Written by: Austin McNair
One of the most important responsibilities that professional services executives and marketing directors face is sustaining the health of their firm’s brand.
A carefully managed brand is arguably your firm’s most powerful asset. However, if you aren’t diligent, the strength of your firm’s brand may begin to deteriorate. Your firm’s differentiators and positioning can lose their potency, confusing potential buyers and making it more difficult to recruit and retain top talent.
One of the ways business leaders can gauge the health of their firm’s brand is to assess its brand alignment. Now you may be thinking “brand alignment” sounds like one of those fluffy, academic business terms that has little value in the real world. But that would be a mistake. Just as poorly aligned tires can affect your vehicle’s overall efficiency, an unaligned brand degrades the performance of your firm.
In this post, we’ll offer a clear definition of brand alignment, describe the telltale signs of an unaligned brand, and point the way to a solution.
Brand Alignment Defined
Brand alignment is a measure of how well your firm fulfills its brand promise. The strength of your firm’s brand alignment is driven by how well your employees understand, communicate and deliver on your brand’s key messages.
Are your people on the same page when it comes describing your brand and service offerings? And once your firm has been hired, do they do the things they said they would? Brand alignment gets you to “yes” on both counts.
4 Signs You Have a Brand Alignment Problem
1. Buyers Are Confused — One sure sign your brand is out of alignment is when your buyers tell you they are confused. Buyers who haven’t worked with your firm before rely on your website, marketing materials and sales team to understand your firm. If you are not delivering clear and consistent messages about who you are and what you do, you aren’t going to instill confidence in your brand. Many buyers won’t have the patience to tease out your true story. Instead, they will move on to another firm. But occasionally a buyer will tell you that they are confused or frustrated. Don’t ignore these buyers — they are doing you a favor.
2. Your People Describe Your Brand or Service Offerings Differently — Another sign that your firm’s brand alignment is off is when different members of your team members talk about your firm to buyers or clients in very different ways.
Try this brand alignment test: Ask your delivery team members to describe your core services. How similar are their answers? How about your business development team — how do they answer the same question? If you get a wide-ranging set of answers, you have a brand alignment problem. If your firm was a choir, your people would be singing in different keys. Stop the singing. This is a problem. Do you have a core messaging architecture document that provides language your team can use to describe your firm and address common objections? If not, you haven’t equipped your employees with a powerful alignment tool.
Large firms that work across multiple industries or regions are particularly susceptible to brand alignment problems. Messaging architecture can keep far-flung team members on the same page (literally!).
3. Your Firm Has Trouble Differentiating Itself — One the keys to professional services marketing success is a firm’s ability to differentiate itself in the marketplace. Few things will spoil your differentiation faster than bad brand alignment.
Imagine if your business development team forgot to mention your firm’s proprietary technology on a call with a potential buyer. Or what if your new marketing director went into your website and edited out important keywords related to your differentiators. Scenarios like these are more common than you’d think.
Without a strong messaging architecture for your employees to lean on, it’s easy to forget or mishandle key messages that differentiate your firm. If your team members aren’t actively thinking and talking about your differentiators, that’s another sign that your people are not aligned about your brand.
4. You Have Difficulty Recruiting and Keeping Top Talent — In a study on employer branding, we discovered that 3 out of the top 5 business challenges faced by professional services firms are related to recruiting and talent retention. In that same study, we also found that firm culture was more important to recruits than their salary.
Fixing a Brand Alignment Problem
We’ve seen how bad brand alignment can create wide-spread problems for your organization. So how do you measure brand alignment and fix any problems?
- Internal staff: Your firm’s management team and staff provide an internal perspective on your brand. This is particularly useful when compared to the perceptions of external audiences. You may also want to capture the perspectives of different client-facing roles, from business development and marketing to implementation.
- Current clients: Involving existing clients in the research process will help you understand how the people you serve perceive a range of factors, including your ability to deliver on your promises, what services they think you offer and the value you provide to their businesses.
- Former clients: Former clients can offer clues to building more lasting relationships. They can also illuminate weaknesses that you never knew existed. Understanding why they left can expose underlying brand alignment problems.
While you can do this research yourself, you are much more likely to get an accurate view of each audience if you hire an impartial third party to conduct the interviews.
Once you have collected responses from these three audiences, you can begin comparing their perspectives and looking for inconsistencies. Are there alignment gaps within each audience group (for instance, among different roles in your organization)? What differences do you see between groups? Does the way your internal team views the firm match outsiders’ perspectives? Or is your team’s perception unrealistic? Are there recurring, systemic problems that are driving clients out the door?
Armed with this intel, you can begin to look for patterns, inconstancies and critical problems with delivery. Then it is a matter of prioritizing the issues and addressing them, one by one. If you don’t have a messaging architecture document, create one. It gives your team the language and ideas they need to deliver consistent, differentiated messages to your clients and prospects. From there, you will be able to confidently fine tune the alignment of your brand and ensure that your firm is presenting a powerful, well-aligned brand to the world.
It’s not hard to see how poor brand alignment can create problems for firms attempting to recruit and retain top talent. After all, firms that struggle to instill a clear set of brand values in their employees usually have weaker cultures.
If your firm struggles to attract and keep top talent, it could be a sign that you have a brand alignment problem.