Every time I start a new professional relationship with someone, be it an employer or a vendor, I typically say the same thing: “Tell me whatever you want to tell me, but I’m watching your feet.” In my experience it’s our actions, not our words, that truly communicate what we’re about. I’m always mindful of this idea when considering the concept of branding.
A brand is not a verbal or visual a statement about who you want to be or how you want to be known. It’s not something you can determine for yourselves. It is something that is determined for you by your employees, your clients and your project partners. It’s the culmination of all the ways you are actually perceived based on your actions and interactions.
This is one of the main reasons I believe marketing needs a seat at the leadership table and a close working relationship with HR and Operations. If, for example, a firm is staking its reputation on quality of design, then there are hiring and project process implications of that decision that, ultimately, marketing will need to communicate in a way that helps prospective clients see value.
Many years ago at a seminar on branding I was told that, when it comes to professional services, you can’t brand product, but you can brand process. Thus the better marketing understands how our firm does what we do, the more likely we are to be able to use that process as a selling tool. Once such a value proposition is established, marketing is often in a good position to inform operations about prospective client needs, goals and concerns that can contribute to continuous practice process improvement. The more unique that process is, the better it differentiates one firm from another and the more clarity it provides to the process of pursuing and winning work from new prospects.
Bottom line is walk and talk have to match up, and monitoring this compatibility is an ongoing effort.