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Brand = Core Values

02 February 2012

I attended an excellent talk yesterday on the subject of branding given by Martin Crotty of BFK who are a branding company. He made the point that for Professional Service firms branding is too important to be left up to the marketing people. Being a marketing man himself I don’t think he was having a go at the marketing profession !

He was actually making the point that marketing people can actually only deliver part of the brand message and the less important part at that.  The other non marketing people are the ones who deliver the most important part of the brand message. So the whole company needs to be involved. Let me explain….

Your brand is what people think and feel about you. So in many ways its not your brand at all. Where do people get these thoughts and feelings? Martin explains that the brand has two sources – expression and experience.  Expression is what you say about yourselves. This is the stuff that the marketing team organises ranging from seminars to brochures and web sites. The second source is experience. Professional services are experienced by clients and prospects alike. These experiences are found in every phone call, every meeting, contact report, piece of advice, every email and invoice, contact with the receptionist, the offices, the dress code etc.

It quickly becomes clear that your brand (what people think about you) has more to do with the attitudes and behaviors of the non marketing staff (professional and non professionals) than it has to do with the firms’s web site.

Is any of this important? Well yes. The firm with the strongest brand will be invited more often to tender or pitch because it is well known. It will convert more prospects to clients because of the trust factor. It can charge higher fees because of its presumed expertise and it will attract the top recruits because the best want to work for the best.

So its easy then - just get everyone in the firm behaving in a certain way and you’ll get the brand you want. Not so easy! In order to achieve this there needs to be a clear set of core values that everyone buys into. Personally I have a very skeptical view of core values as a concept. Generally they are a lot of waffle that could apply to any firm.

However I’ve just finished reading a book by Tony Hsieh – the CEO of Zappos – an online shoe retailer. He explains how he built his $1bn Zappos business based on a set of core values. His No1 core value was to delight his customers. Delighting custmers ran through their entire organisation from super helpful telesales people to earlier than expected delivery. This core value became the leading strategy of the firm and in turn has become the essence of their brand. He recently sold his business to Amazon for €1bn. Amazon could have copied most of what Zappos does but they could not replicate the brand or core values. So in effect Amazon just paid $1bn for a brand that was driven by core values ! Its worth thinking about.

My final thought is that only the leader of the firm can drive the core values. No marketing person or individual partner could get buy in or enforce adherence across the firm. So the brand is ultimately the responsibility of the Managing Partner. The first step is to find out what the core value of the firm are and to write them down.

The book is called “Delivering Happiness“. Its well worth a read if you want to build your brand.