Many accountants feel adrift on the subject of marketing in today’s world. Between “Tickety Tocking”, “Vulnerability Posts” on LinkedIn, and all the hype around Inbound Marketing, even veteran marketers have trouble staying on top of what works and what doesn’t these days — not to mention your average accountant.
Everywhere you look, it seems that people are talking about Social Media’s vital role in brand awareness. But a quick trip to Twitter leaves even the most optimistic of us feeling downtrodden and shocked at the state of the world.
And that’s where we’re supposed to build a brand?
Well, yes. To understand why, we need to appreciate what we’re talking about when we say “brand”.
Brands are not simply “brands” anymore.
Eighty years ago, the concept of a brand came down to having a good logo, readable ad copy and a probably decent newspaper-advertising budget.
In this super-connected world where everyone feels entitled to an opinion and often blasts that opinion far and wide regardless of their credentials (or lack thereof), brand has become far more complex.
Brand has always meant identity — how you portray your company to the world.
But never has the perception of that identity rested in so many hands which are so far out of your control. One wrong word and the seemingly ubiquitous cancel culture might lower its mighty sword on you, even when they’re wrong.
That’s perception. Brands are no longer defined by a great logo or a wonderful photo op at the local human rights rally — brands are determined by the things you do every day and how you take care of your customers.
Do you need a brand if you are small?
When people think of brands, they tend to think of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nike, Amazon, and so on. They think of the giants and believe the world these giants tread on is different from our own world.
When Amazon creates an ad that brings people to tears, it is watched by millions. If your small accountancy practice created an ad of the same impact (costs aside), would it be as effective?
It’s a question of the global stage and the local stage. Macrocosm and microcosm. Every person is a king (or queen) in their own corner.
When determining if you need a brand as powerful as the giants’, take the size-factor out of it. Think, instead, of people who walk past your practice’s door every day. Think of the 1,000 or 2,000 followers you have on LinkedIn. Think of the 100 visits your website gets every week. Even though that isn’t millions of people, those people will indeed respond to your brand when they see it.
Given two accountancy practices that offer pretty much the same thing, which one will someone choose? Would they choose the practice whose brand and ethos communicates (1) “Helping Bring Jobs to Your City through Good Accounting” or will they choose the brand that says, simply, (2) “Chartered Accountants”?
It’s all about perception.
There are two crucial phases in marketing:
- Getting new customers
- Keeping existing customers
As an accountancy practice, you need to be sharp on both points.
“Getting new customers” requires branding that works well on a first-impression basis.
“Keeping Existing Customers” has more to do with customer service. What you do will translate into how those customers perceive your brand more than the marketing material you send them.
The initial perception — logo, colour scheme, those vital photo ops — can only take you so far. These days, what people really want to know is what others are saying about you.
As Warren Buffett so aptly put it, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
To build a strong brand as an accountancy practice you must serve your clients with the utmost professionalism and jump on any dissatisfactions immediately. If you make yourself available for clients to reach you, and help them willingly with their problems, they are far less likely to run off to Twitter and post their discontent before reaching out to you first.
You also need to proactively get clients to positively review your business or talk about it positively online. A good way to do this is with follow-up emails to check if the client is satisfied. Have a link in the email that sends them to an online review platform if they were pleased with your service. Or give them a “one-click” option to tweet something positive about your service.
As you can see, social media plays a crucial role. The best way to win at social media and avoid catastrophes is to take a proactive role in it.
Prepare social media posts long in advance, always sticking to posts that match how you want potential customers to perceive you.
And always keep your existing clients happy and encourage them to engage with you online.
You can’t appeal to everyone, and not everyone will perceive your brand with the same enthusiasm.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
If you’re trying to reach out to small mom-and-pop businesses, a friendly, approachable brand might be necessary. Funny, quirky videos would be a great way to get that type of brand’s message across. So would light-hearted social media posts that don’t touch on anything heavy or controversial.
But if you serve primarily large businesses, this type of approach is unlikely to garner much interest.
It doesn’t really matter if you go for the staid, serious brand or the playful, quirky brand. It all depends on your target market. (Some companies are looking for staid and serious.)
But you do need to take a two-pronged approach: (1) The first impression to new clients and then (2) the nurturing of existing clients, encouraging them to review your services online or to post positive messages about your practice on social media.
Brand is about perception, and you need to constantly work on that perception to avoid the pitfalls of a super-connected world that is quick to judge and quicker to pass sentence.