“All accountants are the same,” said Peter Root, founder of Cuddles Accountancy. “All you're trying to do is find something in the marketplace to differentiate yourselves.”
Root found his differentiator in branding – more specifically, a cuddly toy bear.
Accountants often overlook marketing when they do their weekly chores. But marketing, in particular maverick marketing ideas and events, was less neglected by the Practice Excellence Awards entrants last year: mentions of PR and marketing exploded from 12% to 31% in 2016, while marketing events swelled from 26% to 42% of entrants.
Root joined these practices in realising the value in marketing. That emphasis on marketing seeped into Root’s practice following a chance lecture which encouraged him to question why he does what he does. Talking about your “why” is not something many accountants deliberate. While some could see this as a naval-gazing exercise, Root was so struck that he spawned a separate brand out of what he realised.
The genesis of Cuddles
Almost two years ago, Root sat in on a lecture. The trouble is it was one that he’d seen many times before. So he busied himself on his tablet. That was until he heard something that would make him sit up and listen. The lecturer described a phone call with his accountant. The advice he received hoisted him out of his struggles. The lecturer felt as if the accountant put his arms around him and embraced him. This image percolated in Root’s mind: “our job is to embrace [clients] and their businesses.”
In the conversation with Martin Bissett below, Peter Root discusses in more detail the formation of Cuddles Accountancy.
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Root tapped “cuddles” and “accountants” onto his iPad keyboard. Surely another firm would have nabbed the name. “The only thing that came up was 'such-in-such' practice gave toys to a hospital,” he remembered. “There was no name anywhere.” No one else had weaved this “why” into their branding or marketing.
When Root returned to his practice he shared the idea with his outsourced marketing team and they got the ball rolling. This simple branding idea manifested itself into a series of marketing pursuits and a separate firm.
Marketing people are going to come up with more marketing ideas than an accountant.
It didn’t take long for the brand to inspire a teddy bear mascot. The little bear character which became intrinsically linked to the firm’s branding made its debut in an animated advert – taking advantage of another surfacing Practice Excellence trend: digital marketing – and joined the other firms embracing the YouTube generation.
The marketing team leveraged Root’s “why” to create the ‘story of cuddles accountancy’: a CBeebies-like retelling of the firm’s formation. Accompanying the story is a reassuring bedtime story-like narration. The two-minute video tells the story of a toymaker who had to make the “dreaded journey to the dull, boring lands of administration to see his accountant”.
The cast of cuddly toys not only represents a different member of the team on the firm’s website but the cute characters bring a friendly tone to the website; a contrast to the staid websites prospective clients may click on when searching for a new accountant.
Using branding to attract niche
What’s interesting about the video is how the story ends with a proscenium arch and a falling theatre curtain. The aim of branding, ultimately, is to attract a certain niche. The theatrics of a cartoon bear characters and the theatre tropes play into this.
Root has long worked with the theatre industry. Based in Bristol, Root’s decision to focus on the arts made sense: The city is famous for its Old Vic theatre school. Likewise, the performers and technical crew would have an affinity for the brand, too.
Of course, there is something theatrical about the bears. The idea of role playing with the bear is something someone treading the boards could relate.
Root could see why the larger than life characters and ethos of the firm would attract the entertainment industry. “The people in theatreland tend to be the younger generation,” he said. “They tend to be quite tactile. Therefore they like the idea of cuddles. They're all on social media and in the cloud - which is where we are trying to position us.”
Similar examples of maverick marketing are common within the Practice Excellence universe. For example, medium practice of the year award winners Raffingers used marketing to attract its targeted sector: Landlords and property clients. The firm partnered with a local estate agent to speak in front of these prospective clients about business tax and buy-to-let tax changes.
Maverick marketing: Giveaways
Root pivoted this unique branding into events. When the firm looked to put together goods for a trade show, they could only really take one piece of merchandise to cement their brand: A teddy bear, of course.
The teddy bear marketing proved such a success that Root now gives each of his clients a bear sporting a Cuddles Accountancy t-shirt. “That's why we have our own bear as opposed to buying a bear off the shelf,” said Root.
The bear giveaways created a buzz around the firm's trade show presence. "Before we did the first trade show my PA laughed at me when I came back with the idea," Root said. "She went and did the first trade show and she came back on cloud nine. 'You've got a winner'." The friendly branding of Cuddles even prompted some trade show attendees to embrace Root.
But Root’s marketing approaches don’t stray away from their central mission. Nothing leaps too far out of the box. Everything feeds through that central premise: To embrace the client and their business. “If we get their business finances right it gives them a better quality of life,” said Root.
If you’ve been doing similar maverick marketing or holding events, why not enter the Practice Excellence Awards. Click here to find out more about the awards.
About Richard Hattersley
Richard is AccountingWEB's Practice Editor. If you have any comments or suggestions for us get in touch.