By Tony Tiernan and John Grace
Brands are ultimately about meaning. Stories are the building blocks of meaning. And stories that connect your brand with a fundamental human need can help you build a powerful bond with your clients.
In our experience, this is as true for management consultants, accountants, law firms and architects as it is for carmakers, computer manufacturers, fashion designers and food brands. The difference is that while we have long accepted that emotional connection can drive consumer purchases, we like to think that business-to-business purchases are driven entirely by cold reason. They are not.
We have spent many years interviewing C-suite executives who purchase professional services about how they choose between firms. Sometimes one firm has a “silver bullet”, a tool or insight or method that nobody else has, so the choice is obvious. It happens, but it’s vanishingly rare (and quickly copied).
More often, clients have to choose between firms that have very similar offerings, people and approaches. So how do they pick? We have found that they make choices based on the story the brand tells them and the story that the brand therefore allows them to tell about themselves.
Certain narrative patterns or storylines tend to recur within particular categories of professional services firms. The table below illustrates a few of the story patterns we often see in our work with these firms.
|Brand Storyline||Basic Human Need Addressed||Typical Professional Services Category|
|Sage||Understanding, insight, getting to the truth,||Strategy Consulting; Research Services; Executive Education; Accounting|
|Magician||Transformation, changing things for the better||Management Consulting; Change Management; Coaching|
|Ruler||Control, order, reducing uncertainty||Strategy Consulting; Financial Planning; Insurance|
|Warrior||Security, defense against threats, fighting for what’s right||Law Firms; Accounting Firms; Management Consulting Firms|
Credit: Archetypal story patterns based on Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces and Carol Pearson's The Hero and the Outlaw
Each of these narrative patterns enables a brand to evoke and address a deep human need, even when offering an abstraction such as professional advice. And each of these stories can be told in a multitude of different ways.
So how do you discover and then develop your authentic brand story? There are strong clues in your firm’s origin story and in the recurring iconic stories about the firm that your professionals tell themselves. The stories that clients tell about you (and the language they use to tell them) are also powerful sources. In both cases, it takes skilled questioning and astute listening to draw out the truth in the tale.
Once you have discovered the fundamental brand story that reflects the truth of your organization, it can then be developed into compelling market-facing messages, woven through all your communications and crucially, embedded in the culture of the firm and the behavior of your people.