Often times, the brand of a professional service firm is described as the professional reputation of that firm. And, that is a relatively accurate – if not overly simplified – definition of the term brand. A more formal definition would be: Your brand is the cumulative results of all interactions that audience members have with and about your organization. Or, in plain English: Your brand is what people think and say about your company.

But that leads to an interesting challenge: How does a professional service firm define its brand when most of the interactions that audience members have with that organization are with just one person – or a small group of people – from within that organization? And that challenge is even more perplexing when you consider that each audience member is likely to interact with a different one or two people from that firm.

Often times, this fact about professional service firms leads to a very disjointed and inconsistent brand perception. One client or prospect thinks you’re one thing, while the next audience member thinks you’re something else.

For example, Client A might think of Smith, Jones & Miller as a really conservative organization that seldom innovates and never takes chances. While that perception might be accurate based on the two people from SJ&M with whom Client A normally interacts, that perception of the entire firm might be completely wrong. It could simply be that Client A works with the two most conservative and traditional people in the company.

At the same time, Client B might think that SJ&M is incredibly innovative and maybe even out there on the cutting- or bleeding-edge of innovation. That might be true for the two people with whom Client B interacts. But the rest of the firm might be fast followers versus early adopters.

Here are five tips that will dramatically increase the likelihood of your brand being brought to life by your people and your marketing, as well as believed by your audience members.

  1. Get input from your team. Interview them. Conduct surveys. Invite them to brand workshops. Including them will provide you with valuable input as to what the company really is today (versus just what the leaders and marketing people want it to be). It will also build early buy-in from the team, buy-in that you can strengthen during the brand rollout if you report back on the input that was collected and how it positively impacted the process.
  2. Talk to your audience. It’s one thing to ask yourselves what you think you’re all about, what makes you special, and why people choose to hire you. But it’s a completely different thing to hear what current, former, and potential clients think of you. What three words they would use to describe you. Why they did or didn’t hire you. And what they think you do different from (and hopefully better than) the competition.
  3. Imagine the company without the current leadership. I’m not asking you to imagine the leadership all getting hit by a bus. Just separate the company’s brand from the personal brands of the leaders. Yes, at first, the company brand and personal brand(s) of the founder(s) were probably one and the same. But now, the company is (or wants to be) all grown up. You have to ask yourself: What is the whole firm really all about? What’s it like to work with us? To work for us? What is the company mission? Vision? What is the logical directions in which the company could evolve if you followed the lead of the firm’s rising stars? What was special about the most recent successful client relationships that didn’t include anyone from the C-site?
  4. Get some outside help. Most people within a company are too close to things to effectively define their current and desired brand on their own. Maybe they’re too hard on themselves and get all hung up on why things could never change. Or they’re such cheerleaders of the most recent internal change initiative that they don’t realize the harsh reality. An outsider can often see things a little more clearly, move past the way things have always been, differentiate real limitations from mental baggage, more easily imagine possibilities, and say things insiders are hesitant to say.
  5. Communicate everyone’s benefits of and roles in the new brand. A new logo, clever tagline, nice T-shirt, and redecorated lobby can excite some associates, and cause others to roll their eyes. To get everyone on board, you need to communicate how the company and each individual will benefit from the new brand, as well as what each person needs to do, say, and write to bring that new brand to life. Everyone needs to believe the new desired brand is achievable and beneficial. They need to know and consistently repeat the new elevator speech. Each team member needs to make sure all their decisions exude the brand essence. They need to understand the brand promise, and deliver it through all their communications and actions.

And one last thing… Don’t tell your people to stop being themselves. Their personal brands are important to the success of your organization. They shouldn’t all be the same, or all morph into the company brand. (Clones are scary.) The power of a professional service firm will always be its unique people. Just make sure the company brand is big enough and clear enough to not only stand on its own, but also strengthen the personal brands of everyone in the firm.