Last month, we attended the PM Forum event ‘2019: Are you ready for a year of change?’ to see what’s on the horizon for marketers within the professional services sector.
Alastair Beddow, MD of Meridian West, kicked things off with highlights from their annual Marketing Leaders Benchmark Survey. First on the agenda was the top strategic priorities for firms in 2019. Leading the way is ‘Growth’, with 66% of respondents putting it as their top priority and 97% placing it in their top three. Looking specifically at marketing priorities, the top three were: improving the client experience (22%); obtaining client feedback (16%); and relaunching the firm’s brand (15%). Joining Alastair on the panel discussion that followed were:
- Stephen Arnold, Global Business Development and Marketing Director at Clyde & Co
- Jessica Gowar, Director of Sales, Marketing and Clients at BDO, and
- Virginia Cook, Director of Marketing and Business Development at Coffin Mew.
Interestingly, the panel members shared a similar sense of optimism to each other despite the uncertain macro-economic outlook brought about by factors such as Brexit. This optimism reflected the Benchmark results which show marketing budgets up by, on average, 2.4% and large numbers of firms planning to increase investment in their website and online marketing, communications and client feedback.
When discussing how growth will be achieved, the focus was on growing the relationship with existing clients by improving their experience and looking for cross selling opportunities. Mergers, acquisitions and penetrating new markets were also high on the going-for-growth agenda.
It was at this point that we asked how important to achieving growth is a firm’s brand, particularly in a sector where differentiating service offering is such a challenge?
BDO’s Jessica Gowar said that ultimately this depended on whether the growth was being sought from existing clients or from new markets and clients. With existing clients, the focus is very much on the client experience and client feedback. Whereas in new markets, a clearly differentiated brand is critical if you are to stand out from the crowd, a view echoed by Jessica’s co-panellists.
The Luminous View
In today’s dynamic and ever-changing corporate environment, me-too brands just don’t cut it beyond the here and now. For strong and sustainable growth, a differentiated brand is critical.
We carried out our own research with a sample of 130 firms to see how many had a differentiated brand and a clearly articulated purpose (i.e. a statement as to why the company exists beyond simply making a profit).
Although experience told us to expect a low proportion of professional services firms with a differentiated brand, we were not expecting to find that only 16% have a clearly articulated purpose, especially when purpose-led businesses have been shown to have higher levels of employee engagement and retention. Interestingly, this 16% is largely made up of the top 10 legal and accounting firms with many mid-tier and smaller firms blending in with the masses – begging the intriguing question, cause or effect?
A good example of where a strong differentiated brand has driven growth is that of Deloitte. In 2016, the firm invested in a brand refresh (the first in 13 years) where they went beyond just the famous green dot logo. Deloitte built a single brand architecture with the purpose ‘To make an impact that matters’, flowing it through every nook and cranny of the global business. Subsequently, the firm reported an 11.3% revenue increase for the year ended 31 May 2018.
Julie Sim, brand strategist at Luminous, adds that, more than ever, clients expect you to have a distinct purpose and a point of view about what’s happening in the world. Marketers in the professional services sector should not underestimate the power of brand in bringing this to life.
If you’d like to find out how we can help you define your purpose and stand out in a crowded market, please get in touch.
You can also gain more perspectives on current brand trends and challenges in our publication Brand Matters, which can be accessed via the link below.