What Does It Take to Differentiate a Professional Services Brand?

professional services branding

Every brand needs to differentiate itself to stand apart from its competition. Yet for certain business categories, the exercise of finding and claiming a unique position doesn’t come easy.

Sometimes the reason is a crowded marketplace, in which case the marketing must work harder to find the brand’s sweet spot. More often, however, the difficultly stems from either:

Fear of standing out, of not being understood by audiences.

Struggle avoidance, the ease of green-lighting branding that mimics what competitors are doing.

Whatever the cause, no category (on whole) falls victim to copycat branding more than Professional Services. All we have to do is evoke the ubiquitous handshake photo to illustrate this point. Even firms that invest in developing a sound brand strategy often fail when it comes to creative execution.

But while it may feel safe, even smart, to brand professional services firms in a way that ensures audiences of, well, professional service, “me-too” branding takes the biggest risk of all: Undifferentiated branding leaves professional services firms in a highly competitive category with no way to showcase unique value.

Also Read: Knowledge Is Revenue – How to Conduct Killer Competitor Research

A Path to Brand Differentiation

So, how can professional services firms differentiate when messages and images that seem to give the right impression only wash audiences in a sea of sameness? The fundamental question to answer is:

Why should your “ideal” clients (and employees) choose your firm in the sea of other, seemingly similar firms?

For most firms, this will require more than “tossing some ideas” around the conference room table (hint: a wrong approach). To answer this question with certainty, your will need to begin with brand research – specifically, customer research and competitive research.

Based on the insights that emerge from your research, the next step is to develop a brand strategy and articulate your brand’s points of difference (brand platform). 

Next, armed with a differentiating brand platform from which to execute your brand, make sure your brand identity, messages and expressions are equally differentiating and maximize your strategic investment.

And, finally, defining your differentiators and developing your brand around them is only the beginning. People don’t experience brand strategy – they experience the brand through its public-facing behaviors and communications.

These experiences could be positive, negative or unnoticed. And unless your firm lives its brand – internally and externally – with every action and interaction, it will continue to blend in with its indistinguishable competitors.

Also Read: Beyond the Box – The Intriguing Challenges of Branding Service Companies

Final Tips

Follow these four tips to create a differentiated brand for your professional services firm:

  1. Steer Clear of Clichés: Invest in good design. It’s not that handshakes and the like aren’t sending the right message (partnership, trust, strength, longevity). They’re simply overused and undifferentiating. So, they’re off limits. No exceptions.
  2. Dig Deeper, and Dig Deeper Still: It’s probable that some “me-too” brand attributes are core to your firm. The trick is getting beneath the surface. Ask: “What does X really mean to our customers?” After you answer, ask again. Keep going until you arrive at the unique value your firm delivers and communicate that in your message.
  3. Pack in the Personality: A single message can be communicated through any number of “voices,” so developing a unique brand personality helps ensure actual communications don’t revert to category conventions.
  4. Don’t be Different for the Sake of Being Different, Be Different for the Sake of Being Successful: Superficially different is not the same as strategically different. Your brand must stand out in a way that fits your firm’s culture and resonates with your customers. Differentiation + Alignment is a powerful combination.

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