This briefing discusses key issues that need to be
considered by a professional services firm when addressing how its
services are branded and what role a website can play in business
Although the word “brand” is familiar and used in everyday conversation
it means different things to different people. The panel below illustrates
the various meaning that can be intended.
The Dictionary of
Business and Management defines a brand as: "a name, sign or
symbol used to identify items or services of the seller(s) and to
differentiate them from goods of competitors."
Signs and symbols
are part of what a brand is, but to us this is a very incomplete
Walter Landor, one
of the greats of the advertising industry, said: "simply put, a
brand is a promise. By identifying and authenticating a product or
service it delivers a pledge of satisfaction and quality."
In his book,
'Building Strong Brands' David Aaker suggests the brand is a 'mental
box' and gives a definition of brand equity as "a set of assets
(or liabilities) linked to a brand's name and symbol that adds to (or
subtracts from) the value provided by a product or service…".
This is an
important point, brands are not necessarily positive! Building
from this idea of a 'mental box' a more poetic definition might be:
"A brand is the most valuable real-estate in the world, a corner
of the consumer's mind".
These are all great
definitions, but we believe the best is this "A brand is a
collection of perceptions in the mind of the consumer".
Why is it best?
Well, first of all it is easy to remember, which is always useful! But
it is also best because it works to remind us of some key points:
makes it absolutely clear that a brand is very different from a
product or service. A brand is intangible and exists in the mind of
helps us understand the idea of brand loyalty and the 'loyalty
ladder'. Different people have different perceptions of a product or
service, which places them at different points on the loyalty ladder.
helps us to understand how advertising works. Advertising has to sell,
and it achieves this by positively influencing people's perceptions of
the product or service.
Brand & Marketing
Brand is one aspect of marketing and its significance can be seen most
clearly on that larger canvas. Like branding, marketing connotes different
things to different people and it is worth just reflecting on what is
encompassed in marketing, as marketing professionals would understand
this. In the professional services context the term “business development”
is sometimes preferred as this accents the professionals’ desire to be
distanced from the brash commercialism that is sometimes associated with
marketing. The mega processes of marketing could be represented as:
|Understand environment, markets &
- Sector SWOT
- Firm SWOT
- Market research
|Develop strategies & plans
- Business strategy
- Business plan
- Business Mktg plan
- Influence Gov’t
- Product dev.
- Quality mgt
- PLUS-people, process, physical evidence
- Brand strategy
- Brand consistency
- Brand / sub brand
- In person
- -Direct marketing
- Price setting
- Price taking
|Evaluate performance and revise
- Business evaluation
- Marketing perf.
Branding in Context
Placed in this context it is clear that questions concerning brand
arise within a framework that grapples with who are the current and future
clients of a firm, what services they require now and in future and how
can the firm differentiate the services it provides, making them more
valuable to more clients. The views of those with an intimate knowledge of
the firm’s clients must be prominent in answering such questions.
Nonetheless some of the generic things that can be said about services are
indicated in the panel below:
What Clients Want
Professionalism and Skills The customers realise
that the service provider, its employees, operational systems, and
physical resources, have the knowledge and skills required to solve
their problems in a professional way.
Attitudes and Behaviour The customers feel that
service employees (contact persons) are concerned about them and
interested in solving their problems in a friendly and spontaneous way
Accessibility and Flexibility The Customers feel
that the service provider, its location, operating hours, employees and
operational systems are designed and operate so that it is easy to get
access to the service and so that they are prepared to adjust to the
demands and wishes of the customer in a flexible way
Reliability and Trustworthiness The customers
know that whatever takes place or has been agreed on, they can rely on
the service provider, its employees and systems, to keep promises and
perform with the best interest of customers at heart.
Recovery The customers realise that whenever
something goes wrong or something unpredictable unexpectedly happens the
service provider will immediately and actively take actions to keep them
in control of the situation and find a new, acceptable solution.
Reputation and Credibility The customers believe
that the operations of the service provider can be trusted and gives
adequate value for money and that it stands for good performance and
values which can be shared by customers and the provider
Source: Grönroos C., Service Management and Marketing,
1990, Lexington Books
The vital point that professionals might underestimate is that this
constellation of factors is not confined to the technical attributes of
the service; emotions play an integral role (how does the client feel
about encounters with the firm). Jan Carlzon, who turned around the
fortunes of SAS, expressed this insight in his fine phrase “moments of
"As SAS, we used to think of ourselves as the sum total
of our aircraft, our maintenance bases, our offices, and our
administrative procedures. But if you ask our customers about SAS, they
won't tell you about our planes or our offices or the way we finance our
capital investments. Instead, they'll talk about their experiences with
the people at SAS. SAS is not a collection of material assets but the
quality of the contact between an individual customer and the SAS
employees who serve the customer directly...”
"Last year , each of our 10 million customers
came in contact with approximately five SAS employees, and this contact
lasted an average of 15 seconds each time. Thus, SAS is 'created' 50
million times a year, 15 seconds at a time. These 50 million "moments of
truth" are the moments that ultimately determine whether SAS will
succeed or fail as a company. They are the moments when we must prove to
our customers that SAS is their best alternative”.
"... We have to place responsibility for ideas,
decisions, and actions with the people who are SAS during those 15
seconds: ticket agents, flight attendants, baggage handlers, and all the
other frontline employees."
Source – Carlzon, Jan, Moments of Truth, Harper & Row
New York, 1987, pp. 2-3
Where intermediaries enter into the frame the factors that matter to
those intermediaries will need to be taken into account and indeed can
overshadow those of the client. Furthermore it may be that clients and
intermediaries can be grouped by reference to the factors that matter most
to each group. Marketing (and branding) then takes these groups into
account through mechanisms such as sub brands.
Branding and the firm’s culture
Whether you are commissioning the design of a website, creating a
letterhead or planning a new office building clear guidance about those
aspects of the professional services firm that are brand assets (that is
aspects that have particular value for clients) need to be provided to the
design professionals to provide the context for design work:
- What is it about the firm that the brand should communicate and
reinforce in the mind of clients, intermediaries and staff?
- What cues can be provided to clients and potential clients helping
them to understand what value the firm offers them.
A well-executed brand encapsulates issues in a way that is easy for the
potential client to grasp and thus helps clients reduce the uncertainty of
the purchasing decision. This works by enabling the client to make valid
comparisons against alternatives despite the complexity of the material
and limitations of their own expert knowledge in the field.
It will be apparent that these questions are not new. Understanding of
these issues in deeply embedded in the professional services culture of
successful firms and brands that encapsulate that culture will form a
solid foundation for continuing success. This culture is evidenced in the
professional’s attention to responding to correspondence, the way phone
calls are handled, the personal attention given to clients, the décor and
comfort of the reception area and meeting rooms and so on.
The Role of the Website
What role can a website play in the context of a professional services
firm? At one end of the spectrum some professional services firms view a
website as a means to provide helpful information, other firms have
experimented with more ambitious objectives that have to do with adding
value or locking in the client. Examples among the latter include some of
the big five accounting firms whose websites provide a repository of
knowledge for clients or large law firms such as Clifford Chance or
Linklaters which provide virtual “deal rooms” that facilitate client
interaction and may strengthen relationships. These strategies can be
successful in the right circumstances but it cannot be taken for granted
that increasing the investment in the website is always justified. A
survey of views on the effectiveness of various law firms marketing
activities large UK companies illustrates this point well:
% of respondents rating activity as very effective
Business event sponsorship
Source: “Law firm marketing: what do clients think?” survey heads of
legal / company secretaries of 400 major UK companies, Wheeler
Some preliminary questions to ask
A smaller professional services firm that is considering the way
forward in regard to its website may find it helpful to consider these
What purposes do you have in mind for the web site?
- - Provide information about firm
- - Provide leads
- - Provide information
- - Allow customer interactions
- - Sales of goods or services
- - Reinforce relationships
- - Build loyalty
- - Enhance service
- - Other
Who key audiences do you anticipate (in order of priority)?
- - Clients (can these be grouped)
- - Intermediaries
- - Competitor clients
- - Suppliers
- - Employees
- - Potential recruits
- - Competitors
- - Leads
- - Other
What are the brand strengths / positioning of your organisation that
the web site should express?
What other materials do you have that reinforce this branding /
should be consistent with the web site (or need redesign to achieve a
- - Letterhead
- - Literature / Brochures
- - Reports / other documents
- - Other
What competitor / other websites do you regard as benchmarks against
which you would assess effectiveness / success, or model best practice?