Marketing, Branding and Websites


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 definition.

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:

  1. This definition 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 the consumer.

  2. This definition 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.

  3. This definition 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 & customers
  1. Trends
  2. PEST
  3. Sector SWOT
  4. Firm SWOT
  5. Market research
  6. Intelligence
Develop strategies & plans
  1. Business strategy
  2. Business plan
  3. Business Mktg plan
  4. Influence Gov’t
Product (service)
  1. Product dev.
  2. Quality mgt
  3. PLUS-people, process, physical evidence
  1. Sector
  2. Brand strategy
  3. Brand consistency
  4. Brand / sub brand
  5. Positioning
  1. Phone
  2. Mail
  3. Fax
  4. Email
  5. In person
  1. -Ad
  2. -Direct marketing
  3. -PR
  4. -1-1
  1. Price setting
  2. Price taking
Evaluate performance and revise strategy
  1. Business evaluation
  2. 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 truth”:

"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 [1986], 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



Arranging meetings




Conference speaking


Commissioning research




Press coverage


Corporate hospitality


Directory entries




Business event sponsorship


Source: “Law firm marketing: what do clients think?” survey heads of legal / company secretaries of 400 major UK companies, Wheeler Associates, 2000

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 questions:

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 coherent message)?

  • - 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?




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