Brand the Relationship, Not Just the Offering

By Tony Tiernan

When it comes to differentiation, most professional services firms focus on what they do, and ignore who they are. That misses a big opportunity.

While a firm’s expertise, insights, intellectual capital and methodologies are crucial to success they are rarely unique, at least not for long. But who you are, well that’s a different story.

A profound and sustainable source of differentiation for most professional services firms is the relationship they develop with the client. The relationship provides the experiential and emotional “wrapper” in which the service is delivered. As such, it has enormous value to the client, who often sees it as the most meaningful differentiator between firms. Yet that value is usually unexamined and unarticulated.

Who you are determines how you create value. It is that unique value-creating organizational “self” that is expressed through the relationship and experienced by the client as the dimension that truly and valuably distinguishes one firm from another.

Professional services often hinge on the relationship between the lead professional and the leadership at the client company. A thoughtfully developed organizational brand magnifies and broadens the client relationship, extending it from the individual professional to the firm itself.

Relationships are the lifeblood of professional services. So shouldn’t we pay more attention to understanding the value delivered through the relationship itself? Branding the relationship might just provide a more sustainable path to differentiation.

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