More often than not, at the start of a project, we’ll ask a new client which brands and websites they admire or aspire to. The most common answer? Apple.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Apple recently topped the Interbrand rankings for the 100 most valuable brands in the world – as it did last year, and the year before that.

It ascribes a financial value to brands on the basis of future sales. Apple’s brand is valued at more than $200 billion.

In its valuation estimates, Interbrand is looking for more than a pretty logo, stunning website and great products.

Its system for brand valuation is well respected precisely because it measures the factors of branding that will guarantee future growth.

In performing its valuation, Interbrand looks at financial forecasts, the role brand plays in the business, and 10 brand strengths.

I want to take a look at those strengths and, more importantly, how I believe accounting firms can develop them to build their own valuable brands.

Internal factors

Clarity

If Interbrand was performing a valuation of your brand, they would look for evidence that you and your team share clarity on your accounting firm’s values, proposition and positioning. They’d also want to know that you have a clear understanding of your audience and client needs, and that you regularly gather insight and share it internally.

What can accountants do to gain brand clarity?

Create and share buyer personas and buyer journey maps for your ideal clients. These will help you make sure that your whole team understands your clients’ challenges, goals, influencers, buyer triggers and how your business should appeal to them.

If you want some extra help, our brand strategy workshops help accountants to define all of this plus brand values, purpose and positioning, and to develop marketing messages which have instant appeal to just the right clients.

Governance

Interbrand asks whether the organisations under consideration have the skills and tools in place to get their brands in front of the target audience in a way that supports their business plans.

What can accountants do?

Strong documentation can be half the battle when it comes to governance – for brand or anything else.

Make sure you have detailed brand guidelines as well as documented tone of voice for written content. These will keep any staff and agencies on point when it comes to communicating your brand.

Where you don’t have the skills already in place, consider outsourcing to professional copywriters, designers, SEO practitioners – make sure anyone who is doing this kind of work for you is fully briefed and has access to any brand documentation you’ve put together.

Commitment

The question here is, how important is your brand to your people? Are they proud to work for you? Are they vocal evangelists? And will they put time and effort into promoting your brand. It’s all about buy-in.

What can accountants do?

Regardless of brand value, feeling that your work is important is vital for employee engagement and retention.

Start by having a strong mission or purpose for your accounting firm which your team can get behind, make sure its 100% genuine, reflects your brand, and that you regularly share and demonstrate it.

Responsiveness

This measures how well you are able to evolve your brand in response to business challenges or market changes.

This doesn’t usually mean wholesale changes to the way you look or sound but might include investment in design, technology, or new communication platforms.

What can accountants do?

I’d recommend holding back a small proportion of your marketing budget for innovation, experimentation and ‘what if’ events.

If Google rolls out a new ad extension, for example, you can give it a try. Equally, if there’s a big fiscal announcement or change in regulation, you’re all over it. Responsive.

External factors

Authenticity

Is your brand message built on a genuine truth and does it have a believable story? And does your service live up to the high expectations that you have set for your clients? It’s easy to say “We’re different!” or “We’re better!” but can you prove it?

What can accountants do?

Instead of a glib or abstract strapline develop your purpose and make sure its shared by your team.

An example of this which I really like comes from one of my clients, the challenger audit firm Rise. The simple brand purpose behind Rise is the belief that “Audit should help, not hinder your business”.

You don’t see these words on the website but, boy, do they believe it, so the purpose shines through in every bit of copy, video and visual asset.

A set of brand promises can also be a useful tool to make sure your team know what experience they should be delivering in each and every interaction.

Consistency

Does your brand look, feel and sound consistent across all touch points? This is an important factor in building a valuable brand because it helps ensure that you are instantly recognisable across all of your marketing channels.

What can accountants do?

A good start would be to audit your brand assets, making a list of everywhere people might experience your brand on and offline. Check that the look, feel, tone and experience are consistent and truly reflect who you are.

Whenever you evolve an asset of your brand, go and check that the others still make sense. If you’re about to launch a new website, make sure your banner image on Twitter matches, and your office signs too.

Relevance

This is about making sure your messaging really resonates with the needs of your target market. It means fulfilling customer needs, solving their problems and playing an important role in helping them to achieve their aspirations.

For a consumer brand like Apple, higher value would be achieved by being more relevant across demographics and geographic regions.

What can accountants do?

I know I talk about them a lot but having buyer personas which set out the goals your accounting firm’s ideal clients have in both business and life, and the challenges they face, is a great place to start.

Using these you can make sure that your messaging reflects how you’ll improve their lives as well as creating a hierarchy of importance for the way you communicate your services.

Presence

To achieve this brand strength, a brand needs to be constantly reaching all of the buyers in its category – and getting talked about positively in the process.

What can accountants do?

For most accountants, reaching the kind of omnipresence of large consumer brands will be beyond reach. Instead, I’d recommend having a tightly-defined target market, niche, or geographical focus, and building your marketing strategy around making sure your brand is at least present in the most relevant media and advertising channels.

Differentiation

This is defined as the degree to which buyers perceive you as being different from the competition. In a mature, and highly competitive market with low barriers to entry, this can also be a tricky one.

What can accountants do?

Every now and again, we see a word or phrase pop up from somewhere which spreads like wildfire across the sector. ‘Proactive’ was one, ‘More than just bean counters!’ was another. I’m sure you could list more you’ve seen peppered across the internet.

In order to really stand out from the crowd, your accounting firm needs a compelling value proposition which has a laser focus on the actual benefits delivered to your specific clients.

There are a lot of frameworks and tools out there to help you develop this, but it can often be worth working with an expert and objective facilitator to really crack it.

Engagement

Engagement measures the degree to which consumers value, identify and participate with a brand. Put simply, is your brand important to your clients? Do they care about you?

What can accountants do?

This important brand strength isn’t that difficult to master. You can make marketing more of a conversation by championing a cause that your clients care about and by being personable in your communications.

Look to accountants on twitter for some examples of how, and how not, to build engagement. You’ll easily find accounts for firms which reply to the Tweets of others, reshare the content they care about, talk about their communities and causes as much as they do about accounting.

Equally, you’ll see accounting firms issuing a daily tweet from the business news section of their website and nothing much else.

The first firm I described will not only have a bigger base of followers (at least relative to the size of the firm) but you’ll notice that they receive a bigger share of replies and retweets. They are building engagement.

Find ways to allow your clients and prospects to interact with your marketing and show that you care about the things that interest, worry or excite them.

Need some help?

Branding is about lots more than a nice logo and a website with lots of white space. Your brand is your identity, it’s multifaceted and it’s worth investing in.

If you aspire to building a strong brand for your accountancy firm, I’d recommend having a discussion without our team about how to get started building a brand strategy.