Why branding for professional services consultancies matters: Part two

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Last week Ralph Ardill, founder of The Brand Experience Consultancy, looked at why a strong brand is important for professional services firms. This week he’ll go into his 8P’s which provide a framework for consultancies looking to take their brand to the next level.

Having worked on dozens of brand-led, business transformation programs for professional services consultancies across a wide range of sectors, Ralph has developed the 8P’s of professional services branding as a framework for developing your brand. They are a good starting point for consultancies setting out on a brand development journey.

1. Purpose

What drives your firm and gets you out of bed in the morning? What is the singular reason you exist? What do you want to see more (or less) of in the world? How can you best distill and unleash the power of this purpose to attract the best clients and talent?

Try using classic storytelling techniques – who is the ‘hero’ in your story, who or what is the ‘villain’ and what will your hero need to be and deliver to win the day?

2. Principles

What are your guiding organizational principles that will underpin everything you do and guide you towards fulfilling your firm’s purpose? Often expressed as values, charters or client promises, these high level commitments clearly define your priorities and the way you do things. They also set a clear expectation of the quality of service and experience clients should expect.

Avoid pithy, vague and ‘aspirational’ vocabulary here but instead focus on compelling commitments that clearly define and bring to life both the client and employee experience of your firm.

3. Practices

What are the specific working practices, initiatives, rituals or programs you have established in your business to ensure your purpose and principles are hard-wired, as opposed to strategic slogans on your notice boards?

Define the signature moments, memories and experiences in the lives of your clients and employees that above all others will truly demonstrate your purpose and deliver your superior value proposition in action.

4. People

How will recruitment, retention, development and overall work/life experience of your employees and clients be driven by your brand? What are your ideal employee and client brand journeys?

Develop personas that represent your typical client (and employee) audiences and use these personas to constantly inform, challenge and inspire the design of your future brand experience.

5. Policies

How will the operating policies of your business be developed to best encourage, re-enforce and deeply embed your brand purpose in your business?

Use your purpose as the ultimate ‘stop doing’ list to make sure you avoid activities that do not deliver on your purpose and principles. Then look to establish new policies in your firm where you can re-invest these resources to encourage the new purpose-driven brand behaviours that will set you apart from the crowd.

6. Positioning

What are the key areas, sectors, disciplines, questions, issues and subjects where you have the greatest right to lead, play and win?

Ensure that your ‘positioning’ has real teeth and relevance by being clear on what you stand for, who you are for, what you can do, who you do it for and why they choose you.

7. Products

What will your future portfolio of brand products, services and experiences be? And how will these best be delivered, developed, communicated and commercialized?

Try to avoid the re-branding trap of simply re-packaging business as usual. A re-branding programme built around these 8P’s should inspire you to develop new branded products, services and experiences along with adding value to your existing service portfolio.

8. Personality

Last but not least, how can all the above best be expressed and brought to life as part of a powerful and distinctive brand personality, image and tone of voice that can be embodied across everything from your brand name, identity and online/offline communications, through to environments, proposals, pitches and presentations?

Try to ensure your re-branding programme remains firmly focused on designing superior arguments for why people should choose to work with and for your firm as opposed to the design of new ‘looks and logos’.

These eight questions cut to the heart of what will drive the development of tomorrow’s leading professional brands. By concentrating on each and clearly articulating what kind of consultancy you want to build and how this can be expressed through the different touch points that make up a brand, you will create an organizational personality and experience that will help you stand out to clients and potential employees.

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Consulting Sector M&A Deals for week beginning 20th July

businessman doing handstand on the beachReynolds Porter Chamberlain (UK) acquired Marriott Sinclair (UK)
Deal Size: Undisclosed Industry: IT consulting Date: July 2015
RPC Consulting has acquired UK-based software and consultancy business, Marriott Sinclair. Marriott Sinclair, which was formed in 2012, provides software and actuarial consultancy to the insurance, banking, and wider financial services communities. The company has developed a software solution called ‘tyche’, a state of the art financial modelling tool that explores the many uncertainties affecting the financial outcome of projects, strategies or business opportunities. It helps to empower clients struggling with decision making, particularly in a regulatory environment demanding an ever greater awareness of risk. RPC Consulting was established in early 2015 with the appointment of Rory O’Brien, who is the Managing Partner. It offers actuarial and general management consultancy services to clients in the insurance sector. “The team at Marriott Sinclair has significant expertise in the insurance consulting sector and its propriety software product, tyche, is a game changer in the insurance market. The fit is perfect for RPC Consulting because it adds additional consulting capability and breadth to our current offering and provides an excellent software platform that will support much of the advisory work that we will provide to clients. The software is game changing in terms of speed and usability and as one of the only truly independent providers of these combined consulting and software solution in the market we see a significant differentiator for RPC Consulting,” said Rory O’Brien, RPC’s Managing Partner.

Accenture (Ireland) acquired Chaotic Moon (USA)
Deal Size: Undisclosed Industry: Media consulting Date: July 2015
Accenture has acquired Chaotic Moon, a creative technology studio that creates and develops user-centered experiences for leading brands, strengthening its full suite of marketing and digital services provided by Accenture Interactive, part of Accenture Digital. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Chaotic Moon has capabilities in experience strategy, digital design, prototyping, and development. The acquisition provides Accenture Interactive with expanded rapid prototyping and creative technology capabilities, as well as a regional foothold in the talent-rich Texas market. The studio is known for its adventurous style, boundary-pushing technology, and a methodology that pairs designers with developers on rapid co-creation — from concepting to delivery. “Chaotic Moon is a natural extension of our capabilities and allows us to expand geographically into Austin, with its strong base of designers and engineers. Together, we will work to fulfil our ambition at Accenture Interactive to be a market leader in experience design, marketing, content and commerce for the world’s biggest brands,” said Brian Whipple, senior managing director, Accenture Interactive. Continue reading

Consulting Sector M&A Deals for week beginning 13th July

businessman doing handstand on the beachSolvere One (USA) acquired V-Oasis (USA)
Deal Size: Undisclosed Industry: IT consulting Date: July 2015
Solvere One, a leading provider of managed IT support and consulting services in the Washington, DC area, has expanded its network of services by acquiring cloud computing company V-Oasis. V-Oasis provides a broad range of security-focused managed services and private cloud hosting solutions. “With this acquisition, we will be able to provide our clients with state-of-the-art infrastructure, in a facility leading in security and data availability, to meet the demands of evolving technology and a more efficient workforce, while maintaining the high level of customer service and support we have been known for since 1997,” said Greg Roney, president and CEO of Solvere One. “We are thrilled to be able to expand our services to help DC metro area businesses grow.”

EPAM Systems Inc (USA) acquired NavigationArts LLC (USA)
Deal Size: Undisclosed Industry: Media consulting Date: July 2015
EPAM Systems, Inc. (NYSE:EPAM), a leading global provider of product development and software engineering solutions, announced today its acquisition of NavigationArts, a digital strategy and experience design firm. The acquisition will enhance EPAM’s ability to provide digital consulting, architecture and content solutions to customers in North America and beyond. Headquartered in McLean, VA, NavigationArts combines business and customer experience consulting with a strong content management systems practice. “Experience platforms have become the backbone of our customers’ multi-channel engagement strategies” said Arkadiy Dobkin, EPAM CEO and President. “The expertise of NavigationArts in architecting and deploying Adobe, Sitecore and Drupal-based solutions, combined with their proven ability to act as a strategic advisor to Fortune 500 clients, makes them an exciting addition to our fast-growing Digital Engagement practice”. Continue reading

Why branding for professional services consultancies matters: Part one

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This week we have a guest blog from  Ralph Ardill, the founder of The Brand Experience Consultancy. Today he’ll provide an overview on why a compelling brand is important for professional services firms. Next week he’ll look at his ‘8P’s’ of professional services branding framework. Ralph was involved with the recent Equiteq rebrand and specializes in professional services organizations.

The professional services sector is a crowded and competitive one. While consultancy growth was once secure if consultants simply did good work and kept clients happy, those days are long gone. Clients are becoming increasingly sophisticated about the way they use consultants to bring the most value to their business and many are developing their own in-house capability. Lower-cost challengers are also competing for work with established firms and many competitors are barely distinguishable from each other. This all means that managing a firm’s brand is not just a nice to have; it’s a necessity.

Branding is now being taken seriously in the boardroom and we are seeing the next generation of professional services brands emerging. Many people believe that a brand strategy is simply a visual identity or a logo but it is so much more than that. A company’s brand needs to encompass everything in a company: how the leadership team and employees behave both internally and externally, how the business communicates with its customers and other stakeholders and what the business stands for and offers.

Consistency in branding is also key. There are so many touch points in a customer journey – the website, newsletters, other collateral and the people in the actual business to name just a few – and for a brand to succeed it must be consistent and authentic across all channels.

The successful brands are the ones that convey a deep understanding about where they create value for clients. That create clear, compelling and relevant superior value propositions and maintain this all important consistency across all the touch points.

There are three overarching steps to consider when developing a consultancy brand that ensures cut through in your target market.

1. Start top down

It’s important for the leaders in the business to commit, engage and publicly support the branding process. This involves developing an internal ‘case for change’ to engage and involve staff. Leaders should co-create a roadmap for the project journey (process) and destination (outcomes) and anticipate and agree all resources, costs, outside help and investment required.

2. Let them in

Your people are your brand so involve and inform them throughout. Design your brand transformation project to encourage conversations from inside and out, but ensure there are clear processes for sign-off and decision-making.

Employee engagement, understanding and involvement in the process is crucial as they are going to be your brand ambassadors. Involve people from all levels of the organization in the design of the brand transformation process and clearly communicate what’s in it for them. By being part of the brand creation experience, they will be better advocates for the consultancy.

3. Listen before you leap

Talk to current, lapsed and new clients about their views and experiences, they will be able to provide valuable insight into what makes your consultancy different and their reasons for hiring, or firing, you. Balance these human insights against market and competitor insights and research.

Rebranding can be an exciting and invigorating process for a consultancy. While these are the three principal points to consider when undertaking a branding exercise, next week we’ll look in more detail at eight specific steps to focus on.

Are you a member of Equiteq Edge? It’s full of content to help consulting firm owners grow and realize equity value in their business. Register here to gain full access.

Case study: Focus on profit and leadership brought buyers to Easton

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Background

Founded in 2000, Easton Associates provided product and business strategy consulting services to companies in the life science industries. In 2009 they approached us asking for a business valuation and market risk assessment and we valued them at $5m. By helping them restructure the leadership and to improve sales and marketing over the following two years we helped them grow their profit and the value of the business increased to between $12-$15m. In 2012 Easton sold to Navigant for $15m.

The client’s situation

Easton was a consultancy on the up, but it was struggling to convert sales into revenue and profit. The ambitious leadership team was keen to rectify this and turn the business into a thriving consultancy that had a true handle on its bottom line and was worth something on the M&A market. They asked Equiteq to help.

Our approach

When we first came on board, Easton had five partners. To improve decision making Equiteq helped the team re-structure and Easton appointed a chief executive officer. She was charged with, and given a bonus for, delivering a new profit target. Easton used Equiteq’s 8 lever Equity Growth Wheel to help them introduce best practice in driving sales and profit growth, improving intellectual property, and formalizing sales and marketing processes. Turning sales into revenue and profit was a key priority, and Easton needed to put consistency around their sales and business development processes and to make staff more accountable for delivering targets. Gross margin targets were set in line with capabilities and incentive bonuses offered on delivery. Elsewhere, building value into a ‘people’ business, where, in theory, your intellectual property is in people’s heads and on laptops, requires a unique approach. We helped Easton build detailed market propositions and put rigour and process around how they captured and recorded their valuable intellectual property.

How did this deliver value to the client?

Easton made rapid progress over a two year period using the Equity Growth Wheel, with a specific focus on sales and profit growth, market proposition, intellectual property and management quality

Equiteq supported Easton in:

  • re-structuring their leadership team to provide better clarity and focus
  • growing revenue by 37% – from $9.5m to $13m in two years
  • growing profits from $650k to $2.5m – an increase of 280%
  • Easton’s valuation grew by $10m in two years

The EBIT value of the firm started at four but reached a multiple of 7.5 at the end of the engagement

Find a partner for the next phase of growth

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There’s a point in time in the lifecycle of many firms where the owners believe that their business has a great future with high growth potential, however they are equally convinced that they don’t have the firepower to take it to the next level. They are not looking for an exit, but a partner who can help them take the next step up while they remain in the business long term. What does it look like when this is your driver to sell? Typical feelings when this stage is reached may be any one, or a permutation of, the following:

• I’ve reached the limits of my business leadership capability
• We can’t get into bigger clients and million dollar engagements without a big brand behind us
• Our fees could grow exponentially if we had international client access
• Lack of investment is holding us back
• I’m at the next stage of my career having built my firm and now want to reach partner level in one of the Big 4

Ideally you will read these signals well in advance of your next growth glass ceiling, because if you allow business growth to stall, then the leverage you have with buyers or investors will decrease, along with the price they are willing to pay.

It’s by no means impossible to go into a sale process with flat historic revenues and profits; acquirers know potential when they see it and the synergy value you can share together is not diminished because you lack an asset to get to the next level. However it does weaken your position because it will be clear that the potential acquirer holds most of the cards when it comes to driving growth in the next stage of the business and this will be reflected in the price paid for the business.

Whether you are still on a growth curve, or already plateaued at a reasonable size, if you have a consulting business in an area of market demand then it’s possible that a compelling business case can be put to a strategic buyer or financial investor, such as a private equity firm.

The key is timing and motivation; don’t let your firm get too far past its best by date. And if you’re fresh enough to want to carry your firm forward under new ownership, rather than take the exit door ASAP, then this may be your route to put cash in the bank as well as pump up your future compensation.

Are you a member of Equiteq Edge? It’s full of content to help consulting firm owners grow and realize equity value in their business. Register here to gain full access.