Your cornerstone asset is a visual summary which explains how you do things in your firm. It sits at the heart of who you are and how you do your work and it needs to be crafted for your specific audience. It is different from any other piece of content (and other visual assets you create) because it not only educates your audience on your services, but also sets the tone for everything your clients will learn about who you are and how you do business.
The cornerstone asset is named to reflect an actual cornerstone, which is the stone in a physical building which is set first. Without it, the whole building would collapse. Once the cornerstone is in place, you can continue building from it. The same concept applies to the content and marketing you share for your accounting firm. All your other content relates back to your cornerstone. It’s one of the most important pieces of content you’ll create, and we’re here to explain how to work together with your designers so this asset helps you help the right kind of prospects become the best kind of clients.
Your cornerstone summarises who you are as a firm. When there is a concept you find yourself explaining over and over again, this is a good indication you have found your cornerstone. This is how PF developed our cornerstone, the Marketing Map. It started out as an idea at a conference, then turned into a quick sketch, and then became a designed asset we use to explain how accountants can do marketing which delivers the results they want. Even as it changes over the years, its core is the same. It explains the “way”, the journey accountants follow in their marketing, and it helps to hold together all the services we deliver to our clients.
Your cornerstone asset too will address the core issues your audience has, and will direct them on how you help them solve it. It gives your clients hope, and reminds them you’ve seen these situations before. It will show them you have a plan leading to action. It connects all your content together so your buyers can connect to the journey quicker and make their buying decisions quicker too.
Here’s how the designers at PF create a cornerstone asset
Finding the concept of your cornerstone takes time, and it’s okay if you’re not sure what it is yet. You can start working on your values, your process, and the client journey you know your clients follow. These three work together to make your one visual cornerstone. Here’s a more detailed article about what a cornerstone is and how to use it. Once you have the concept of a cornerstone, it’s time to invest in this one piece of content and make sure it is really well designed.
You’ll have an initial draft – a sketch, some notes in a document. You may want help from a content writer to polish your initial draft, but a cornerstone doesn’t have a massive amount of words. It’s primarily visual. Make sure the content is organised and has a flow readers will be able to follow and understand easily. There’s no point in having an amazing design if the core message is confusing or lost. So you don’t have to perfect the content before sending it to design; you need a solid concept which makes sense to you and your clients. You may want to sketch out your ideas and share them with a few clients, and see if it makes sense to them. When the core idea is ready, that’s when it’s time to get help from a designer to create and communicate it to your audience visually.
Creating a cornerstone asset takes time: but it’s a vital part of your marketing and needs to be addressed. Your prospects want to know you have experience, have a plan and know what you are doing. It’s your responsibility to give them a guide which shows them the plan and eases their mind. Providing a visual cornerstone is the most effective way to guide them because they are easier to process: visuals cause faster and stronger reactions than plain words. As designers, we think about how the information can be broken down into manageable pieces easier to absorb. It’s not about making something visually pleasing on its own; it’s about making the flow of information easier to understand. It’s easy to create something with a lot of words, but to simplify it down in a way that’s easy to define and see, that’s hard to do.
Fully understanding every part of your brand is essential for the designers to bring to life a design to best reach your clients. We want to visually help them understand quicker what your process is and where it will take them. Once we have the core concept, we will then begin our process.
We start by digging deep into who you are and your specific audience. We want to be able to communicate your design in a way that will best suit the type of clients you are working with. We discuss the concept of your ideas with a team of client marketing manager, content writer and designer to make sure we are clear with the overall goal for the cornerstone graphic. As we’ve worked with many cornerstone pieces, we have an idea of what could work and how we can enhance your ideas with the right focus. It’s usually where we can see a clearer picture of the overall cornerstone piece. Anything that’s missing will be addressed here so we don’t waste time later.
Once we have a solid base for the audience for whom we are creating the cornerstone, then we begin looking for inspiration. Depending on the audience we may begin searching through Pinterest, or watch YouTube videos related to the type of audience we are trying to reach. Sometimes even going for a walk or simple doodling can trigger the inspiration we need to get going. Once ideas begin to spark in our head we begin the sketching/drafting process to get our ideas down.
Every designer has their own process for getting inspired and getting to the final result, but the clearer the concept, the easier it will be to design. Some content may still be overly detailed with paragraphs of text which means the designer will address the layout so it’s shown in a manner that’s easier to digest for your clients.
Lord CPAs went through this exact process with PF. Corey and his team work closely with their clients who are in the food and beverage industry, supporting and bringing communities together. Corey started by addressing the specific needs of his audience. They realised each of their clients goes through a similar journey from the time they started. These clients have similar issues like needing to have compliance accounting sorted for them, while being able to relax and focus on their craft. Lord CPAs also found certain services are more important for some of their clients than others. Corey met with his PF client marketing manager, content writer and the designer to brainstorm the stages. We needed a better understanding of the process and needs in each stage. From there the content writer and designer were able to go away and brainstorm ideas that fit the different stages that Lord CPA’s shared with us.
There was more brainstorming and collaboration between our content and design team after first sketching out a concept that visually represented the stages the clients were going through. It gave our content writer a clearer path visually to create the perfect wording – Emerging Foodie (early compliance stage), Local’s Best Secret (planning for long term goals) and the Community Pillar (sustained growth). Once the wording was set the designer was then able to complete the design. There were still many edits between the strategy, content, design and client but through a variety of iterations, we created a cornerstone best suited to his audience, one which addresses the stages their clients go through and help encourage them that this accountant has seen the journey before, and will be with them every step of the way.
Lord’s CPA’s cornerstone graphic was added to their website (you can see the Lord CPA cornerstone image on their home page here) and we are really excited to create more stackable content from this cornerstone piece.
Website screenshot mockup:
Cornerstone affects what your audience understand about WHO you are
Your cornerstone needs to be appealing to your clients. If it’s unappealing or confusing, prospects will take longer to make decisions. They will struggle to believe you know what you are doing and trust that you are capable of helping them. People have doubts, fears and worries. When things are well branded and designed they have a little more trust. This is especially true for accountancy firms because of what your clients are trusting you with. They are trusting you with their personal information, their future business success, their goals and reputations. How do we create a cornerstone so that it makes sense to them? They have to actually see it. You want to show them in a way that they can see it. If the words are all jumbled together or you are using a boring stock photo with those cheesy smiles and awkward handshakes, all these things make it hard for them to see it. You want to have it designed well. Your cornerstone affects what they understand about who you are.
Here’s another client who began their cornerstone content with one of our client marketing managers. You can see from the images below where they started and where they ended up. The brainstorming process began with a foundations session where together they went through the stages of their process with clients, and created the basis for where the idea for the design would begin.
This concept was then sent to our content team to review and begin edits. First, the content team developed easier to digest wording to better explain the process. After detailed review and multiple changes the content was then sent to the designers to begin brainstorming and creating the concept for the visual idea behind the cornerstone. We started by physically sketching out ideas which might work best for the audience and the process this company is wanting to show.
Based on the rough drafts of the design the content team then has a better idea of the space available and visual idea of how the words could be laid out best. Once the words are then reviewed again and approved by the client we start the next stage of the rough draft. The content goes back to the designers where we create a more finalised draft in Adobe.
Once again the rough draft is reviewed by the content team, the design team and the client marketing manager before sending it back to the client. We then make more changes if necessary to get as close to the final draft as we can.
At this point we are able to send the draft to the client for revisions. Once they’ve had time to review it and suggest any changes we do one final edit before sending the final version.
Your cornerstone takes time. It is an in depth process that involves a team like PF to make right. In order to get something designed you have to understand why it exists and where it’s going to go. Your cornerstone is unique to you and it needs to be impressive and designed properly. A good creative agency helps you figure out how and when your prospects will engage with your cornerstone. If it’s hard or confusing your prospects will leave it. No one wants to have to work hard and burn lots of brain calories to find out information about you, so if they don’t understand it, they’re more likely to just leave it, scroll by or close your website page. A well designed cornerstone is a great way to stay concise yet still informative. You want your message to get to the point and make an impression quickly. With the cornerstone it’s not about quantity: it’s about quality. You want a message that will get to the heart of what your ideal audience needs.
A cornerstone graphic affects HOW your prospects engage
As accountants your clients are faced with a lot of technical terms. Cash flow, revenue, income taxes – it doesn’t always make sense to the people who will be working with you. Designers and content writers come in and help you with that. Your ideal audience doesn’t always know what you mean so you need to design content and use words which your clients use and understand. You can have something complex and detailed at first but break those down to simpler, easier to digest pieces of content. Make sure your message is nailed down before moving on to design. It may be tempting to have pages of content but you need to keep it simple. Less is more, keep the cornerstone simple and clean. All of the details and extra words can be expanded in different versions and formats after the cornerstone is complete.
A cornerstone affects WHEN your prospects engage
Your audience is used to high quality design. When it comes to the design of your cornerstone graphic (or any design for your firm), you may be tempted to think about the kind of designs you like and the designs which work for you. But your brand, your designs, your website, your content is not primarily for you. It’s for those who are reading and consuming it. Remember who you are talking to and what they like.
From your buyers’ perspectives they see the visuals first, and then once it grabs their attention they will understand the words and concept because of what the visuals do. From your perspective in creating the cornerstone, you need to think about it the other way round. You have to craft the words first so you know what you’ll be getting designed. Your designers combine the content, the design and the strategy together. When we work with our clients we need to know what the words are, the message is, the call to action is, the brand is. We have to have everything together because that’s how we will create something which your prospects and clients see and understand very quickly.
It’s okay if your cornerstone graphic changes over time
In the weeks and months after you create your cornerstone, your business will continue to change. The process that once worked for you and your clients may begin to shift and that’s okay. Each time you talk about your cornerstone, pay attention to things that might be missing or ways to improve it. As you begin to notice patterns and ways you can improve the process, go ahead and do this at that time. Add to it, change it, adapt to your surroundings. Keep changing it as it reflects what you are doing with your clients.
Don’t feel restricted in updating your cornerstone piece. You may have had a clear vision at first but when you’re ready to have it polished and designed, some areas might need to change because it doesn’t fit the system anymore.
A good example is when we helped Fabien and his team at Reach CPA write and visualise their cornerstone piece which mainly focuses on their client’s journey to increased profit. Initially, they had the concept of having a pyramid-shaped graphic that represents their client’s journey with the goal of reaching the top for success. Reach CPA wanted to show how important the steps are and not just how one can do each of the steps.
As the content and design team collaborated, the concept of building steps on top of each other was more fitting than a pyramid-shaped journey. It wasn’t only about reaching the top of the pyramid and becoming successful, it’s also about the foundation clients were building to reach the top. One cannot reach the top without doing all the steps. We ran this concept past Fabien and his team, who approved it, so we made the changes to the cornerstone piece. We’ve made it so it’s on brand with Reach CPA’s wonderful elements as well as the little details that says Reach CPA is with you every step of the way. There were a number of back and forths between the strategy, content, design and client as we wanted to make sure the core points are still prominent. In the end, we’ve added slight animations to make sure all the different steps are presented.
Reach CPA’s cornerstone piece will be a stand-alone graphic for now but will eventually be added to their website. There’s a lot of potential on where it can be shared, used and serve as a main source for their stackable content.
1st version of graphic:
Pick the visual format which will get the message across the fastest to your clients
Everyone consumes content differently. You need to figure out how your clients consume content and what their preferred format is. For example, many people who work at their desk and sit in front of a computer would initially go on your website to know more about your firm. A landing page would be where you’ll want to have your cornerstone added. PDFs might be great for people who are on-the-go and prefer downloading content they can come back to when they have more time after work. We could also default to a landscape or square image that can be posted on social media like Twitter or Instagram, available to anyone who comes across them. The type of format you create your cornerstone in will depend on who your audience is and in what platform they are mostly using. It’s important to remember to pick a format that gets the message across the fastest. People make decisions quickly. You want your cornerstone content to be in a format that moves them quickly in the right direction.
Initially, the core concept of your cornerstone graphic is simply that: a graphic, a visual summary. But it doesn’t end there. Your cornerstone graphic This is only the beginning. Your cornerstone forms the foundation for other designs. This one piece of content could later have many other kinds of design pieces connected to it. This is called stackable content. You start with one core message, then share the principles and messages from it in many different formats. Remember the PF marketing map we used as an example at the beginning. We are able to use that same marketing map in other ways that help explain the process in a supporting way. On our website, we’ve recorded a marketing map video to explain the process – how it was created, what it means, why it’s important. Every stage in the marketing map can also be broken down into other design pieces. For example, Accelerator, which is one aspect of the map, covers 12 content marketing elements. There is a graphic to show these 12 elements on the Accelerator page of our website, and in our social media posts we might show those 12 (or even one of the 12) to point back to the marketing map. Here’s an example of a post which draws from principles within the marketing map and Accelerator, and yet stands alone as an educational concept:
Not everyone consumes content in the same way. Even within a specific niche, everyone’s preferences can vary. Create content in other formats which all lead back to the main idea, the cornerstone content. Make the cornerstone and its content easy to find and talk about it everywhere. Bring it up all the time. The more you talk about it and show it the more educated your prospects will be. This way you can get to what’s important quicker. A unexperienced designer can throw together something that looks nice but you will struggle to create stackable content from it. A good designer is going to design it in a way that allows you to take portions from it and those will look good as well.
How to begin developing your cornerstone.
Now you understand the designers’ process, a cornerstone might feel overwhelming. Keep it simple to begin. Read the cornerstone article again to understand what’s included, and start with your raw material (an ugly first draft). Braindump all of your thoughts: How does your firm work and who is it for? What are some issues your clients consistently face? What journey do they follow which you end up explaining over and over again? Your cornerstone is a reflection of how you do things, so start by looking at what you keep explaining to prospects about this process. They don’t want to know a list of the things you can do, they want to know how you know this, what experience you have, and how you do things which are different from others.
These are all topics you will learn in detail during the Accelerator coaching group. Your cornerstone will be so much more effective when you know all of these principles before we begin designing it for you. The more you and your designer know about your brand, the easier it will be to create a great design. Here’s an article with a more specific detailed list of what you can provide a designer on a pdf or any design project.
For now, start sketching out your concept or document the core points for your cornerstone concept. Put some words down and don’t worry about how they will be designed. PF can make them beautiful once we get to the designing stage. We want to help you understand the little things you can do to make progress towards designing. Your input is critical to the content writer and designer: there is no one in the world who knows what you know. Let us help you get started in Accelerator – the next intake starts 26th of May and we’d love to have you join us!