The concept of brand for an accountancy firm is not always easy to summarise. However, if you are using social media, you will inevitably create some kind of brand, even by default.
As this year’s Practice Excellence Awards entries show, digital marketing has become increasingly attractive to firms because of the breadth of branding opportunities it provides.
According to Peter Disney from Wood and Disney, a strong brand can help a practice communicate more directly. “People recognise our imagery almost without seeing the name.”
Firms who value brand align it with the interests of their audience. As Kylie Fieldhouse said: “What people are looking for is authenticity, and we’re looking for that from clients, too.” For Jen Gerrard, this is a powerful statement of what the company has to offer: “Being a tech savvy business is a USP, and to not do any digital marketing would seem at odds with this, so it does create consistency. The medium and the message reflect the way that we work.”
From strangers to clients
Being visible, and visibly different to potential clients is a common theme. Fieldhouse summarised the stages of know, like, and trust as a way to be noticed in the crowd: “It’s hard to compete. How was I going to get small business owners to pick me? A lot of owners hang out on Facebook, so that’s where I needed to be. I started marketing consistently. If they knew who I was then chances were they would like me.”
A lot of owners hang out on Facebook, so that’s where I needed to be. I started marketing consistently. If they knew who I was then chances were they would like me.
However, value increases by reaching the right kind of audience. Gloria Murray nurtures brand like a garden: “Our marketing is there to attract potential clients. If you’re trying to attract bees and butterflies you plant things that will attract them.”
Being perceived as different also filters clients who aren’t a good fit, as Disney explained: “Now anyone coming through the door would have already preselected themselves.” A unique brand also has financial advantages: “This is one way to make sure we don’t get locked into conversations based purely on price.”
“We use digital marketing to increase our brand awareness over 12 to 18 months,” said Bhimal Hira of Jeffreys Henry. “We drip feed content. It takes a long time to build up the credibility.” So, rather than stake everything on first impressions, an online brand allows the slow build of relationships over time. This can be very subtle.
Trust has many faces
Whilst marketing is often focused on fostering a sense of trust, the variety of digital channels means a diverse range of personalities is possible. The interviewees we spoke to each had a different persona in their marketing relationships, some of them quite playful, such as Murray’s ‘Queen of Profit’ presence on Facebook, or Disney’s approach with cartoons: “We’re probably one of the few firms with enough interesting visual material for Instagram.”
As Gerrard explained for her particular niche: “Using language that our clients can relate to and understand has really helped with brand perception in our sector. Terminology like ‘commercial’ and ‘business’ needs to be carefully used when talking to not-for-profit clients.” Trust looks different to different audiences, and brand persona should be appropriately authentic.
Right message, right medium
Similarly, certain marketing messages are more suited to a particular platform. “We use a wide range of channels depending on the market,” said Hira. “Facebook works well for the creative industries. LinkedIn much more for the listed companies. We push content to blogs, newsletters, and articles for syndicated sites like ‘The Caterer’, which are highly industry relevant.”
For Disney, the message adapts to the channel: “Facebook is more simplified to what we are doing on LinkedIn.” Fieldhouse has found brand narrative takes place across multiple media: “Facebook is more of a calling card and doesn’t give you everything you need. You need both a website and Facebook.”
Listen to change
As firms transition to digital marketing, their brand becomes more dynamic. Disney, again: “When we changed our website to reflect cloud accounting, I said, ‘This is a 1-to-2-year opportunity, so let’s make it 100% focused on just that one thing’. I expect our focus will change and so will the website again.”
To me social media is great as it allows you to listen, and understand where people are coming from, and communicate much better with them.
Fieldhouse is clear that brand also shifts in line with core business: “If I changed my niche to just offering advisory services, I wouldn’t have a Facebook site, but I would have a good looking LinkedIn page and group.”
However, digital marketing is more than just broadcast and information moves in more than one direction. For Murray, this is the necessary corrective that always keeps a brand authentic: “To me social media is great as it allows you to listen, and understand where people are coming from, and communicate much better with them.”
About Richard Sergeant
Specialist insight and business development support for accountants and their vendors. Cloud advocate with a pragmatist eye.