside-out brand build looks like.
Jaimi’s approach to demonstrating the value of branding to her firm’s partners reminded me of a few things.
As I am wont to do, I’ll bring in my first point with an illustration from a TV show—the historical drama series “Chernobyl” that came out a few years ago. After the Chernobyl nuclear reactor melts down, the secretive Soviet government meets in Moscow to discuss what happened.
One scene in particular puts us right in the shoes of Valery Legasov, a nuclear physicist who figures out that the reactor’s core exploded. But at the table with Premier Gorbachev and his top advisors, Legasov realizes that his country’s leaders have no idea what happened. They don’t understand that millions might die from lethal radiation if they don’t act fast. This gives him no choice but to speak up—and risk his life and career in the process. Fortunately, Gorbachev hears him out, and after telling the horrifying truth no one wants to hear, Legasov finds himself advising the entire containment effort.
It’s a far stretch from nuclear meltdowns, but the problem of preoccupied decision-makers not understanding something’s critical importance is one we can all relate to.
Herein lies a branding point that’s really worth looking at:
– A firm’s leadership may not see or fully understand the value of authentic brand building.
Someone, perhaps even you, might need to demonstrate that value before the branding effort can begin. As Jaimi, a longtime branding advocate put it on my podcast, “They won’t know they need you at the table until you show them that they need you.”
My second takeaway goes something like this:
– Accounting firms should be no strangers to the branding process. Instead of assuming a killer logo will just do the trick, accounting firms that want to build relationships with their clients need to put the work in on the branding front, to the point of owning their authentic brand identity.
Neglecting, misunderstanding or undervaluing brand identity makes for thorny problems: diluting brand and reputation or confusing the audience, to name a few.
Outside of building out a true, authentic, consistent brand identity, how will everyone else know how remarkable they are?
With these takeaways and Jaimi’s story as a starting point, here are my quick thoughts on what every accounting firm should know about branding, branding advocacy, and how brand identity helps firms build remarkable, lifelong relationships.
Let’s dive in.
Every Firm Needs a Brand Advocate
First, I’ll pass a little more of Jaimi’s advice to anyone who might be in this position. If you have a seat at your firm’s leadership table, or if you’re simply making the case for some kind of branding effort to your firm’s team members, you probably need some wind in your sails.
Hopefully, this will lend you some.
As you think about how to show your firm’s partners the value of brand building, don’t forget…
- To play the long game. Building trust takes time.
Even with Jaimi’s marketing background, adjusting her rebrand proposal to suit her firm’s needs took time and persistence. Eventually, as she won trust and got to know the firm’s specific needs, her firm’s partners saw the value in what she was proposing. After partners warmed up to the idea of a complete rebrand, Jaimi led the way.
- To always put the firm first
Even if you majored in graphic design and have the perfect new logo ready to go…remember that a firm’s branding efforts are not about your ideas per se. To get people on board, you’ll have to make the case that this branding effort is what they need to reach their audience in an authentic way and move closer to the firm’s business goals. Like it or not, branding isn’t a blank check for spending money on new (i.e. “your”) ideas.
- If it doesn’t make “dollars and cents” it’s hard for someone to sign off on it.
Authentic brands that build lasting relationships do drive long-term success—and here’s my article on that very topic. Communicate that in a way that demonstrates branding’s present and future value, and makes a good case for someone getting behind it.
- If you’re a branding advocate, you should also be the frontrunner
Along with seeing your passion and drive for brand building, your firm should know that you have your fingers on the pulse of what’s going on.
Where is the accounting industry going? Where should it be going?
Little known fact: Jaimi’s former accounting firm Henry and Horne (it merged with Baker Tilly in 2002) began blogging in 2008. At the time, Jaimi showed her firm the forward motion of brand-centered blogging with one fact—only sixty-four accounting firms in the whole country had a blog.
- Start small to build credibility, then “show the wins”
Whether you’re on a pickleball team or your firm’s leadership table, there’s only one way to build your credibility—start small, and when the time comes, show people the wins. Show the impact one branding-based approach can have on marketing content or social media (to give a few examples), and when the time comes, make the case for duplicating those efforts.
- Take “No” as an opportunity.
Time and time again, Jaimi’s partners told her “no.”
But instead of giving up, Jaimi learned that “no” was not a negative thing—in fact, it usually meant an opportunity to regroup, understand the firm’s needs and situation better, and eventually come back to advocating for an internal brand build.
If you’re told “no” don’t lose heart.
While you’re hanging in there, here are a few more brand-building tidbits that accounting firms should consider.
A Consistent Brand Identity Matters
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating.
Accounting firms should care about brand identity because brand identity is ultimately about building an authentic relationship with a target audience. In the digital age, very few potential clients make their first impression over a handshake or even a phone call. It’s more likely to be through a digital touchpoint: email, social media, a website, or a monthly article like this one.
Creating and maintaining a consistent brand identity puts the truth of who you are front and center across all of those digital touchpoints.
By showing everyone how you’re remarkable, your brand identity also sets you apart from the competition. As they get to know your firm’s look, personality, service, and unique values, a brand identity goes a long way in acclimating a potential client to who they’re dealing with—and that process should start from the first interaction.
Brand Identity Goes Beyond Name and Logo
If you’re an accounting firm, then there’s a decent chance your name and logo reflect the partners who started it.
That’s great actually; it doesn’t mean you’re behind the times. On the other hand (and this bears repeating), accounting firms should know that a spanking new, non-accounting firm-sounding name or logo is not a brand in and of itself.
Rather, a brand embodies a firm’s whole identity, right down to the foundation. Authentic branding is an effort to get at the heart of that foundation—its purpose, location, history, story, values, and unique personality. An honest brand-building effort digs into all those foundational areas and brings them to a clear, winsome, compelling expression (I actually prefer the term “brand anthem”) that engages people.
What does it engage them with?
The truth of your organization, the fact that who you are and what you offer is truly remarkable.
As with most things, there are no shortcuts, and accounting firms should not assume that everyone can grasp what they offer or what they’re really about from the name, logo, or services alone. Consistency, of course, will always win.
Brand Identity Should Come from the Heart
A brand identity that builds relationships, captures that firm’s story and anthem with confidence, and ties a firm’s team together usually starts with a holistic effort on the inside.
That effort could look like an inside-out brand build involving input from the entire team, or it could look more like a transitional, internal rebrand that positions a firm toward its new corner of the marketplace.
Either way, an authentic brand identity comes from the heart. And given enough time, the audience you’re trying to build relationships with can usually tell if that’s the case.
Rebranding Means Getting Everyone On Board
Firms that merge with other companies or branch off to form new ones often position themselves through a rebrand.
On this last topic, let me bounce back to my conversation with Jaimi one more time—after all, she led an accounting firm with over a hundred team members through a successful, inside-out rebrand.
What should accounting firms (or any professional service firm) be thinking about as they consider a rebrand?
What priorities should they pursue and how should they go about it?
From Jaimi’s advice and my own experience helping B2B companies in their branding efforts, one huge advantage of a rebrand is that it presents an opportunity—the chance to get your firm’s whole team on the same branding page.
Down to the foundation.
Once everyone understands what a firm’s brand is, what story it’s telling, and how values, history, and core purpose are navigating, or perhaps even shifting slightly, in a very visual change, then the whole process gets a little more straightforward.
However a firm does that, (group sessions set aside from regular hours, an extended brand building workshop – conference, input from surveys, or equipping each team member with my step-by-step branding book ‘You Are Remarkable’ like Jaimi did…) everyone should be involved.
Getting everyone involved is the first and key step to another huge goal of your rebrand, getting everything about your new brand identity consistent. From your graphics, logo, and social media, down to a client’s experiences when they walk in your lobby, consistency means that everyone your firm meets will be treated a certain way.
Each and every impression should work in tandem to communicate your brand’s truthful, authentic identity to your corner of the world.
Want to Stand Out?
If you’re an accounting firm, you’ll find this helpful.
We recently released the 2023 Remarkabrand Index for Accounting Firms, a comprehensive guide to the names, logos, colors, taglines, awards, and digital presence of 1,500 U.S. Accounting Firms.
With over forty data points, the Index is both a guide and a brand-building driver. Reinforce your branding decisions and stand out in a sea of sameness.
It’s a free download – our gift to you and your remarkable organization.
On the Digital Front
Finally, rebranding strategies are increasingly changing on the digital landscape.
Advances in AI and automation, in particular, are opening up chances for accounting firms to look at their brand identity via digital footprint and express that brand consistently while positioning themselves in the marketplace.
But more on that later.
And If You Find This Helpful…
The Resound team specializes in helping professional firms unlock their authentic identity and express it with a winsome, engaging brand identity.
If rebranding, or simply making the case for branding to your firm’s leadership calls for backup, we’re always eager to consult. Whether that’s leading your team through a workshop or working closely to help set you up for a successful branding journey, we thrive on helping organizations like yours tell their story.
Check out our resources, or give us a shout.
And don’t forget that you are remarkable.