How are your customers experiencing your brand? Are you about to spend big bucks on a marketing campaign to boost your clientele and make a name for yourself in the consulting market? Before you shell out the cash, you might want to hear some advice from Michael Dunn, president and CEO of Prophet Brand Strategy—a professional services firm that fuses business, brand, and technology perspectives into strategies and execution programs.
Dunn said that consulting firms must recognize the difference between simple name recognition and branding. We asked Dunn how consulting firms might achieve—and benefit from—name recognition and branding. Here’s what he had to say.
Part 2: What’s in a name?
The second portion of this interview, regarding Prophet Brand Strategy’s tactics that changed the direction of 911 Gifts—now RedEnvelope—will appear in IT Consultant Republic next week.
TechRepublic: How does a consulting firm achieve branding and name recognition?
Dunn: It’s important to differentiate between awareness and name recognition and really building a branded customer relationship with your target customers.
If we talk about a branded customer relationship inside a services business, it really gets down to the way your clients experience your services. It gets down to the fact that your people are really your brand. How is a client experiencing the team? How is the team approaching the client’s business problem? How relevant are the insights that the team is providing? How strong is the team’s ability to execute? Those are the types of things that, over time, allow you to build a strong brand in the minds of your clients.
Traditional awareness or name recognition doesn’t really add a lot to that one way or the other. If your people aren’t out there living the brand that you’d like to build, then the clients aren’t experiencing that in the way they interact with your people. You can waste a lot of money and a lot of time on name recognition and awareness and really not get any substantive traction in your business or real business results from that. I wouldn’t discount it totally, but it needs to play a supporting role relative to all the things that you’re doing to really build a strong branded relationship with your customers.
TechRepublic: How would a firm know if they have achieved that brand?
Dunn: You could have a number of targets for branding and awareness that aren’t your customers. You could really be targeting a marketing campaign toward energizing your employees; or you could have some element of your marketing communications or branding campaign that’s really targeted at the local communities in which you do business; or at Wall Street and financial investors. All of those could be potential factors into why you would do branding or awareness building—or trying to get your name recognized—that don’t have a lot to do with the customer.
TechRepublic: Why is it important for consulting firms to target those types of markets?
Dunn: Branding or name recognition investments cross all of those targets, including the customer. The customer could then be the top priority in certain situations or the customer may not be the top priority in other situations.
Let’s say you’re trying to mobilize your workforce around some big change. If you’re trying to reorient the organization about what’s been going on over the past 12 months, like HP. A lot of it is customer oriented, but what the CEO there is trying to do is really catalyze a change in behavior inside her four walls.
When you’re trying to reach 100,000 people or 150,000 people, using external marketing and external brand building can actually be a very effective complementary vehicle to deliver some of those kinds of messages. Like in the case of GE, Jack Welch has always been very focused on minimizing his use of classical marketing or classical advertising. But when he uses it, it’s primarily targeted at financial analysts and the investment community. What he’s trying to do is make sure that the “GE bringing good things to life” tag is made top-of-mind for the people who drive his stock price. He doesn’t think he needs it for his customers as much as he needs it for the people who are really driving and investing in the business.
TechRepublic: What if the focus for a consulting firm is to bring in new customers or to lift their visibility in terms of potential customers. What might they do to achieve that?
Dunn: Everyone wants to get increased name recognition and increased awareness amongst their target customers or potential customers, or to get follow-up on business from existing clients. That’s the way people grow their businesses. The question is, what’s the right mix of tools to leverage that in this kind of business?
Would I say that a broad-based advertising program is the best way for a business-to-business professional services firm to get name recognition and awareness? I would question the efficacy or the efficiency [in comparison to other ways] a services firm might get brand awareness or brand name recognition. What you really want to do as a services firm is invest in thought leadership activities. Ask yourself, “What ideas can I deliver to my clients or potential clients to get them to see that I get their business problems and I can help them?” You might want to invest in thought leadership activities or you might have a really narrow sense of who your target is—for instance, “I’m targeting CFOs inside the chemical and manufacturing industry.” What you really want is to focus your marketing investment, or your awareness-generating investment.
The underlying premise is that everyone has limited resources. I’m assuming that most of your readers have financial constraints in their business model, so they’re trying to find a way to invest an optimal amount of money to get the traction that they need bound by the constraints that every profit-generating services business would be bound by.
TechRepublic: So, for instance, when I see TV advertisements for marchFIRST while I’m watching Friends, what I need to be asking is, “What’s their goal with the advertising?"
Dunn: Exactly. What is their goal with the advertising? Why are they there? Do they believe that a lot of people who make purchasing decisions around Web consulting are watching Friends at 8:30 at night, or do they believe that the people they need to hire are watching Friends at 8:30 at night, which could be a more likely scenario? They might have prioritized overall for this quarter or the next quarter or the next four quarters that the primary target for their marketing or their advertising is really to support recruiting and professional development because that’s the big hole in the business model right now.
Take a marchFIRST advertisement, are they communicating…the promise they want to make to you as a viewer of this commercial, as a potential customer, as a potential employee, as a potential stock investment? How are people in the market really experiencing their brand? If you read their earnings report, [they’re] hemorrhaging people and hemorrhaging money. To be investing that aggressively in an awareness-building campaign with very aspirant promises, and with the reality of the way people are experiencing that company on a day-to-day basis—there’s a huge gap. It’s almost worse than not being out there communicating anything at all.
What’s your branding strategy?
If you’ve come up with some innovative ways to help develop your firm’s brand or name recognition, write and tell us how it’s working or post your comments below.