Okay, I confess that I'm not an avid reader of Business Week but this week's issue caught my eye and I'm glad it did. (Note the picture on the left, all Coca-Cola red and picturing the "Queen of Pop" -- Mary Minnick. You'd look too. Heh ... we have kind of the same pose in our pics but I like her suit better.).
Beginning on page 54, the good folks at Business Week along with Interbrand listed the top 100 global brands. As such, they listed five attributes of a "best brand" and it's useful for those of us in professional service firms to take a moment to consider how our firm's brand measures up.
Brand Attribute #1: Don't Fear Public Flops
The Business Week article discussed Google's slew of new product launches. It seems as if their strategy is to throw several against the wall and see if any stick. That is not the strategy of Mercer Capital. Given our size, we can't focus on so many things at once. However, we are not averse to sticking our neck out. Most of the time, all goes well. Sometimes, however, we feel the sting of the axe.
Years ago, in attempt to jump start our investment banking effort, we offered a seminar in our offices for clients and friends. In spite of a barely respectable RSVP list, only one guy showed up.
While that example might be considered an "internal" flop since we obviously didn't advertise it, we are quite public in the positions we take on issues. We also conduct quite a few seminars and webinars and if the content or delivery sucks, then the brand obviously suffers.
We are unafraid of failing quite simply because the upside of succeeding is so much sweeter and so much more important. And, like most, the fear of failure prompts us to work harder to succeed.
How does your firm rate on this one?
Brand Attribute #2: Face Your Weaknesses
The article mentioned McDonald's grasp on kids when, in fact, moms were the problem. So, they introduced healthier fare and focused their ad campaigns on exercise and healthy eating. Moms, with kids in tow, began to come back.
Years ago, we fell into the trap of trying to sell business owners what they didn't want. You see, it's a great idea for a business to have periodic business appraisals done and it's a great idea for a variety of reasons. Yet, most business owners don't have their businesses valued because they want to, they have them valued because they are told typically by their attorney or CPA that they need to. Big difference. So we not only got the message wrong, we got the target market wrong. Why? Because we didn't listen. Are we listening today? I hope so but probably not effectively enough.
What are your weaknesses?
Brand Attribute #3: Earn Permission to Grow
Hyundai's past quality issue is addressed in the article. Because the brand was viewed as a low quality loser, the company focused like a laser on quality control and offers a 100,000/10-year warranty to back it up and give customers peace of mind. Their fortunes have turned around.
We earn permission to grow by leveraging our valuation brand to grow and strengthen our investment banking practice. You see, Mercer Capital has a strong brand name and awareness in our profession. We're known for excellence, customer service, and as intellectual leaders. When it matters, you call us.
That brand message provides comfort to our investment banking clients, many of whom have worked with us on valuation issues. And, we back it up (earn it) by bringing those brand promises to every investment banking engagement.
How is your firm earning permission to grow?
Brand Attribute #4: Make Simplicity King
Royal Philips Electronics is profiled in the article. Philips' Gerard Kleisterlee is quoted as saying "We had to choose whether Philips was a company built around its core technologies or one built around its core brand." They chose the later and sought to focus on easy-to-use products designed around the consumer.
For a professional services firm, this one is easy to identify but maybe not so easy to execute. Is it easy to do business with your firm? Do you make clients jump through hoops or do you work to ease the process? Can people find your phone number, e-mail address, or a website URL? Do clients and referral sources feel valued? There are so many questions to ask.
Just one way we try to make it easy to do business with us is to offer an on-line form that clients or prospects can complete to receive a proposal for services. We were the first to offer such a service (I've since seen other firms use our idea -- and sometimes our form -- on their website). We've done about $250,000 of business since we posted the proposal forms on our website several years. Some of that from existing referral sources who like the convenience, yet, interestingly, most of it comes from new contacts. It's not making us rich but it is making it easier for people to do business with us.
What does your firm do that makes it easy to do business with and, more importantly, where can it improve?
Brand Attribute #5: Protect Your Culture
When you talk about culture, almost everyone talks about Starbucks and Business Week is no exception. I confess that I'm not a big coffee drinker so a trip to Starbucks doesn't excite me but I understand how others love the experience. Starbucks co-produced the movie Akeelah and the Bee and was debating how to use the "sacred store environment" to promote it. Instead of posters, they decided to post vocabulary words from the contests in the film.
First of all, can you identify the culture of your firm? I believe Mercer Capital's culture revolves around the fact that we're smart people who work very much as a team to provide the best service to our clients. And, an important part of our culture is the fact that this is not an "eat-what-you-kill" shop. We don't spend the end of the year haggling over who did what and who sold what. That makes it much easier to come together toward a common goal - serving the client.
As we pursue growth opportunities, we'll protect this culture, because so far it's worked for us internally and has certainly worked for our clients and referral sources.
What part of your culture does your firm have to protect?
Take a few minutes to consider your firm's brand and these five attributes.
Now for all you ambitious professionals out there, consider these brand attributes in light of your personal brand. Hmmmm.