I’m going to open a can a worms.
I’ve seen many PKF undertake a branding initiative in the past decade or so, usually at the behest of marketing consultants. I’ve always believed it to be a fad, since a PKF cannot really be branded the way a soft drink, hotel, airline or automobile can be.
Brands provide marginal incremental value to their customers, by reducing search costs, insuring quality and consistency, not to mention the physiological effects a brand can have on the brain and body (yeah, I know, this sounds surreal, but it’s been documented with fMRI scans).
After working in the advertising sector for years, attending and speaking at the Association of National Advertisers conferences, and watching my brother work on brands at Procter & Gamble, I can confidentially add: PKFs have no idea how to build a brand. A company like Coke or P&G invests inordinate amounts of money in their brands, speaking and treating them as if they were human beings. No PKF even comes close to this level of investment, detail, commitment, or reverence of a brand.
I don’t see how a PKF spending money on branding adds one penny of value to its customers.
I believe PKFs have reputations, not brands. Perhaps a case can be made that the Big 4, as well as the major consulting firms—such as McKinsey, Bain, Accenture, etc.—are brands. But one of the defining features of a brand is it enables consistent premium pricing. It’s very hard to see how customers pay a smaller PKF a premium because of its “brand.”
Bruce Marcus, marketing consultant to the professions, has written about this topic extensively, and has a recent article in Rain Today that is worth pondering. He has other articles on his Web site on this topic as well.
I know a few of my VeraSage colleagues disagree with me on this issue, specifically Paul O’Byrne and Chris Marston, perhaps others. All I can say is when you look at the UK consultancy Interbrand’s Top 100 Brands for 2007, the only PKF that makes the list is Accenture, and depending on how broad the definition of PKF is, IBM (but they sell products, too).
I suppose my point is there’s better things a PKF below the Big 4 and Top-tier firms can invest in, such as better customer service, intellectual capital, pricing competency, understanding value, etc. These things will actually add value to customers. It’s hard to see how a consistent logo, letterhead, signage and advertising adds a nickel of value to the customer, though it may feed the partner’s egos. Let’s leave branding to the pros.
I’d loved to hear your thoughts on this.