Conventional wisdom suggests that in times of recession it’s better to tighten the belt and cut marketing and branding expenditures to focus on sales. But the recession was such a constant in the economy that the short run brand-building cuts became a long term operating practice. The result, the post recession state of professional service branding is like living in a bland, empty room.
This blandness bothered us. So we polled CMOs and CEOs at law, accounting and consulting firms around the world for their opinions. Respondents included leaders of local, regional, national and international firms with an average size of 382 professionals (full survey results here.
One of the most important findings falls in the camp of Brand Distinction. We asked decision makers if their brand promise — the value proposition — is unique. Is the brand expression (look, feel and voice) unique? Do they consider the brand to be innovative?
The results are striking:
Marginal uniqueness seems to be the resting point for firms around the world. Yet 95% of CMOs and 92% of CEOs/Managing Partners believe their brand is moderately or extremely important to success. The fact that only 21% believe their brands are well or perfectly understood by prospects should be a blazing red flag that they could be replaced by the firm down the street—and it’s likely nobody would notice.
- Only 20% feel their brands are extremely innovative
- 69% say the same about their visual brand identity or expression.
There is hope on the vast “Plain of Same.” Our survey revealed that 69% of respondents plan to update their brand within the next 3 years. Weigh that against another response: 82% said they never or rarely refresh their brands. This indicates that the “rare” time is upon us, and we hope that when the focus turns to the brand there is a true emphasis on differentiation.
Professional services firms that do revisit their brands are choosing the right time to leap off the page, as our research indicates an imminent branding boom. It will be far easier to stand out on the “Plain of Same” by leading the pack than it will be to follow. Indeed, everyone agrees that innovative brands grab attention, and that viewpoint should translate into action during this next wave of rebrands.
Historically, we have seen brands (like Nike) that have increased brand spend during economic hardships come out the other end flourishing and far ahead of the competition. For example, in 1987, Nike tripled their marketing spend during an economic crash and ultimately increased profits by 9x. For those who might not believe in the power of branding, take a look at Nike—Just Do It.