Top five ways for professional services firms to strengthen their brand in 2021

Whenever I have encountered hardship, a Jesuit cousin recites the same advice, “Look for the gift in the problem.”

2020 certainly had a host of problems and changes for businesses large and small. And professional services firms saw many drastic shifts. Visits to clients literally ground to a halt. Meetings and presentations shifted to Zoom. Annual conferences went virtual. We believe these shifts are, to a great extent, here to stay.

So, what was the gift amidst the chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic? Doubters of workplace flexibility and the importance of digital tools have now eaten their crow. And many firms found new energy in reinventing how they worked and connected with clients. As we forge ahead into 2021, consider challenging yourself to make some major changes. 

1. An iterative mindset can drive agility
The pandemic forced all of us to innovate on the fly. Some of our first attempts at reworking sales programs or pitches may have sputtered. But even the failures taught us to move swiftly and recalibrate in an iterative way. There was no time for paralysis by analysis. If companies wanted their brands to stay relevant during the initial shutdown and as the pandemic wore on, they had to accelerate. Now, the task for 2021 is to turn the lessons of our early panic into long-term brand agility. Cultivate a mindset and a willingness to scrap old bureaucratic approval processes. Replace your approach to building marketing strategies with more of a startup mentality. Be brave. Take risks. 

2. Client relationships can be nurtured remotely
The days of meeting for cocktails or coffee will certainly come back around, but being unable to meet physically has led us to connect in a host of other creative ways. So, don’t look to go back to what you used to do, but instead create a hybrid, more personalized model for connecting with clients. 

What works best for each of your clients? A parent of young children may need something different than someone who lives alone and craves socialization. To forge strong client relationships, get to know each person as an N of 1! One size does not fit all, and Zoom is not your enemy. Take the time to catalog what you learned about client preferences and needs, and change your business development to match the person. 

3. Presentations need to be punched up
There is a staggering amount of poor-quality presentation material coming out of prestigious professional service firms. Why? Great presentations can’t be made on the fly. They require a unique mix of a content expert, an information designer, a great writer and a skilled production person. Not every presentation will rise to that level of commitment. But firms would be better served to create a small inventory of powerful presentations that can live independently and that multiple people in the firm can give repeatedly. 

Study after study shows that clients want to access these presentations on their own time. For your on-demand content to be successful, it must have the production values other industries have long embraced. In 2021, commit to a new approach to producing high-value presentations and deciding which ones matter to clients. Yes, you will likely irritate some of your internal stakeholders along the way. But your clients and prospects will thank you. 

4. Offer multiple ways for a client to connect
Most clients and prospects of B2B professional service firms report a severe scarcity of time. This means they only visit your website when driven there by an email or a social media posting. (Or to get a phone number or address.) For prospects, the website should guide the visitor to want to learn more and make it easy for them to decide to hire you versus your competitor. For clients, your website can reinforce that they were right to hire you in the first place. 

For prospects, the website should guide the visitor to want to learn more and make it easy for them to decide to hire you versus your competitor. For clients, your website can reinforce that they were right to hire you in the first place. 

But in both cases, you must provide multiple ways for a prospect or client to connect. Stop putting podcasts and bite-sized video thought leadership on your wish list and actually create these tools in 2021. As buyers get more harried and come from four generations, they are looking for all types of ways to get informed. Yes, that means professionals need to regularly post on social media and not leave it up to the firm to do the posting. Map your brand’s post-pandemic buyer journey and look deeply at how the pandemic has changed each touchpoint. 

5. Treat your thought leadership as an asset
When you care about an asset, you coddle it. One of the most important assets for any professional services firm is the content that lets a buyer preview how you think. Unfortunately, many authors of “good” content get in the way of delivering “great” content to their clients and prospects. They feel that only they can edit a thought leadership piece and either don’t see a true editor’s value or are threatened by the criticism. 

Every day, I thank my lucky stars that I’ve had the same editor critique and challenge my writing for nearly 25 years. She always makes it better. If you want your firm’s thought leadership to get noticed in 2021, hire an editor or outsource the task. And give the editor the authority and power to do their job. An editor can literally make a technical piece come alive with powerful headlines by cutting redundancies and pointing out where the dots don’t connect. Change the culture of your company to embrace editors as the boosters of your brand. 

These are certainly not the only ways to boost your B2B professional services brand in 2021, but tackling them will undoubtedly make your brand stand apart.

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