Have You Found Your Firm's Brand Voice and the Courage to Use It?

“We’ve gone from being exposed to about 500 ads a day back in the 1970s to as many as 5,000 a day today.” Given the competitive marketplace we are in now, the power of the well thought-through, consistent brand voice is essential. And this is often what firms struggle with the most. Why? Too often the brand voice is written by a marketing expert and then watered down by a committee of smart technicians and consultants—individuals who typically aren’t trained in the nuances of marketing communications. Can you imagine if Apple had all its ads reviewed and edited by its software engineers? 

So how can a firm embarking on a rebrand make sure its new messaging rises above the clutter, is authentic to who they are, and, above all, is actually memorable? Here are some straightforward—but not necessarily simple—steps to take:

1. Agree on your primary target audience

It is easy to say “We serve any size company in any industry.” It is much harder to be honest with yourselves and say who would make your best client. By having a clear picture of your target prospects, you can sharpen your message. Be sure to consider the attributes of your target audience—typical age, gender, size of the company, etc. And don’t confuse smart positioning with one-off opportunities. You may be targeting the middle market, but if a Fortune 500 company knocks on your door, answer fast.

2. Stun your management into submission by using data

It would be ideal to commission in-depth primary research to support a new brand direction, but tight budgets often leave your hands tied. So dig deeper for research that is often free. For example, a recent study by a Chicago PR firm revealed a wealth of data on how social media impacts the purchase of legal services. Many of the trends in that study carry over to other companies. Equally persuasive can be your own competitor analysis. What words do your competitors use the most to describe themselves? Whom do they appear to be targeting? All of that can be done with a bit of elbow grease and some free web-based tools.

3. Make sure your client’s voice is the loudest

Too often one or two vocal rainmakers can derail the course of a rebrand. Try to dig into why he or she thinks the direction is wrong. With enough external data, you will be in a strong position to support the proposed messaging and stay on track. You can mine your own client satisfaction surveys for what your current client base values in your firm. Your client surveys should have plenty of closed-ended questions to allow you to track trends and quantify feedback. 

4. Find inspiration outside of the box

We find the best way to encourage bravery is to give partners a quick showcase of contemporary websites and ads. Remind them that the process is not about personal taste; instead, it is about discovering what will stand apart. An accounting firm, for example, should beware of looking only at other accounting firms, as examples of progressive communications might be found outside that industry. Most convincing is to show your internal audience the best work done by your own clients.

5. Create a banned messaging and image list

After you pore over your key competitors’ websites, create a list of banned messages and images. Beware of the typical clichés such as “quality, cost-effective service” or “we listen,” and jettison those pictures of calculators and compasses. Rather than rambling about what you do, focus on the issues or challenges your clients lose sleep over. Prospects want to know about results and benefits.

6. Write like you talk

Make sure your written voice matches what it would be like to be in the room for a pitch. Err on the side of being more direct and conversational rather than formal and technical. Avoid jargon at all costs. One trick is to tape your strongest rainmaker giving a mock pitch. Use that insight to inform how you write about the firm. Finding your brand voice is about connecting with your intended audience while being authentic to who you are as a firm. The braver you are about letting emotion and attitude into your communications, the more likely a connection will be made. So go out and be brave! 

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