Professional services companies need to differentiate themselves or risk commoditization.

m3Lawyers, accountants, doctors, investment advisors, insurance brokers, and managing consultants all share a common trait: they are people. Each of them is unique, but what often distinguishes them in the eyes of their clients or patients, beyond their individual talents, experience and skills, is their organizational brand. They should be united, inspired and elevated by what it stands for.

So, whether private or public, a single office or global enterprise, professional services companies, regardless of category, need to answer the question “Who are we?” and define their brand in a clarifying, differentiating and inspiring way.

Why does it exist? What is its driving purpose? What language does it own? What promise does it make to its clients? What differentiates it from competitors? What makes people want to work there, rather than at Firm B, C or D? These are just some of the questions every firm needs to answer in developing a singular brand definition.

While this may sound like motherhood, it is amazing to me how many fail to address this challenge. Why? Well, maybe it is because many professional services companies are ‘individual-centric’ not ‘brand-centric’ cultures that focus on the big producers. After all, a lawyer or surgeon billing $10 million a year or a big billing executive search or management consultant may be more focused on his or her personal brand. And as long as they are producing, no one — not even the CEO — is going to rock the boat. This is both a short-term and shortsighted strategy. Everyone, regardless of role, responsibility or level in the organization, can benefit from the umbrella support a strong, meaningful brand can provide.

Furthermore, every professional services firm is being disrupted or disintermediated by new digital solutions and new competitors. This will only accelerate. Today, more than ever, they need to define a brand purpose in a proprietary way and then continually nurture it. By doing so, every law firm, accounting firm, insurance brokerage, investment advisory, executive search firm, medical office, or business consultancy can provide a cohesive platform for all marketing, communication and business building efforts and perhaps, more importantly, own an inspirational brand promise that can attract and retain top-tier talent.

After all, when the primary assets of a business are its people, each one of them needs to take pride in the company’s brand. They must know what it stands for and embrace its purpose rationally, emotionally and, above all, personally.

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