The easiest way to think about businesses is in mechanical terms: what they sell, where they sell from, how much they sell things for, and in some cases who is doing the selling also matters. These are the basics – not nearly enough for a business to be healthy and growing. For a long time a business could rise above the pack using ‘extras’: the cosmetic tweaks (such as nicer offices), teasers (like services people don’t really need or want), and various features and benefits.
Many businesses sweat a lot over these ‘extras’. They hope at least one will provide insurance against possible loss of business or falling of profits.
Frequently it becomes a case of blindness by busyness. All the activity can distract from building what helps a business to be sustainable: the brand.
Brands in professional services
Brands are complicated, but in simplest terms, they are a collection of histories, stories and experiences that connect products with emotions. For example, if asked to connect words like ‘happiness’, ‘fun’, ‘life’, ‘memories’ and ‘friendship’ to a beverage, most people would name the brand Coca Cola. Even those who have a negative view of the product would still make this connection. The association that Coca Cola has been able to create between words, which have nothing to do with what is essentially water, sugar and chemicals, is why the brand alone is worth almost $80 billion.
As the internet provides consumers with access to limitless choice, the ‘extras’ have become part of the basic product. To make their buying choices people are increasingly turning to the business that best engages them emotionally. The negativity so many people feel towards taxis – not the free mints and water – is why Uber is here to stay. The fact that social media handles emotional content better than traditional media is why it is so important to brands.
If it is hard to create a brand around products, it is doubly hard for those whose businesses are based on services where there is no physical item on which to place a logo or to put on display.
In an industry such as accounting, using histories, stories and experiences has usually been limited to explaining why of all trusted advisors, clients should trust this particular firm over others. The firm then goes on to point out its ‘extras’, such as the qualifications of each practitioner. A look at any number of practices in financial services inevitably shows this same pattern for promoting the firm.
A firm that does share its history, stories and experiences tends to use it as a rationale rather than an emotional trigger. It partly explains why so few firms have been able to translate their name into a recognisable brand.
In an industry that has traditionally cultivated an image properness, formality and impersonality, moving to a more personal and emotional level will be uncomfortable for many. However these are not traditional times, and holding onto the past may be difficult for a practice to convince its clients that it can do more than the traditional tax and compliance services. When these services are bringing in less revenue and smaller profits, a brand could make all the difference to practice’s success.
If you would like to learn more about how a professional services firm can build a brand, click here to download the Abacus Australia Top Ten Branding Tips.
Tool Review: Dropbox
We have a new regular feature in this issue of Practice Makes Perfect. Our Tool Reviews will keep you in the loop with popular and useful applications. This month we will begin with one that’s not so new. It is the very popular cloud-based file storage service, Dropbox www.dropbox.com.
Dropbox allows users to create folders into which they can save their files in the same way we have been used to doing on our personal computers. They can then access these files on any computer or device connected to the internet. Users can also share folders and files with selected people making collaboration quick and convenient. The screenshot here shows the folders in this Dropbox account and the dots on the right indicate who the content has been shared with. People can be easily added and removed as needed.
Files saved in Dropbox instantly synchronise on every device on which a user has installed the Dropbox application or uses to log into their Dropbox account. The application also provides a handy backup as the files sitting in the cloud will not be lost if a device is stolen or crashes.
Dropbox is simple to use because it looks and feels the same as the file storage systems we have become familiar with. It works just as well whether you are an Apple or Windows or Android user.
Fairwork update on accessorial liability
The Fair Work Ombudsman has released an update on accessorial liability. This is relevant to advisors who may be giving advice or providing services including payroll, business and human resources advice to clients. If that advice or service contravenes, or leads the employer to contravene, the provisions of the Fair Work Act – whether directly or indirectly – the adviser will be considered automatically responsible for that contravention. Individuals including directors may be held personally liable for paying compensation and penalties imposed by the court. A copy of the Fair Work Ombudsman, Natalie James’ recent speech on this topic is available here.
As always, should you have any questions about any of these topics or Abacus Australia in general please do not hesitate to get in touch by replying to this email or contacting us via the website.