“Branding is the art and science of influencing perception about a product, service or organization,” says Sean Tambagahan, CEO of Butler Branding. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. And while branding is an essential component of any marketing strategy, there are distinct differences between how to brand professional services and product businesses.
Professional services refer to any company whose product is a service, such as law, architecture or event planning. If your business falls into this category and you are looking for some insight into how to maximize your brand’s potential, you’ve come to the right place.
No matter what your business or field, all aspects of marketing need to encompass your brand, from creating your own logo to building an effective social media strategy. This is true across both your business and personal branding efforts. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
Professional services branding vs. product branding
While there is most definitely overlap, the key difference between these types of branding is that service quality takes significantly more time to evaluate than product quality. When a customer purchases a tangible item, they can evaluate immediately upon purchasing how it performs. For instance, if someone has just bought new headphones, a single use can determine their sound quality and fit. A service, on the other hand, may not have such immediate results.
For example, when someone hires a lawyer, they may not see the outcome of their work for weeks or months, even though they pay for their services ahead of time. Therefore, unlike product branding, professional services branding requires less emphasis on visual and auditory cues, such as brand colors and jingles, and more on establishing a long-term, positive brand reputation.
And that is what a solid service branding strategy can do.
The importance of reputation management
This is the crux of professional services branding. Once your company has established itself as a reputable business, the rest of your marketing efforts will run much more efficiently.
As a service business, you have the opportunity to deeply connect with your customers because you provide a service that they cannot (or don’t want to) complete themselves. The quality of your service is mostly evaluated based on clients' experiences working with you. For this reason, it’s important to go above and beyond and get to know them on a personal level. This relationship will help build trust as well as establish your reputation as an industry leader.
Once customers see that you’re the best in the business, they’ll start to correlate your brand with the service you provide. This is why a good reputation is so valuable for service branding.
5 key strategies for professional services branding
These strategies will help you build and nurture your reputation to help maximize your service branding potential:
Establish your brand identity
Before you can begin developing your marketing strategy, you’ll need to establish a well-formed brand identity. While you may have already perfected your service, you won’t get too far without establishing the who and why behind your brand.
People choose specific brands not only because of the product or service it sells, but because of the feeling and emotions it evokes. And that’s exactly what your brand identity is. If your brand could speak, what voice would you give it? Corporate branding or personal branding? What do you stand for and what are your core values? These are just some of the questions you’ll need to answer.
To solidify your brand identity, begin by writing down your brand story. Think about why you started your company in the first place and how you can use your backstory to relate to consumers on a personal level. From there, you can complete the rest of your assets, from website design to your logo and tagline. While you may offer an amazing service, your brand identity is what’s going to sell it.
Invest in content marketing
Providing valuable, educational content to your customers is a strategic way to promote your business. Content marketing is a more indirect way to build your brand's credibility because it isn’t a blunt sales or marketing tactic. It allows you to connect with your clients on a more personal level that will also help establish your business as a true thought leader.
Whether you create a blog, offer e-books, whitepapers or webinars, content marketing accomplishes three main objectives that will generate leads and convert new clients:
Builds trust between your business and target market
Engages your audience and offers an opportunity for open communication
Demonstrates a strong understanding of your industry, helping to establish a positive reputation
For B2C companies, in particular, this can be highly advantageous. For example, if an accounting firm is looking for a law firm to represent it, they may decide to forgo the bidding process and choose one based on reputation alone. Content marketing is a key strategy to accomplishing this.
Establish your brand as a thought leader
Being a thought leader implies that your brand is an authority in your field. It means that you do things differently to achieve the best possible results and are viewed by others as an expert. True thought leaders have the potential to create trends and set industry standards. While content marketing is an essential component of thought leadership, there are other tactics that are worth mentioning as well.
Consider hiring leading experts or partnering with well-known companies to dramatically increase the reputation of your brand. The halo effect will work in your favor, meaning that once customers hear a certain individual is working with or for your firm, they’ll view the entire business in a positive light. On top of that, industry experts will also employ their knowledge and skill sets to truly advance your company and improve its services.
Ethical work standards, including social responsibility and sustainability, combined with transparency of business operations are also two key components to creating thought leadership. Both can help set an example for other companies in your field by shedding light on your company values. They also convey that your business is about more than just raking in revenue.
By treating your employees and other stakeholders with respect, you can help create new industry standards, a large component of establishing your brand as a thought leader.
Take advantage of social media
While a social media presence is an essential part of any online branding strategy, it’s important to reiterate its importance for service businesses. Social media platforms, like Instagram and Facebook, are excellent tools for organic growth that allow you to create valuable content that not only engages your target market, but helps mold your brand. Whatever channel you use, incorporate all aspects of your branding, from your logo and colors to your tone of voice, into your social media content. By doing so, you’ll create a powerful, cohesive brand that customers will associate with your service.
To start, create a business account on your chosen platform and upload your company logo as your profile picture. When filling in your profile information, make sure to include your company slogan and your website. Make sure to align every post with your company branding and include content that offer value to your followers. Consider Ask your followers questions, postuseful facts and tips, and hold competitions to promote dialogue and drive engagement.
For example, a cleaning service could create a video post with tips and tricks for getting out spaghetti sauce stains along with a tutorial of how to do it. This type of content is useful, engaging and relatable, and will be sure to grab people’s attention.
Manage online reviews
Because reputation management is so important for service business branding, it’s highly beneficial to take advantage of online reviews. Today, people select all kinds of services, from lawyers and accountants to pet sitters, based on reviews they see online. In fact, 63.6% of consumers say they are likely to check reviews on Google before making a purchase.
Company owners can set up business profiles on platforms like Google My Business and Yelp. Then, customers have the opportunity to leave comments and reviews and owners can even reply. It’s an ideal way to build your brand and reputation.
Because 20% of consumers expect to receive a response from a company within one day of writing a review, vigilantly monitor this section and be sure to thank customers for their business. You could even repost them on social media as user-generated content. This is a great way to market your service business, show customer appreciation and grow your brand so others can find you in the future.