In Professional Services Two Strong Brands Equal One Stronger Brand

In the professional services category, which brand is more important? Is it the personal brand of the associate or the brand of the firm? The simple answer is both because they both represent important relationship connections with a client. The challenge is in the relative weighting. Any proportion can work; it’s a matter of strategy. No matter what strategy is chosen, both brands matter and both must be managed. An approach that focuses on proactively building the personal brand of all associates and then fostering authentic alignment between the associates’ personal brand and the corporate brand of the firm is a bedrock brand-building strategy for a professional services firm. Together these two coordinated brand-building activities will enable any professional services firm to implement a brand strategy with confidence. I can certainly expand upon the virtues of embracing this dual approach to professional services brand building, but hearing it in a more organic, street-smart way is always better. This is why I want to draw your attention to an interesting interview I read in a recent edition of the New York Times. As a part of the interview Barry Selzberg, C.E.O. of Deloitte LLP, shares some insights that reinforce the importance of personal brand and the alignment with the firm’s corporate brand (culture). Here are a few excerpts from the interview that caught my attention relating to the importance of brand alignment and personal brand.

The Importance of Alignment

When discussing hiring new associates – “This isn’t just believing that the person we are interviewing is perfect for some role. It’s also that person believing that the [sic] Deloitte is perfect for the environment that they want to be in. I’m searching to determine whether that marriage is there. … I am looking for fit.” This statement clearly reinforces what we at Brand Tool Box call the power of brand alignment. The most effective way to foster brand alignment is to hire for alignment. Searching for alignment in the recruitment process is most often an intuitive process. Providing candidates the tools to define their personal brand and explicitly discussing alignment around the firm’s corporate brand is a very effective and transparent way to discover alignment.

The Strength of Personal Brand

  • On the importance of being authentic – “What are the values that are most important to you? And how have you demonstrated your commitment to those values in the last two years?” Every strong personal brand gains its strength from its authenticity that in turn gains its footing from a conviction to one’s values. Others prize authenticity because it ensures consistency in one’s actions and is the basis for a solid, trusting relationship.
  • Citing important lessons for success at Deloitte – “No. 1 is, pay it forward.” Unquestionably the single most important lesson for building a strong personal brand is holding oneself accountable to making a difference. Every time one makes a difference for someone else your personal brand equity grows. Every time someone makes a difference for another associate or client the stronger the brand grows inside and outside the firm.
  • “No. 2 is, brand yourself. Make sure people know who you are and that you stand for who you are. Be unique about something. Be a specialist in something. Be known for something. …What’s different about you – that’s your personal brand.” That pretty much says it all about the importance of personal brand for success in professional services. There is no doubt that being perceived to be distinctive about something is important, it means you have conviction. Being perceived to be distinctive, relevant and consistent are the three outstanding qualities of every strong personal brand.

Brand Leaders Set Examples

Although I don’t know Barry, his words ring true to me, but not because we agree on the importance of personal brand. In the interview he cited a story about some key influences in his life, one of which was his father. “I remember on many occasions, I would come home from a test in math and I would say, “I got a 99.” And he would say, “Well, where’s the other point? “So I said to myself, OK, strive for excellence …” In addition he recalled how when attending a training program early in his career at Deloitte – “ …the partner teaching the class told us about the five P’s: Proper planning prevents poor performance. That must have been in the 80’s, but here I am in 2011 and I guide my leadership style by the five P’s.” The “five P’s” became his personal brand promise. Although I am not privy to the Deloitte corporate brand platform, I’ll bet Barry’s personal brand promise is very tightly aligned with it! If you are interested, I have written a short article that describes an approach to brand building for professional services. It can be found at http://www.brandtoolbox.com/ideas/articles/ and click on “Leveraging the Power of Personal Brand To Build a Stronger Professional Services Brand.”

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