How many times have you walked into a situation and felt like you should know something that you don’t?
Think about school when the teacher asked you to read a book the week before, and you never managed to open the book. When the teacher threw out a pop quiz, you felt unprepared and even foolish. So many times we are faced with situations where we don’t feel ready or prepared: and branding, for accountants, is one of those situations.
When this happens, the negative self talk starts kicking in, saying things like “I should know this” or “others are better at this than I am”.
I have been doing graphic design for 7 years and when I joined PF, I thought I had it all figured out. I was wrong – I realized fairly quickly and am still realising there was a lot I didn’t know about design. I was missing a foundational piece, which is BRANDING.
As an accountant, you’ve heard about the power of branding. You feel like it has something to do with your logo or your firm’s name or the colours you use. Maybe a little to do with images or the way you share posts on social media. But branding seems like something for the marketing people to know, not the accountants.
The truth is, it’s not only me who needs to know branding. You as the accountant must know it too. It’s actually the number one thing you must understand in order to have the kind of marketing which draws in the very best kind of clients. But it can feel like something you don’t – or will never – understand.
I’m here to tell you when it comes to branding, you CAN understand this. You can know it. And it does matter. Don’t give up just because ‘brand’ seems like a cryptic area you ought to understand but don’t: there is always something to learn and areas we can grow.
The better I know you, the better I can design for you.
Compared with my past experience in branding and design, when I joined PF I felt it was many, many steps ahead. I felt a bit embarrassed and stupid. I assumed as a designer, I didn’t need to know about branding, that PF would handle it and then I would just do the design work.
I was wrong again.
Branding (I am quickly coming to learn) is the CORE foundation to your business and ultimately to my designing. When PF works with accountants, designing is the last thing we do. We first work on what message you want to get across, who you are, what you stand for, who this is for, why it exists. And then all the marketing reflects that.
Another misconception I had before coming to PF was thinking logos and design were EVERYTHING. Newsflash – they are not. Do not hear me wrong, they ARE important. A good logo will strengthen your platform and give you confidence in marketing. But it cannot and does not stand alone. A logo itself will not make you money. The logo is not the solution. YOU are the solution. Your firm is the solution.
I had a conversation recently with one of our Client Marketing Managers on how I would like to be more involved in meetings with clients to go over design projects. Getting a small glimpse of who the client is by talking to them for a short time helps me design things which are a bit more personalized. You catch little details about someone just by speaking with them, even for a few minutes. In one call with a client, I noticed her hair had pink highlights, she spoke softly but with confidence, her husband shouted a comment in the background and she responded to him saying “thanks babe.” These subtle expressions and characteristics are what make a person unique and what makes a person who they are. Your brand is the combination of all of these things. What you stand for, who you are, how you work, how you speak and even how you answer the phone.
Do you serve clients based on your needs or theirs?
I don’t design for me and what I think looks good. I design what fits YOU and your brand. The better I get to know you, the better I can design for you. The better you know your clients the better job you can do for them. The deeper you invest the more you’ll get out of it. Maybe you’re a young female accountant wearing trendy clothes and love wine or maybe you’re a rugged dad who loves fishing. The type of person you are and the answers to questions we ask, will most definitely affect the type of website we’d design for you or the photos we choose for your social media posts. Each detail of who you are changes the results of your design.
Like you, I am realizing just how deep and crucial branding is for the success of a company. I’m excited to share with you what I’m learning and how it applies. As you follow your branding journey we want you to fall in love with what your brand represents. You will begin to connect your brand identity with who you are and your core values. We are all motivated by what we believe in and it’s energizing to have a brand that speaks all of this for you.
Brene Brown says it best: “A value is a way of being or believing that we hold most important. Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk-we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs.”
As a designer, I’m learning the solution is not a logo: it’s YOU
Are you still struggling? Are you trying to figure out exactly who you are and what you stand for? Try taking a step back and ask yourself what drives you. What makes you….you.
When working with accountants on their brand, we ask a series of questions to get you thinking who you are and what type of clients you really want.
Questions like, what are the personalities of three of your favorite clients? Why do you exist? What feelings do you want your clients to have when they work with you? Define what your business stands for. Be authentic and clear. Engage with your clients. These are just a few ways to give your brand purpose.
Also ask yourself: What are some of my favorite brands and what about them do I like? Why do I buy their product? What emotions do I have when I see their website?
When a brand lives and breathes for a purpose, people can get behind that. People will buy from people whose values match their own. Leading with purpose builds trust; not just with your clients but with your own team. When you have a purpose led brand it makes writing blogs and content a much easier task. As your brand grows and develops it will change the way you feel about your business.
At PF another helpful method we use is asking everyone to share what their personal pillars would be. These are things – small or significant – which represent who you are and what matters most to you. It’s a simple and effective way to share with others a little bit about you.
My first week at PF, I too had to do a little self reflection. I had to figure out what 5 things in life define me as a person. I dug even a bit deeper and had to think through what two of my core values were, knowing what drives my decision making and my mindset was HUGE for me. Reminding myself what brings me joy and what pisses me off is such an empowering exercise. My love for food was too vague, it’s important you know my love for pasta is on an entirely different level.
Here are my 5 pillars.
Similarly, when we work with you on a brand, you want to be clear (and document, and show) who you are and what matters most to you, as a firm. Imagine your accounting firm as a person. Instead of simply taking it for who it is, you get to decide what you want that person to dress like, how you want them to talk and what you actually want them to say. You decide what that person will say about your company. That person is your brand.
Your brand is not ONLY about you, it’s about them.
The goal of your brand is to create a connection with your clients.
“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is- it is what consumers tell each other it is.” -Scott Cook
Your brand will impact potential customers. The important question to ask yourself is: What emotions will people feel when they interact with your brand?
You need to know the meaning of your brand and how to show it.
Your brand is made up of many different things. Imagine it as a small package, compact of everything about who you are and then opened up again in a hundred different ways. Those hundred different ways fall into two main categories: Persona and Visuals. Persona includes things like: Purpose, Values, style, Tone of Voice, Niche, differentiator and how you make people feel. Visuals represent and tell a story about your persona.
Your persona is all about the image or personality represented by you as a person. Know what you are good at and figure out what people like about you. Your brand is made up of the intangibles, emotions and how people feel about you. By setting your values in place you have something to check yourself and your team against. A system in place to hold yourself accountable. PF’s hiring process is a tough one. The first step is to send in a 3 minute video. Those 3 minutes are crucial. In those few short minutes the team decides if you fit the company’s core values. Sure, your skills matter, but even if you described yourself as highly successful with ample amounts of experience if you fail to smile or show some bit of transparency or positivity (two of our values) you are quickly voted off the island.
“Branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Another way to incorporate these values is by showing them visually.
Visual includes: Logo, Fonts, Typography, Colors, Video, Social media, graphics, images, content and how the logo is used.
Branding goes beyond the logo. It’s the whole picture. It’s expressed in so many different ways. Think about adding patterns on your website to match patterns within your logo. Be consistent with colors and use them strategically on every post, video, blog, and webpage. Try thinking about what types of feelings your clients have after they’ve worked with you. Use those words as inspiration for content on social media or blog posts.
Prospects, when looking for an accountant, are trying to figure out two things: 1) Who you are and 2) whether you can be trusted. People care about your brand. Whether they are doing it consciously or subconsciously, they care A LOT! Most people have feelings and emotions based on your brand before they even realize it. We can try to ignore the huge part emotions play in the decisions we make – but we would only be ignoring our opportunity to build trust, connections and relationships with our clients.
Get inspired! How I got inspired and how to get you inspired.
Col Gray, our Head of Branding put it this way:
“Imagine if you had a book with an awesome cover but no content and scribbling inside? How would that make your client feel? Your logo is the cover. Your brand is what’s inside. Creating the insides is what you probably feel like skipping past.”
You can throw money at your logo, your website and brochures. Sure, being creative is fun, but really there is no point in those creative things if you don’t have a solid brand foundation to hold them up. Your brand materials will be lacking. You need your branding to talk to your clients as if it was created just for them. You need to have defined your values, your vision and your purpose, a clear message, a tone of voice that suits your brand’s personality. Once you do that you will have more clarity of what your brand truly is.
Your marketing efforts will flow much easier when you have this all in mind. Your content will be consistent. When your clients see this consistency they will engage more quickly and for longer. It is only when you reach that point that you are ready to design the logo.
A strong brand creates valuable clients who stick around and in return ultimately add value to your company as it grows. People who believe in you and what you stand for will continue to invest in your brand. Those same people will continue to come back time and time again paying for a product they know and trust.
A good brand can do more for you than just get great clients. A good brand keeps passionate and talented employees. If you’re serious about growing your business then you need to get serious about growing your brand.
A few months after starting at PF I was starting to connect with the whole team, including Col. As mentioned Col is our head of branding, and he had recently designed a logo for one of our clients, and in preparation for design work he was catching me up on the client’s branding.
In my head I thought he would walk me through the colors, the fonts and the logo. He did walk me through those things, but the presentation of the logo was what got me really fired up! He showed me a story. A story of how he got to the final logo and why. I was AMAZED! I told the team I needed a week off just to go rebrand something and do it right. For the first time I wanted to design a logo and create a brand that told a story about the client. A story that visually attracted the right clients and speaks to the core values of the company.
You are a good accountant and now you are starting to understand a little about branding. You realize when you are creating a brand you are creating a story. One that when filled with engaging content and core values produces a financial asset.
Start by understanding how brand fits into the whole marketing picture.
How do people see you? How do you want them to feel? Does your current marketing – your website, social media, graphics – all match what you want your clients to feel about you?
If you can’t confidently say yes, then it’s time to make a change.
I realize now just how important brand is. I look back at past design work and feel like all of my designs are missing something. It may look good, but it doesn’t tell a story. It doesn’t connect with a specific audience or speak for itself. Don’t make the same mistake I did and continue to assume someone else should be doing the work for you.
It’s tempting to think as an accountant coming to PF (who is an outsourced marketing agency after all), you can just ask us to do your marketing for you. Instead, we encourage you to learn about branding, and every part of marketing, so you can be personally involved in it. Because your marketing reflects YOU and your firm. It’s not just a pile of words or a nice looking website template: if it is, then it’s not truly representing you at all. It’s just a few things that look nice for a while on the surface. As an accountant, you have to know your own brand because it’s your story. And we need to know your story in order to help share that (and your firm) in a real and true way with the world. Who better to tell your story than you?
The best place to start with this learning is the 12 week Accelerator course. Ultimately it helps make your marketing better, because it helps you see how branding (as well as the other areas) all fit together. And what you need to share with your marketing person or agency so it tells your story in the right way. Because the right story, told well, doesn’t bring you simply “more leads” or “more clients”. It draws in only the best kind of clients, the ones you like and the ones you want to work with. That’s what good marketing does. That’s what a good brand does.