The purpose of branding is to create the reputation of the brand to develop trust with existing and potential Clients through communication of the brand message to target audiences. Once a brand's values and associated employee behaviours have been developed to reflect the brand promise, branding and marketing communications can then be created to ensure that this impacts on Clients. Branding is the marketing communication element that helps to underpin the brand in its markets. The importance of branding is consistency of application within, and outside of, the firm; whether through its stationery, website, signage, business cards, advertisements and anything else that bears the brand name. This applies to both digital and printed materials.
Professional services firms have researched the importance of various aspects of their brand identity, for example, using colour. Blue has been a favourite for many years with professional services firms, but some Clients consider this to reflect coldness. As a result, warmer-looking colours and fonts have been adopted by some professional services firms in the past 10 years.
Consistency of brand identity is important wherever the brand might appear, so it is important to have a preferred suppliers list for all printed materials, stationery, signage and branded promotional merchandise. For consistency of application of brand image, it is also important to provide people with templates and the appropriate user training.
Branding and messaging audits
To ensure consistent application of the brand and associated messages, it is vital to keep track of its appearance on signage and published material. Many firms use third parties to 'mystery shop', or audit, their branding performance. This typically involves people visiting the firm's premises to see how the brand is physically displayed, whether it conforms to the firm's brand guidelines and so on. They then report back their findings supported with photos as appropriate. Where there are concerns, photographs are usually examined to enable deviations from standard to be seen. Such audits also review media advertising. Reports are then sent to brand and marketing management so that any corrective action needed can be taken. Another aspect of tracking brand performance relates to consistency of messaging in all marketing communications. Again, this can be monitored and regularly audited.
Developing the icaew brand
Sue Best is Marketing Director for ICAEW, the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales. One of Sue's first programmes was to refresh the ICAEW brand. 'We manage relationships with both its individual members and students and with corporate members and firms. Managing its reputation is critical to its successful growth. We analysed our membership by income, sector, breadth/depth of engagement and membership and measured its brand and reputation.'
'We plan to develop long-term, sustainable relationships and focus on our key members. Top member organisations are involved in our 'Premier Relationship Programme', known internally as PRP. It is felt that the programme name is important, ensuring that it communicates the right message to our people and members externally, i.e. that building and maintaining the relationship is critical.'
'Measurements are in place to check the growth in income and relationship. PRP was piloted, focusing on a smaller number of key firms first, then rolled out to include other key organisations. PRP is covered in induction training to ensure that all new joiners to ICAEW are aware of its key strategic relationships and how they are managed. Now, senior staff and directors have responsibility for managing the relationships with our key member organisations. There are regular meetings with peer contacts in the member organisations and we aim to present a coordinated approach with a single point of contact to the Client; this requires careful management of all communications. This also reflects on the ICAEW brand - this has to be consistent.'
Sue quotes Wally Olins, co-founder of Wolff Olins advertising agency - 'Overall because branding is about creating and sustaining trust, it means delivering on promises. The best and most successful brands are completely coherent. Every aspect of what they do and what they are reinforces everything else.'
Sue feels that the personal touch is very important with members - 'It's about building the relationship and that takes time. It's often the little things that count - spending time understanding their issues, being up to date with developments in their organisation and sector or simply by sending an article or newsletter with a handwritten personal note on a compliment slip often works well in developing relationships.'