Here’s something amazing: history tells us that firms with a strong brand recover nine times faster than those without.
But what does having a strong brand mean? How do you build one? And exactly why does it have such a profound effect on ‘bounce back’ in the wake of a crisis?
You might think ‘brand’ is fluffy nonsense, bandied about by marketing types, obsessed with the superficiality of fonts, colour palettes and logos.
It’s not that. It’s something much more profound. Brand includes a number of factors which, together, create a point of difference; enable businesses to attract the right clients; and inspire employees.
Equally, you might have in mind that it’s something only big companies need to worry about – not a priority for smaller UK accountancy practices with less expansive budgets than, say, Nike, or BMW.
In either case, hard evidence of the concrete effect brand can have on business recovery ought to make you pause for thought.
BrandZ is a brand equity database managed by the marketing firm Millward Brown. It is used to estimate the value of 100,000 individual business brands in 45 countries. Through customer surveys, the BrandZ researchers identify the strengths and weaknesses of each brand, identifying common traits among the fastest-growing businesses.
It has been running since 2006 and that start date is important: it had benchmark figures for two years before the global financial crisis of 2008 and was therefore able to track the impact and aftermath of that cataclysmic event.
A 2015 BrandZ report looked at the recovery of businesses in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. It found that those with what by its metrics constituted a strong brand recovered nine times faster than those without.
There’s a reasonable consensus around the idea that we’re heading for another recession and it’s likely those with a strong brand will bounce back faster this time, too.
If that’s piqued your interest, how can you go about getting your accountancy firm’s brand tuned up for the bumpy road ahead?
Being different makes a difference
The BrandZ report identified that brands consumers regarded as having a real point of difference grew their brand value by 124% in the 10 years following the 2008 financial crash.
By contrast, brands which consumers felt didn’t have a strong point of difference grew by only 24%, on average.
Brands which were identified as ‘different’ were also considered creative, in control, and trustworthy.
But it’s not enough to be different just for the sake of it. That point of difference needs to correspond to your brand proposition. There must be an underlying purpose that’s inspiring and relevant to your target clients.
How companies achieve a point of difference varies. My previous article on how choosing a niche can boost lead generation for your accounting firm is a great place to start if you want to learn more.
Accelerate growth with a clear purpose
Firms with a clear purpose beyond making money have the basis of a strong brand.
Like all business people, I want PracticeWeb to make more profit. But that’s not our purpose.
It doesn’t inspire people – it doesn’t make my team want to deliver their best, or help us connect with potential clients.
Your accountancy firm needs a stated purpose that’s about improving your clients’ lives or the fortunes of their businesses. They need to feel as if working with you will make things easier, make them feel more fulfilled and help them achieve their life goals.
When it comes to choosing between four or five similar firms, this is what will help them choose you over the competition.
Protect your budget, don’t raid it
According to the BrandZ report, brands that reduced their marketing spend during the recession often came out the other end weaker.
I get it – it’s a natural instinct, especially when all the advice is about shoring up your cash position.
But marketing isn’t a nice-to-have extra, like magazine subscriptions or pot plants for the office.
Being cautious on marketing spend is certainly sensible but stopping altogether could damage your long-term recovery. History tells us that, on average, those who protect their marketing budgets do better than those who raid them to cover immediate recovery costs.
Spend wisely, measure what matters and track the return on investment (ROI) of all your marketing activity.
If you’re looking at ways to thrive rather than survive and need to boost your budget, you could follow the example of some of the accounting firms we work with and pay for your new website and marketing programme through the government-supported coronavirus bounce back loan scheme.
Don’t fall silent – find your voice
The worst thing you can do is go quiet, even if it can seem hard to find the time, energy and budget to put out marketing messages. Don’t think about it as marketing, think about it as helping solve your prospects challenges through content, video, guides and helpful advice.
Show that you are there, supporting clients and helping them solve problems.
Brands that focus on increasing their share of voice rather than retreating, and which concentrate on increasing client perceptions of the quality of service, are more successful during recovery, according to BrandZ.
Build on the trust
Trust is an integral part of building a brand.
Many accountancy firms have spent the past few months increasing trust amongst their client base by going above and beyond and by being there when they were most needed.
You put in the hard work. Now it’s time to use it to your advantage.
Now is a great time to ask customers for reviews, for example, while they’re feeling warm towards you.
You might also get them to write or record case testimonials. Use these as the basis of case studies to demonstrate to potential customers how you’ve helped people just like them overcome some of the biggest obstacles they’ve ever faced.
Make sure your case studies reference the challenges the client faced, what the experience was for the customer, how you addressed the challenge and the positive outcome.
The data in the BrandZ report makes a strong case for investing in your brand.
Ultimately, in an increasingly competitive market and with recession looming, accounting firms will need all the help they can get to stay ahead of the competition.
They’ll need to attract relevant and profitable clients so they themselves can see their businesses bounce back from the pandemic, and maintain resilience over the course of several years.
It’s not just about getting through the next 12 months – it’s about thriving beyond.