Brand Positioning from the Middle. Five Hot Tips for Standing Apart from Larger and Smaller Firms.By Joe Walsh
June 25, 2015
Every industry has tiers of competitors. There are the large, global players; the mid-market firms; and the niche or boutique providers. This is so whether you are selling beer, hotel rooms, clothes, health care, coffee, and, yes, professional services. The largest outfits promise depth, reach, scale and breadth of offerings. And the smallest offer the benefit of focus and specialization.
So where does that leave those in the middle? With a brand positioning challenge.
Here are five tips for positioning a mid-sized enterprise successfully, along with examples of how to make the position come to life in an engaging and memorable fashion.
- Make the brand about your clients, not your firm. Competing in one of the most intense markets with firms of all sizes—from all over the map—Big Apple-based Friedman promises the highest performing technical skill sets with even higher doses of personal empathy and attention in client service. Powerful meets personal with a compelling brand proposition summarized with the client-centered tagline: "Your livelihood, empowered."
- Play the value card, as clients define it. Midsize law firms often fear value as a promise because they believe it will be misconstrued as cheap or inferior. West Virginia-based Steptoe & Johnson turns the notion on its ear and aligns its brand with corporate counsel demands. In the past few years, the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) gave new voice and clarity to the conversation about value. The ACC’s Value Challenge issued a clarion call and explained the elements of value as defined by in-house buyers of legal services. In response, Steptoe & Johnson, a strong player in energy and other critical sectors across KY, OH, PA and WV, rolled out a new brand program that put the challenge at the heart of its internal and external communications. All of the firm's communications are organized around the ACC’s essentials of value: relationships, communication, budgeting and staffing, knowledge sharing and results. In the end, Steptoe conveyed its assertion that value is a fairly simple proposition if you listen closely to the market and have the talent and business model to deliver against expectations. Those are business essentials.
- Declare your majors. Pepper Hamilton is among several strong regional firms that have emerged on the competitive national law firm stage. The brand positioning is anchored by the promise of collaboration, but what we admire about Pepper Hamilton's approach is how they've used the brand elements to declare the things they do best (aligned with the firm's strategic plan). Focus areas like pharma, construction litigation and asset management leverage the brand promise with their own key messages.
- Articulate why you do what you do. In a field of competitors, larger and smaller, that share plenty of impressive information about what they do and think, it’s refreshing to see Warren Averett, CPAs, consultants, asset managers and more, share what they believe in and why that leads to great client care. The brand is built on the promise of thriving together. The firm’s seven core values rotate through the web homepage, for example, and resound throughout the firm's communications. The firm’s logo anchors the brand, great people photography give a sense of the firm’s personality, and, yes, service lines, industries and content marketing are served up alongside the values and spirit that deliver them.
- Focus on how, not how large. As an emerging U.S. leader in accounting and advisory services, Dixon Hughes Goodman competes on any given day against the Big 4 accounting firms and firms around the corner. At the core of the brand position is the notion of resourcefulness. It's a great word—suggesting agility, inventiveness, capability and an enterprising nature. Yes, DHG has great resources to draw on, but as one partner put it, "Clients stay with us because we are resourceful, not because of the volume of our resources."