A different look: Direct communication through visual branding

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Peter Disney tells Richard Sergeant why his firm Wood and Disney radically simplified its marketing message, and how they differentiated their brand by using cartoons.

“I’ve been very interested in what technology has to offer the profession,” says Peter Disney, “going back to the 1980s.” But today, he says, the cloud has made technology accessible and cheaper to use: “Now, you don’t need a server and deep understanding of the software, or expensive people to look after things. It’s all available through an internet connection and a browser.”

For him, there is a clear imperative in moving online. “Business sales agents are saying, over the next two years, accountants that do not put their clients into the cloud will see the value of their practices decrease by three quarters. Whereas those who adopt cloud technology and the subscription model will probably see the value increase by up to 25%.”

Disney feels this transition represents a unique moment to be seized on: “We were clear that we wanted most of our clients on cloud, and to build a monthly subscription model in 3-to-5 years. When we changed our website to reflect cloud accounting, I said to our designer that this was a 1-to-2-year opportunity, so let’s make it 100% focused on just that one thing.”

Sending the clearest possible message

Consequently, the marketing shifted from a general message to a focused, almost single-minded theme. “We have been concentrating on consistent messages about the cloud rather than before when we were giving out tax tips. Social media is more about getting a message out there and reiterating the themes that we’re keen to talk to people about.”

“Those looking at my posts across social media channels won’t see much more than just cloud, cloud, and cloud,” he says. “Everything we are doing at the moment is pushing the message that we are the cloud accountants you should go to.”

Disney wants to build a strong brand around being approachable. “We have a strap line, ‘Real time accountants with a human touch’, because we want our client base within a 30-minute drive, but use technology to have more productive meetings.” Here, technology is used to facilitate the sense of human, almost local, interaction. 

The immediacy of the visual brand

The firm’s differentiation is achieved through visual means, especially cartoons. “I felt that accountants generally looked the same. We’ve adopted a specific brand persona by using cartoons to encourage a sense of being approachable. We commissioned a whole series on the theme of cloud, so we have plenty of eye-catching material to pull on.”

“They've all been done by the same guy, in the same format,” says Disney, stressing the need for consistency. “People recognise us and our culture, almost without seeing the name. This is one way to make sure we don’t get locked into conversations based purely on price.”

“We’re probably one of the few firms that have enough interesting visual material for an Instagram presence. The only thing we are not doing that I would like is video.” By considering the brand as a whole, the firm makes a unique statement in a format less widely used, potentially reaching audiences on digital platforms, otherwise more difficult to reach. 

Marketing to humans (and machines)

“It is probably a good idea to keep all channels up and running” Disney advises, with an eye on rankings. “We still post on Google Plus. Not because we expect a human to be looking at it but because we believe that Google is. The thing that changes is the tone. Facebook is more simplified to what we are doing on LinkedIn, for example.”

The challenge is making sure signals maintain the human touch. “I have to accept that there is so much white noise in people's lives that getting the balance right is quite difficult.”

Interestingly, Disney sees little benefit in email. “We actually wrote a letter to our clients last year because we had sent them emails with important bits of information and they just said they never received them. From my personal use of email, 70% goes straight into Junk, because it’s not relevant at that time.”

Marketing is currently handled in-house and this is also planned with a human perspective. “I occasionally look at Google Analytics. I get separate reports from Facebook and from LinkedIn, but I'm not convinced it gives us the whole picture. We have a strong feel about where people are coming from and what they've seen.”

A state of permanent transition

Having embraced the move to the cloud, Disney is aware that this moment may also pass. Being open to change is a key asset: “None of us really know what's on the horizon do we? Things are moving so fast and if you look at Xero and QuickBooks as the market leaders, what they are managing to achieve is scaring so many within the profession. I expect our focus will change and so will the website again.”

About Richard Sergeant

Richard Sergeant

Specialist insight and business development support for accountants and their vendors. Cloud advocate with a pragmatist eye.

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