How Many Handshakes Does It Take to Brand a Professional Services Firm?

brand differentiation for professional services firms

Every brand needs to differentiate itself to stand apart from its competition. Yet for certain business categories, the exercise of finding and claiming a unique position doesn’t come easy.

Related Article: Knowledge Is Revenue – How to Conduct Killer Competitor Research

Sometimes the reason is a crowded marketplace, in which case the marketing must work harder to find the brand’s sweet spot. More often, however, the difficultly stems from either:

Fear of standing out, of not being understood by audiences.

Struggle avoidance, the ease of green-lighting branding that mimics what competitors are doing.

Whatever the cause, no category (on whole) falls victim to copycat branding more than Professional Services. All we have to do is evoke the ubiquitous handshake photo to illustrate this point.

But while it may feel safe, even smart, to brand professional services firms in a way that ensures audiences of, well, professional service, “me-too” branding takes the biggest risk of all: Undifferentiated branding leaves professional services firms in a highly competitive arena with no way to showcase unique value.

So, how can professional services firms differentiate when messages and images that seem to give the right impression only wash audiences in a sea of sameness?

Here are four commitments that can give professional services firms the best chance of creating a differentiated brand:

  1. Can the Conventions: Invest in good design. It’s not that handshakes and the like aren’t sending the right message (partnership, trust, strength, longevity). They’re simply overused. So, thanks to the countless brands that came before yours, they’re off limits. No exceptions.
  2. Dig Deeper, and Dig Deeper Still: It’s probable that some “me-too” brand attributes are core to your firm. The trick is getting beneath the surface. Ask: “What does X really mean to our customers?” After you answer, ask again. Keep going until you arrive at the unique value your firm delivers and communicate that in your message.
  3. Pack in the Personality: A single message can be communicated through any number of “voices,” so developing a unique brand personality helps ensure actual communications don’t revert to category conventions. Download Brand Personality Worksheet.
  4. Don’t be Different for the Sake of Being Different, Be Different for the Sake of Being Successful: Superficially different is not the same as strategically different. Your brand must stand out in a way that fits your firm’s culture and resonates with your customers. Differentiation + Alignment is a powerful combination.

Now, just avoid those handshake photos at all costs.

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