In this episode of the BKOT podcast Chris has discussed, how accountants can differentiate through various elements of their brand identity, from their name, brand colours, positioning statement, using social media and writing their own, original blogging content.
#BKOT 42: BUILD A KICKASS OFFSHORE TEAM
HOW CAN ACCOUNTANTS STAND OUT THEMSELVES IN MARKETPLACE
Hosted by: Chris Rivera, Director Client relations, Entigrity Offshore Staffing
Guest: Ben Stanbury, Director of Prosper and the Artnership
Chris: Alright, hey, everyone. Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening, wherever you are in the world. We are on episode 42 of #BKOT. Today, we have a guest coming to us from the other side of the world, which is exciting. We have Ben Stanbury, he's the Director of Prosper, and we're gonna be speaking on Brand Identity for Accountants, this is something unique that we haven't spoken on. So we're very excited to have Ben on Ben, how's it going?
Ben:Very well. Thanks very much for the invite. So, yeah, I am a Graphic Designer and Brand Identity Specialist. My agency design agency is an Essex Suffolk border in the UK in the southeast of the UK called prosper. And I specialize in developing brand identity for accountants, CPAs, and financial consultants. We've niched prospects pretty hard and for that reason we rank globally, really well on Google. And I've been lucky enough to work with clients in the UK, obviously, but as well as Canada, and in the US, and we get inquiries from all over. So yeah, it's something I'm really passionate about. And we know it's sort of a, there's definitely a requirement in the accounting industry for some more considered brand identity development and visual identity. So that was decided in 2018 to make that my focus.
Chris: Yeah, so how did you get started in the industry, specifically in the accounting industry? Because the branding is for, you know, everything, everyone? And so how did you get involved into the accounting industry here?
Ben:So I sort of had a crossroads, and I decided that I was going to niche my company before I rebranded it to prosper. And I've done sort of quite a lot of work in festival branding, and events branding. And I've also done a fair bit of work through an accountant branding and tax consultants. And so I decided I was going to specialize and I decided to go down the route of accounting branding. And I felt that there was definitely more of a need for that. And I thought that was something that I could go a little bit deeper on. And so as part of that, I researched 500 accounting firms, in Essex, and Kent, Cambridge, in the UK, which account is in the southeast of the UK, as well as London. And I looked at sort of 16 different metrics to do with how they present themselves online, and how they named themselves, how they approach color combinations, that logo design, etc. And I've published that as a body of research, which is available on the PROSPER website. And I'm currently working with a lady in the US, Katie Tolin, and from the CPA growth firm, and we are doing the same thing for 500 firms in the US as well, which will publish in the first quarter of 2022.
Chris: It's an awesome story, because when you think of branding, right? You think of Apple, Nike, Samsung, Starbucks, BMW, but branding and accounting, it's like, what is branding? And what it's more than a logo, I'm assuming, but, you know, how do you find it? And how does it correlate with the accounting world?
Ben: Yeah, that's right. I mean, a lot of people when you say, you know, what is branding? So well, it's just a logo, but it isn't, there's actually a difference between a brand and branding, and then marketing. So a brand is not necessarily a tangible thing, essentially to paraphrase Marty Newmar, a brand is the gut feeling that your audience will have about your company. And it is the impression that you give about your company. And your branding is the way that you put that forward. And so it's using your colors, it's using typography. It's the tone of voice that you use in the language on your website, for example. And it's using photography. And there's all of these visual elements that it's a way to represent your brand, basically. So one of the ways I like to look at it is if you're trying to create an impression about a company so to use an example, if you're a funeral parlor, for example, when you were developing your brand and your brand identity, your visual identity, you wouldn't perhaps have brought pinks and sky blues and yellows. And you wouldn't have, you know, Justin Funeral Parlor written in, say, a Comic Sans typeface, because visually, your branding is not giving the right impression. And so that the brand is the feeling you need to give about your company or the feeling that customers have about your company. And your branding and your brand identity is the way that you translate that feeling into something visual for people to understand, because we're visual animals. And so that's how we'll interpret the brand through his visual cues such as color, etc.
Chris: Yes, I well said I couldn't agree more. Because I believe that apples are such a great brand. I feel like a lot of times that may be paying way over than the actual products worth. But I mean, I have a watch, I have a phone, I have the MacBook, and it's all about the brand. Right? And so I completely get that. But now, where do you see accountants investing? And what would they do? What do you see them investing in? And then when do you see them kind of rebranding themselves?
Ben: Well, I think accountants will often come to the stage a lot with any business really not exclusive to accountants, but they'll come to the realization that they may need to have a rebrand. And this can come from a couple of ways. And the first is that they may look around their own industry at their competition. And they may feel that their competition is branding and have recently rebranded and they're looking really sharp, and they're looking ultra modern. And they're beginning to appeal to that sort of younger generation of business owners, and they may look at their own brand and say, I don't feel we're sort of up to scratch now with what the newer sort of fresher companies are doing. So that may choose to rebrand themselves to raise the bar.
And another way, which I see in the UK is that they may look around and say, you know, we've got this sort of gray and blue color scheme, we've got a very non committal lead statement on our website that doesn't really tell anyone anything, and they may wish to sort of separate themselves from that side of things. And they say, Well, you know, we want to raise the bar a little bit for our own brand and differentiate ourselves. And so we don't look the same as everyone else.
So that's the two similar reasons, but they come out in the same sphere that they want to raise the bar or separate themselves away. And another reason quite common is they might just feel that their business and their services, have really outgrown their current branding and their brand identity, they might feel that it's not really no longer appealing to the sort of customers they want, is no longer appealing to the sort of talent and staff they're looking to attract. And so they might feel it's time to refresh or rebrand, perhaps change their name, and just give themselves a good makeover to reflect more of what they were, what they represent in this current time.
Chris: Yeah, and I think it's very important now for branding and attracting talent for staff, because it's not about folks who are now working, you know, 100 billable hours a week, and they're the champions in that aspect. It's more about what for new candidates seeking a job in this profession. It's more about what can your firm do for me? Why do I want to work for your firm? How is your firm different from any others? I feel that it's a different mindset with millennials and Gen Z coming into play here. And so how do you see accountants kind of making themselves stand out and differentiating themselves, for their clients, but also staff?
Ben: Yeah, so for the staff is, I mean, that's a big challenge we face in the accounting industry is attracting and retaining that talent. And so this comes down to what is known as employer branding. And this, this definitely does cross over into, like the HR space, which I'm not an expert on, but to look at your employer branding is to position your firm that is going to be attractive to potential staff, and also operating a culture and making sure you know, you have this internal culture that makes your, you know, perhaps younger staff want to stay as well.
So, again, from the very, very top level, you need to make sure that you're a firm that is looking differentiated visually, you know, you're not sort of in this gray and blue really cliched sort of visuals that doesn't separate you at all, you need to make sure that your website is engaging and modern. If it's 2021, 2022, and your website isn't working on a mobile device, then you're not going to be attracting that sort of talent to your firm because they're going to say, Well, these guys look like they're stuck in the past you know?
And I think it's a lot like your internal stuff culture, how can you demonstrate that you can nurture your new prospects? You know, what can you do for them to help nurture their career in your firm? And when people are seeking for roles that you're advertising, I mean, it's guaranteed that they're going to be looking at your firm's website. So I would consider having a meet the team page to show your staff members, think about the photography on that meet the team page, it doesn't have to be very sort of grid based and very hierarchy based, like so many of them are, you could have a more relaxed group photo, for example, often make the team pages will feature sort of fun tidbits about the clients, sorry about the staff, such as no favorite movie and little known fact, etc, etc. So by developing these sorts of pages, you're really humanizing the company a bit as well. And I think that is worth doing.
And also, you can consider having a career or a work with us page on your website. And that can be a separate section on your website to current vacancies. But this could be a page that talks about what staff can expect when they come and work at your firm, how you might nurture them, how you might train them. And you need to talk about softer factors beyond just salary and how many weeks of holiday you get.
I mean, there's, there's more things that you can talk about that are going to be appealing to that younger generation of employees, they're going to be looking for a firm that shares their values as well. So if you can talk about your environmental or social policies, and if whether you support certain charities, and yeah, just reflecting values that will resonate with our younger members of staff, who are perhaps in their 20s or 30s, that are looking to get a job in your firm, will certainly you're looking to try and attract your firm, shall I say?
Chris: Yeah one of our clients is a virtual CFO firm. And on their website, they create caricatures of all their SAP, and they're all remote. And so that not only other caricatures there, where they work from, like the state, and so you scroll over it, and it shows their actual picture, right. And they have folks with us in India. And so the same thing is done over there. And you're right, going to seek to work for this firm. It looks fun, right? It looks relaxed, it looks like wow, they're remote. They're monitoring, they're there with the times and they have hired globally. Right. And so I absolutely agree with that. But now, you got everyone in the accounting world excited, ready to do this. But where do you see some challenges that they're facing initially? And what can they do to get this off the ground effectively?
You talked about the website, you talked about, you know, changing the colors, what are some other things that they could do?
Ben: So I think if you are considering a full rebrand for a firm, I would need to sort of do some strategy work beforehand, your brand actually falls into, there's your internal brand. And there's your external brand. And your internal brand is your sort of your brand values, your brand, vision, your mission, your positioning statement, understanding who you're serving, and developing that sort of USP and developing that point of difference now, that all of that sort of thing is the internal brand, which will be developed with the stakeholders of the firm through sort of strategy sessions with a branding agency. And then what you have, the result of that is that you interpret that visually, through your external brand and your external brand is the things that the person on the street will see.
Okay, so you've got to make sure for a start, you can think about your company name. Now, my research showed that almost three quarters of the firms that I looked at, were named either after their founders, or they were initialisms of their founders. And so you might have Smith and Johnson accountants or RS JP accountants, now, as a name that's not memorable in the slightest, is not very interesting not to, it's not very memorable. And I'm a firm that's just named after the founder's name doesn't that doesn't lend itself to a very interesting brand identity, because, you know, where do you really go with that? And so it's worth seeking out an agency, for example, that could take you through a naming process.
And if you can come up with a name for your firm that is a little bit more inventive, a little bit more evocative, then that would definitely lend itself to a more interesting branding. And it's likely to be far more memorable. Because you're no longer your logo, your name is the most recalled aspect of your brand identity. So it's really important that that that stands out, I think we're past having to name firms after the founder surname in this day and age.
And beyond that, to go through some other ways that you can differentiate would be your color schemes. I see that sort of 53% of firms that I looked at just use blue and gray as their key color schemes. And I think well, why it's so uninspiring, and there's plenty more that you could do, it just doesn't have to be blue and gray, is worth looking at your positioning statement, which takes me sort of down the route of whether you should consider niching your firm into a particular client base or into a discipline within the accounting realm.
If you niche, it allows you to understand your client a little bit better. It allows you to write far better targeted content for your blog articles and develop thought leadership. Because if you say we're a proactive team of accountants that work with businesses large and small, then I've learned nothing about your firm, I mean, that there's no differentiation within that statement itself. And a positioning statement isn't part of your internal brand. And you would sort of reword that onto your website. But think about what the very leading statement on your website is, and does that really do that really give you a point of difference, you know, further things that you would look at is your website design, it doesn't need to be filled with text, it doesn't need to be cluttered. You know, it should have elements and space to breathe, when you scroll through, it should work on mobile devices, etc. And a big one, it would be good to see more firms writing original blog content.
And for firms in the UK, I don't mean just feeling like an HMI Neuspeed into a page on your website and calling it a blog, because that isn't a blog. And it isn't thought leadership in it at all. But actual writing targeted content. And again, if you do niche, then you will be able to write that sort of content a lot easier. And it allows you to give real substance to your social media as well, if you go ahead and do that, you can share that content. And as we've touched on employer branding, and that sort of seven elements there as a starting point that you can, you can differentiate your firm.
Chris: Yeah, so as you mentioned about the name, I was looking at my upcoming calls for today. I usually do about 10 calls a week to 10 different clients every day, all around the globe. And I'm looking ahead, each of the firm's names, and it is all of its, you know, firm name and company. That's the name of the owner and company name of the owner. And I'm like, holy cow, that isn't just an easy starting point. Because that kind of it could be a law firm, or it could just be it's not exciting. I totally get it. Yeah, I'm just looking here at all the different names.
So, think of that. But yeah, you're absolutely right and not and so 10 calls, I just looked at literally seven of them. And all seven have the owner's name tied into it.
Ben: So the problem is, if they're not they're not memorable, you wouldn't be able to go and recall that. Right, you know, five or six days later, but for your own firm Entigrity, obviously, you've gone through a naming process there because that is, I think, evocative name. And so it's memorable. So it's definitely something that has been overlooked. And it should be given more consideration,
Chris: Yeah. Now, you mentioned about research that you've done. So how long have you been doing this? And what are some of the trends and some of the findings that you've discovered?
Ben: Yeah, sure. So it was in late 2019, that we finished up the research, and we published it in early 2020. And like I say, we looked at 500 accountants, websites and branding, in Essex, Cambridge, and as well as in the boroughs of London. And we looked at everything from what logo style did they have? Was it a word marker? Is it a graphic device? Is it an emblem? Is it a shield? For example? Have we looked at the color schemes of their websites? The color schemes have their logos and wordmarks? How many Google reviews did they have? What social media platforms did they have? How did they approach naming, evocative naming, founder based naming etc, etc. We looked at some technical Google likes
not rankings, we looked at I think, Google lighthouse, which gives you various scores. So I looked at those as well.
Yeah, and a call to actions that was a big one, we took the lead statements from 500 of the websites and I ran all of those sentences through. I never know how to describe this, like a, like an engine, basically, that told me what the most popular words were in use in these position statements. And then it could sort of give me an idea to understand what the most popular phrases we used on accountants, firms as well. And then we just compiled all of that into a 36 page report, which you can download on the PROSPER website.
It's free to download. And it's quite an interesting insight. I don't think well, no one else has done it in the UK and gave me a bit of a view on how accountants approach website design and how they approach the brand identity really. So which helps us advise clients what not to do if they want to differentiate their firms.
Chris: Yeah. And speaking with clients, you know, we work with them with offshore stuff. But every day I get asked about marketing, I get asked about IT consulting. And so they, the awareness is there. They're starting to become more proactive about it and wanting to make changes. And so yeah, everything you spoke about in the research, too, is very valuable, so awesome, that you've done that. And so, wrapping up today, any final thoughts for our audience? Some really insightful content? But yeah, any final thoughts today?
Ben: I think, just be braver with your branding, don't just follow what has been done before. If you're working with an agency, and you say, well, a lot of accountants have blue and gray, and they say, Well, that sounds like a great idea. And they just do it. They should be pushing back. You know, if you're hiring them as experts to help brand you, they should be pushing back on the sort of standard assumptions, and be braver with your naming. Remember that, you know, your brand isn't just your logo, your brand is everything. So it's your colors. It's your name. Another biggie is photography, we see a lot of firms using very sort of lazy stock photography. And it will be nice to sort of up the game on that if your photography is really, really poor and your website, I actually think it is condescending to the people that are visiting, you're visiting your site as well. I mean, it can get that bad. I've written lots of articles on this, which you can find over on my blog.
But yes, differentiate yourself, focus, especially on your Meet the Team pages, and try to also resonate, your website needs to resonate with potential staff as well as your customers. So have a look at your employer branding, develop an employer branding, value proposition and understand how you know, a young person might know the things they want to know, and the reassurance that they might seek when they come to work with your firm. And yeah, all of everything I talked about, that just comes on to this matter of you know, get your brand right, make sure you're deliberately differentiated from the next phone.
Chris: Absolutely. Well, Ben, thank you so much for taking time out. And speaking to our audience today really appreciates this. I totally believe in the whole branding idea. I mean, I am very loyal to the brand and looking at what you know, some of the firms are doing now and there's changes to be done. Right. And it's time to be creative, break the boundary and stand out, right. It's not just that other industries are part of this accounting industry too. So let's go ahead and do it. And so folks like you really appreciate it. Alright, so, to our audience, thanks for listening in. We'll be back soon, but another episode, but for now, everybody take care. Be safe. Ben, thank you so much again.
Ben: Thank you, Chris. Thanks for having me.
Entigrity™ is a trusted offshore staffing partner to over 600+ accountants, CPAs, and tax firms across the US and Canada. Our flexible and transparent hiring model helps firms of all sizes hire staff for accounting, bookkeeping, tax preparation, or any other task for 75% less cost. As a firm 'run by accountants, for the accountants', Entigrity captures the hiring needs of accounting firms most precisely, providing staff that works directly under your control and management, still, you are left with least to worry about compliance, payroll taxes, overheads or any other benefits.