Building a recognisable and trusted brand is paramount if your accounting practice is to be successful. Read on to learn why your firm’s brand is much more than just a logo.
By Nina Hendy
Just 12 months after launching what is now The Practice, co-founder Jason Cunningham CPA and his business partner decided to rebrand the firm.
The Melbourne-based business initially launched as “Accountants Across Australia”, but a rethink saw it renamed. The decision played a big part in its success: for two decades, the firm has been a significant player in the public practice sector and recently launched into the Sydney market. It now has more than 60 staff.
“We acknowledged that the initial business name wasn’t right, and didn’t reflect where we wanted to go within the business, so we cut our losses,” Cunningham reveals.
“We wanted to build a brand that was bigger than ourselves and be more than just a name above the door.”
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The firm’s logo has been updated three or four times as the business evolved. It features two triangles intersecting. The sides of the triangles represent the services offered by The Practice – accounting, financial planning and lending, Cunningham says.
Another important element of branding The Practice included Cunningham writing books: Where’s My Money? (2010) and Have your cake and sell it too (2016).
“Writing the books was an investment in my business and works to brand and position it as an expert [advisory firm],” he says.
What is a brand?
A brand is a name, symbol, concept, experience, way of life, and much, much more, according to the 2017 Ipsos Most Influential Brands. Polling 2000 Australians, it looked at key drivers that define influence and factors that impact it.
The survey confirmed that influence is difficult for a brand to achieve. People use many brands in their lives, and they’re not always consciously aware of them. It identified Google, Facebook, Microsoft, PayPal, Coles and eBay as the top brands in Australia.
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“But then there are those that stand out as those that have impacted the way we live [and] encouraged us to make better and smarter choices,” the report states.
“Influential brands are those that we can identify with, brands that have relevancy and have become a part of everyday language.”
Branding an accounting firm
Some accountants practising in Australia struggle when it comes to building a brand that resonates with potential clients.
Branding can be more complex than accountants perhaps realise, according to Sydney-based brand expert Debbie O’Connor.
The brand strategist and White River Design creative director looks at target audience, the psychology of colour and brand experience to determine what will best work for each client. The system enables her – through a process of elimination – to effectively determine the brand “personality” of a business and its key attributes.
“A logo is not the same thing as a brand, which isn’t well understood by the accounting sector,” O’Connor says.
“What your brand stands for is much deeper than having a ping pong table in your office.
“Branding is about building a philosophy behind what the business stands for. It’s what gets people wanting to buy your product or service, and yet it’s often bypassed as finance brands rush to build a logo.”
Accountants should first check the IP Australia site to ensure that their proposed brand is available.
The next step is to make a conscious decision about what your brand philosophy is, O’Connor says. The process is about mapping your brand’s personality and considering its traits. O’Connor says it refers to a set of human characteristics attributed to a brand that helps customers create long-term relationships with it.
“The personality of a brand is what makes people want to buy Apple products,” she insists. “To get your story across to customers, you need to know what your brand promise is – just like Apple, which effectively communicates that it stands for sleek, simple technology solutions.”
Certainly don’t rush out and have a cheap logo made before making considered decisions about your target market and what your brand stands for.
“Once you’ve got your branding mapped out, a designer will want to take some of that personality and communicate it in the visual elements of your accounting firm,” O’Connor says.
“The issue with the finance sector is that they’re always trying to put themselves in exactly the same box. So much of the branding out there focuses on what they do, and not how they do it. The key is finding an effective way to communicate what makes your business unique.”
Using the owner’s name in a logo is common among accounting and legal firms.
“Once you’ve got your name above the door, it can be hard to grow a business, or sell it. From a brand perspective, customers want to deal with the person with their name above the door,” O’Connor adds.
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Branding case story: Pretty Accounting
Bridgette Pretty runs a public practice called Pretty Accounting in Nelson, New Zealand. She admits her first attempt at branding was wrong.
“You don’t have the opportunity to specialise in any particular accounting discipline when you’re working in regional New Zealand, therefore my branding had to appeal to a broad range of clients,” Pretty explains.
“I wish I trusted my gut instinct on my first attempt at branding as soon as I felt that it wasn’t quite right. You need to be comfortable with your branding as it’s often the first impression people get when you’re starting out. It then needs to become a recognised and trusted reflection of your business in the future”
For Pretty, incorporating the CPA Australia logo became a huge asset, with many customers respecting the fact that she retained the wider backing of the CPA Australia community for support and access to a greater knowledge base.
It’s time to update branding when the business starts to evolve, Pretty says.
“We’re thinking about adding legal services to our business. If we do this, it would be a good reason to update our logo again.”
Why investing in branding pays off
Given that branding can be such a huge part of a firm’s success, the costs are [relatively] negligible, according to Cunningham.
Hiring a branding expert to update a logo usually costs around A$10,000, excluding [Cunningham’s] time away from the business working with a branding specialist. Other costs include updating style guidelines, re-educating team members, and rolling out the redesign across the entire firm.
Accountants would do well to remember that business opportunities usually stem from either referral – because you’re seen as an expert in your industry – or because the customer likes what you stand for.
“A big part of what you stand for as a business is communicated via your branding,” Cunningham emphasises.
5 top branding tips for accounting firms
- Remember that a logo is not the same thing as a brand
- Make a conscious decision about what your brand philosophy is
- The IP Australia site will reveal whether your proposed branding is available or registered by someone else
- Review and revise your branding periodically
- Set aside the cost to hire a branding expert
CPA Australia’s Intellectual Property toolkit