Richard Shuback

Richard Shuback, LLC

Move your brand to a professional level

These days many CPAs and their firms are looking for solutions that will put their company on the map and help them compete professionally. Naturally branding plays a key role in a firm’s overall perception and credibility.

Over time investments are made in finding the right office space, creating a memorable logo design or even serving clients the perfect cup of coffee.

An area often overlooked within this effort is the firm’s email address. As the firm has moved forward professionally, it can have a hard time letting go of its outdated or irrelevant technology.

This could be for many reasons:

  • It was good enough to use in college – why not now?
  • Too complicated to migrate
  • Not certain what domain to use or even how to get one
  • No one pays attention to it anyway

The reality is that your email address is a reflection of you and your firm. In fact the 2014 GoDaddy Survey found that customers are 9 times more likely to choose a company with a professional email address.

By holding on to a consumer grade email client, many clients may question the firm’s legitimacy. It’s also worth noting that consumer workflow is considerably different than business. Your current email client may not be up for the challenge.

Building your brand requires constant attention -- always identifying new opportunities to promote your firm to both clients and prospects. With email as your core communication vehicle, every message you send should reinforce your dedication to your clients and your practice. Visit www.cpa.com/email to learn about a CPA branded email address.

Richard Shuback

Richard Shuback, LLC

It helps to build your brand around a solid framework

When building a sustainable brand with any level of complexity, it’s important to build it based on a sound and solid structure or framework. By creating consensus from both internal and external stakeholders as to what the brand truly is and stands for, the process of execution and adoption will become much more streamlined.

My Framework for Brand Creation has been designed to enable the creative development process to become more informed. This will assist in the decision-making process – enabling stakeholders to judge and support the work based the brand’s true identity not individual personal preference.

> DISCOVERY AND DEFINITION

The first and most critical phase of the Brand Creation process is Discovery and Definition. This phase establishes:

  • Key objectives and timing
  • Market situation
  • Mission and positioning
  • Competition
  • Overall benefits and offerings
  • Value proposition
  • Stakeholders and audience
  • What’s working and performance gaps

The reason this phase is so important is because all of the work that follows will be judged against what’s agreed upon in the final Discovery Document. It’s developed through research documents and background materials. The document is also compiled through other sources that are uncovered through brainstorm sessions and interviews.

This work along with research and insights will inform all of the creative and brand work to follow. This is why it’s important to have accurate, agreed-upon documentation that has buy-in from executive leadership all the way through to the day-to-day marketing team.

Once the Discovery Document has been completed and approved, it will serve as a North Star for creative direction. This will influence and inspire the Creative Exploration, which moves us into the next phase.

> CREATIVE EXPLORATION AND SELECTION

This is the phase where ideas and concepts of what the brand could look and sound like in the marketplace takes shape.

A series of unique creative ideas and tactics are shared with the company’s leadership and marketing teams. This work will take the form of concepts in advertising, social media and design.

The Creative Exploration presentation typically consists of three unique creative directions which include:

  • Logo design & possible naming options
  • Tag lines
  • Messaging
  • Overall look and feel (Imagery, Color, Typography, Persona)
  • Communication mock-ups such as:
    • Home page designs
    • Collateral such as business cards
    • Advertisements
    • Marketing Emails

The concept selection process is aided by referring back to the Discovery Document. This helps in the judging of the creative work and allows each stakeholder to objectively react to each concept based on the agreed upon core objectives and findings.

Reactions and feedback are shared with the teams and they in turn help inform the decision making process. Generally several rounds of adjustments are made before the lead creative direction is finalized. Once that happens, and the brand direction has reached final approval, the creative is ready to move into development.

> BRAND DEVELOPMENT AND EXECUTION

Now that the concepts, ideas and creative directions have been approved, it’s time to begin to tackle the core assignments. At times it can feel like we’re building the plane while we’re flying it. That’s because that’s just about what we’ll be doing.

Key marketing projects and initiatives will inform future assignments. Implementation of design, photography, illustration, fonts and messaging will be taking shape and help us understand how the brand functions in different media channels.

It will be important to prioritize the work in phases and decide what’s needed immediately and what can wait for a later phase.

The first round of the Brand Guidelines will begin to take shape and an asset library is usually created to enable the execution process to run smoothly and consistently. This will also provide internal and external resources with the ability to contribute to the brand’s development and execution.

Language, value proposition, imagery and formats will be executed and begin to be distributed to printers, media partners and online web channels. This soft launch phase provides a window into how the branding functions both technically and creatively.

> BRAND DEFINITION AND ADOPTION

At this stage the Brand Guidelines become more detailed. This is because there will be a series of in-market communications to draw from. These guidelines will assist both creative and marketing with the right tools to maintain brand consistency.

This is also a great opportunity for internal team building. Given the nature of branding or re-branding, the creative shouldn’t look like every other company's in the category. Because of that, many existing team members may not fully agree with or understand the new creative direction. In some cases they may want to go back to the previous way of doing things.

To build adoption both internally and externally the brand needs to be socialized with small events, giveaways and team meetings. This builds affinity for the company by emotionally connecting stakeholders with the new brand and the effort behind it. This enthusiasm brings everyone on board and inspires them to become brand advocates.

> BRAND LAUNCH AND IMPLEMENTATION

The implementation of the new work isn’t the end but the beginning of the brand's development. This phase allows for us to identify efficiencies in creative development such as templates and messaging structures. It can also help inform the volume of work ahead and to determine prioritization.

This phase helps us to view the work beyond concepts and see how it performed in market. It’s a good opportunity to check in with customers, business partners and employees to see if people are noticing the new brand and what it means to them.

Public reaction can inform the future work and help with market research in the next phase.

> MARKET RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS

Soliciting the public’s opinion of the new brand is a good idea. It’s important to see how target markets view the work and if it’s performing according to plan. This can be done through online surveys, polls and focus groups. This review can help identify any gaps that could be missing in the overall brand structure. More importantly, it could also confirm and support the decisions that were made throughout the whole brand development process.

> ONGOING CREATIVE REFINEMENT AND CONTINUITY

A brand, just like an individual, grows organically. Once the analysis from the research is understood, the team can determine the adjustments that need to happen in order to optimize the brand’s overall performance in the market – helping it grow.

In addition, new projects and assignments will come up where the creative solution may not have been addressed earlier. It’s important to stay on course and develop creative directions that both maintain and evolve your new brand.

IFAC

Inter- national Feder- ation of Accoun- tants

Does the Accounting Profession Suffer from a Branding Issue?

Branding in the accounting profession is in a state of transition, says Richard Shuback, Brand Steward at Richard Shuback, LLC.

This video originally appeared on the IFAC Global Knowledge Gateway. If you wish to reproduce the video, please contact gateway@ifac.org.

Richard Shuback

Richard Shuback, LLC

Identifying your North Star

Definition of a company or product can sometimes take on multiple interpretations. These inconsistent elevator pitches often lead to conflicting brand statements as well as confusion for both staff and the marketplace.

Along your journey toward brand development, you may have come across the term North Star. This is a tool used in brand and creative development that points the organization and those working with it in a single direction.

The tool that I've created for myself and my clients looks something like this:

 

The structure is a simple chart with a few embellishments that aid in the overall structure of the brand's definition.

At the top of the graphic is the company/product name or logo. This element should be supported by a short sentence that explains what the name actually stands for or what its intended meaning is. This piece of the North Star establishes who and what this diagram is representing.

The body is divided into three equal pieces. Each piece is defined by a trait that makes the brand stand out. When united, they make up the brand DNA as a whole. These are single words that identify the true strength of the brand. They are emotional attributes that reflect the brand's expertise and aspirations.

Stay away from tactical traits such as Product Specific Names, Benefits and Offers when determining these elements.

For example, a fictitious auto dealer, Joe's Automotive, uses emotional attributes such as Flexible, Modern and Trustworthy. Joe's avoided tactical attributes such as New Chevys, Open Late and Free Oil Changes. This is because tactical attributes rarely represent the foundation that a company is built upon or offer a window into its future.

Each trait should be supported by a single sentence that explains how each word is representative of the brand.

Sitting at the base of the North Star are the employee strengths. This could represent the vision of leadership or the enthusiasm of the staff. Keep in mind they do not represent the brand's consumer or audience. They are the people who make up the organization and reflect its human attributes.

These strengths should not represent a single individual but the collective make up of the staff and/or culture. Joe's Automotive's employee strengths would be GM Certified and Neighborly.

Defining the internal team in a human way puts a face behind the business – making it more accessible for its audience.

The final element in this structure is what I call the force field or overarching strength. It's the attribute that surrounds the entire North Star and enables the brand to stand out from the competition. This should be driven by concepts such as company history, partner alliances or a claim that others in your category are unable to make.

The example below shows how the North Star translates for Joe's Automotive:

 

 

Although it's mainly used inside an organization, this device is extremely helpful when developing marketing materials, creating a tag line or establishing an elevator pitch. It sets the tone for language, imagery and content. It's also a useful tool to support an overall creative direction.

The North Star goes beyond creative development and has become a useful communications device for human resources as well as investors. It points everyone in the same direction when asked, "What does your company or product stand for?"

If your communications consistently embody the content of your brand's North Star, then you're well on your way to clearly defining your company both internally and to your audiences.

Richard Shuback

Richard Shuback, LLC

Making an Informed Decision When Judging Creative

On several occasions my clients have asked me to make recommendations to their junior teams on how to best judge the work I’m about to share with them. Many times the conversation about the work can quickly get diverted into a granular discussion about color preference, imagery or personal bias. Below is a quick Creative Review checklist that has served both junior and senior clients well in making the best creative choices for their brand.

> BEGIN BY REVIEWING THE APPROVED CREATIVE BRIEF.

The Creative Brief is the roadmap that your team uses in order to develop their ideas. Many times specific messages, strategies or requirements have been noted to ensure the success of the assignment. By everyone starting on the same page with regard to the assignment, the objectives, the audience and the messaging, you’ll be able to have a more objective response to the work you’re about to see.

> HAVE YOUR CREATIVE TEAM PRESENT THEIR WORK.

Make certain that the team responsible for the work you’re about to see is a part of the presentation. They should be going through it with you the first time you’re seeing it. This could happen on the phone or better yet, in person.

The reason this is important is that your creative team can best describe their thinking and approach. They’re also best equipped to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

> HAVE MORE THAN ONE CREATIVE OPTION TO RESPOND TO.

Many times relationships and budgets may limit the concept round to only one idea. If this rhythm is working for you and your team then by all means continue.

However, new initiatives or new relationships in particular may require several creative approaches to choose from. The ideal number is usually three. Encourage your team to offer you an approach that’s safe, one that’s innovative and one that’s truly out of the box.

This offers you a sense of what’s possible as well as fueling ideas that could work into the existing assignment or into a future job.

> RESPOND AS THE TARGET AUDIENCE, NOT THE CLIENT.

Try to keep personal preferences out of it. If you’re a 40 year old woman but your audience is a 20 year old man, chances are you’re going to need to wrap your head around dorm life, dating and sports before you respond to the presentation. 

I find it’s helpful to have photos of the target group in the room while looking at the creative. When you hold the work next to the target image you can quickly see if there’s fit.

> STAY ON BRAND.

New creative teams are quick to reject most work that has proceeded them. It’s not uncommon for new fonts, colors, imagery and messaging to suddenly appear as well. Keep them honest and insist on brand continuity. Your identity shouldn’t change because you're selling something new to a different demographic.

If they have an idea that you love but they’ve ignored your Brand Standards, encourage your team to explore a Branded version of the concept. 

> SOCIALIZE THE WORK BUT PROVIDE BACK-UP.

Feel free to get other people’s feedback but don’t provide the creative in a vacuum. Make certain you’re passing along the Creative Brief and target information along with the creative files. This way their selection process will be as well-informed as yours.

> THE NET RESULT.

You’ll find the entire process more efficient because the winning idea will be selected based on the best translation of the Creative Brief and not the personal opinions of others. Your end product will look better and ultimately perform better because the time saved can be spent on perfecting the chosen concept.

Richard Shuback

Richard Shuback, LLC

Building a Brand Family

When developing a brand strategy, many times the creative direction is driven by more than one entity. Most companies today have several products and/or services that live under one core brand. It's important that the relationship of these elements be defined for current and future initiatives.

Typically this is referred to as a brand family. You have the core or parent brand that sits at the top of the overall brand structure. Underneath this umbrella live the additional products and services. There are several strategies that brand architects use to define this relationship.

Below are several approaches I've used for managing a brand-within-a-brand dynamic.

> PARENT & OFFSPRING

At the top of this structure sits the parent brand. Its role is to define and establish the messaging and the overall look and feel of the company as a whole. This part of the brand will be the most visible to most people because its attributes are being promoted through high visibility channels such as the web, print, television, outdoor and social media.

In addition, the parent brand will play a key role in the company’s creative and content branding. Tactics such as signage, retail outlet design, advertising – even forms generally need to be represented under the parent brand umbrella.

Below the parent brand are the separate but integrated offspring or sub-brands. Their role can represent:

  • Individual Products
  • Unique Services
  • Education Programs
  • Internal HR Initiatives
  • Events
  • Digital Assets

Each one of these sub-brands can assume its own unique identity while still aligning and following the basic principles of the parent brand. This structure is extremely practical because they all perform a different function within the overall make up of parent brand.

Tactically, the offspring all share the similar typographic, visual and messaging style. Their unique qualities come through naming, logo marks, shifts in colors, language and visual interpretation.

It’s worth noting that sub-brands will also have (at times) different audiences and marketing tactics. The more relevant and consistent a communications tool and message align with its recipient’s interest and expectations, the more successful the outcome will be.

Apple is a terrific example of this approach. They've managed to balance this branding technique so well that consumers have a true affinity and connection with each individual product or service.

They've evolved their brand so successfully that today's Apple steps back and proudly allows their offspring to shine. 

> KING OF THE HILL

This approach flattens the overall structure of a brand and its sub-brands and is built as a single entity. In other words products and services generally are not identified by a unique name or mark and are treated more or less as an extension of the primary brand.

This strategy works best when a single offering or service has built and sustained the company's success. Additional offerings are generally represented as a support line that locks up with the brand's parent logo.

From an execution standpoint, it can be an efficient way to execute marketing materials. It can also be the most limiting. It's essentially one logo supported by a range of qualifying lines that identify the product or service. All of the communications share one set of very specific brand guidelines.

The down side of this approach is that the individual lines of business can fade into the background behind the core brand. This could be problematic when product successes and failures are attributed to the parent company and not the responsible product or service.

This creates a customer relationship that exists with the core company alone. Any affinity with a particular sub-brand is more organic than deliberate.

FedEx has been managing this creative direction successfully for years. The brand name is indeed king. Products and services that live under the core brand seem more like functional attributes that exist under a single solution.

> FREE RANGE SUB-BRAND

This strategy is a great solution when the parent brand prefers to allow its offspring to go out on their own.

The sub-brands are free to establish their own unique look and feel as long as they maintain pre-determined characteristics of the lead brand. This approach is successful when the parent brand has a broad portfolio of products and services. Any other structure has the potential of becoming impractical or confusing.

The individual line of business is responsible for their own brand platform and they define the creative approach that fits best with their customers and the product or service they represent. What's interesting about this direction is that these sub-brands traditionally take on a Parent & Offspring or a King of the Hill approach when building out their product line's brand.

P&G is a great example of this. With thousands of SKUs in its portfolio, any other approach would simply be impractical. This structure enables brands like Crest to develop a strong brand hierarchy around its extensive offering.

> FINDING THE RIGHT FIT

Defining the brand and its sub-brands – pinpointing each of the brand’s attributes, benefits and unique characteristics – is a process that yields loyalty, efficiency and continuity with every communications touch point.

The right formula for your brand will not only define the best persona for your company but will also provide structure as you continue to grow.

Learn more from Richard Shuback on branding in his class at DCPA15.

Richard Shuback

Richard Shuback, LLC

There's a Practical Method to Logo Selection

From time to time I've run across posts on social media asking for help in choosing a logo. Generally 3 to 5 designs are uploaded and are identified with letters or numbers beneath them. There's usually little other information provided. Nothing to base my selection on.

Typically a range of other people weigh in, but without the right criteria, their response is probably based on personal taste. That's not a bad thing but it shouldn't be the only thing.

Before you begin posting for help you may want to think about how your logo is going to best serve your company.

> THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A LOGO DESIGN:

Define your primary customer

Different audiences have different tastes and ways of accessing information about their brands. A communication style can be driven by age, gender, even occupation. It helps to get inside the head and lifestyle of your core customer and consider which logo design fits best within their world.

Know how your customer looks at media

An extension of your audience profile is their consumption of media. How does your audience prefer to connect with their favorite brands? Web? TV? Print?

Does their day start with their smartphone on a social network or with the sports section of a newspaper? 

This is important to know because graphics designed for print can be very different than those built with digital media in mind. 

Look at the overall function of the mark

For the most part, new brands rely on digital media to connect with their customers. That means it's a good idea to stay away from designs with too much complexity. Delicate swirls and fine lines can turn to mush when converted to pixels.

Your logo design should be able to hold up as a social media icon and as a brand element on a freeway billboard. It's important for the design to be flexible, immediate and maintain its integrity regardless of scale.

Know the production around the design

Get a sense of how expensive your new design will be to produce in a printed environment. A one or two color design could be much less costly to print on posters, brochures and business cards than a 6 or 8 color design.

Be sure that the colors identified for your design will translate well in print, digital and video.

Focus on originality

Make certain your look is new and different for your category and think about its shelf life. Will it still look fresh in 5 years? 10 years?

Keep in mind that a clean and classic design may out live one that's hip and trendy. Also keep in mind that hip and trendy might be the perfect style for your audience.

Remember to circle back to your personal preference. That could come in handy as a tie-breaker against two competing logos. More importantly you'll want to ask yourself:

"Would I wear it on a T shirt?"

If the answer is yes then you're heading in the right direction.

Richard Shuback

Richard Shuback, LLC

What is a brand anyway?

Whenever I first meet someone, and they ask me what I do, my response is usually something like: "I develop corporate branding."

Their reaction is generally a pause, then a nod of the head, followed by an: "Ah, logo design."

> YES AND NO.

Branding isn't just about logo design.

In its most basic form, branding is about taking a business and connecting it with an individual on an emotional level. By this I mean building a relationship so tight that their customers say things like: "I only buy Beamers" for BMW or "I love my Tar~Jay!" for Target. This is audience loyalty so strong that they give their brand a nickname. As if they're friends.

That's a true emotional connection.

Logos help us remember the brand and can also remind us of its attributes, but logos alone can't achieve this level of engagement with customers.

> WHAT BRANDING IS:

For a brand to truly function effectively, it needs to express the company, its products/services and the people behind it in one clear package. This is done by identifying and defining the heart, mind and soul of the organization it represents.

We do this by looking inside and outside of the organization – from employees to the competition. This brand process informs the whole picture as to:

  • What the company stands for
  • Why it's successful
  • Where it's going
  • Who the audience is and could be

Brand definition leads to the mission statement, tag line, messaging and brand promise. By clearly understanding the voice and attitude of a company, the creative direction or overall look and feel begins to take shape.

Design elements such as logos, imagery, color and typography are explored and established to give the brand its physical look. The visual expression of a company is the most immediate way to draw in customers and make a strong connection.

In other words, branding (visually and verbally) is the physical manifestation of what an organization is today and can be in the future. It's informed by authenticity and succeeds through continuity.

Once the brand is defined, Brand Standards establish communication guidelines for advertising, web sites, collateral, events and more. This clear definition of the brand keeps an array of vendors such as web designers, ad agencies and graphic designers all on the same page. Brand Standards are the most effective way of keeping the brand consistent – regardless of platform or creative team.

Branding enables a business to define its personal traits – helping their consumers understand what the company looks like, how it thinks, why people are drawn to it and what it stands for.

Now when people ask me what I do, I guess it's best to just direct them to this post. Hopefully it will help them look beyond the logo and see the identities that live under the companies they love.

Learn more from Richard Shuback on branding in his class at DCPA15.

Fei Fan-Dollinger

Marketing Manager, CPA.com

Leveraging Your CPA Brand

Now that tax season is underway and firms are emailing clients nonstop we need to ask ourselves; what am I saying about my brand?

2015 is in full swing and it is important as ever for CPAs to join the digital community by being CPA branded. Your personal brand is in the spotlight every day for everyone to see online. Building your brand requires constant attention—always identifying new opportunities to promote your firm to both clients and prospects. With email as the core communication vehicle, every message sent using a generic account is a brand experience wasted.

Why is self-branding important you ask? Here are 3 quick reasons:

Stand Out from the Crowd
Creating a brand as a CPA allows you to develop an image that is consistent with who you are and what your firm offers. The goal for any self-branding is to have a clear and consistent message so that with a simple Google search, any new prospect will be able recognize who you are and what you do. Being CPA branded allows you to easily promote your specialized area of expertise.

Build Trust and Recognition
Being CPA branded instantly adds an additional layer of trust and recognition to your prospects. Not everyone will know what you do or your skill set immediately but something as simple as a CPA.com email address, or an account that includes your firm name and credential, makes it instantaneously recognizable that you are a licensed CPA. Prospective clients can easily understand from one single email what type of services you offer and what your credentials are. This positions you as an expert in the field.

Leaving Your Mark
Any part of self-branding involves being known for something, so it's essential as a first step to establish a strong CPA brand. Defining who you are to current clients and prospects ensures that people will remember you through your expertise, your actions and your business.

How are you branding yourself as a CPA? Share your thoughts on some good examples of self-branding.

To learn more about how to be CPA branded with your email

Jay Fife

CEO & Founder of FusePhase

Build your accounting practice with video marketing

Are you doing enough to market your accounting practice and engage your audience? If you haven’t explored video marketing, you could be missing out on a huge marketing opportunity.

According to Forbes Insight, 59% of senior executives would rather watch a video than read text. And about 65% of those who view a video click through to visit the vendor website.

Video marketing as a medium is a different way of engaging your audience that neither text nor images can accomplish. It allows you to immediately connect with your audience on an emotional level – something that doesn’t exactly come easily to accountants.

FusePhase, the virtual accounting firm I founded in 2013, recently launched its own video marketing campaign, and so far it’s one of the best marketing moves we’ve made.

At FusePhase, we’ve always taken somewhat of an unconventional approach with our marketing, at least by the accounting profession’s standards. When we decided to incorporate a video component in our marketing strategy, there was no question that we wanted to stay consistent with the light, approachable personality of our brand.

A marketing consultant we work with created this short, animated video to introduce the benefits of FusePhase, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. It’s fun yet informative, capturing the tone of FusePhase’s messaging perfectly.

I highly recommend that you, too, explore video marketing for your accounting business – here’s why.

Developing a video marketing campaign for your accounting practice can help you to:

  • Engage and entertain your prospective customers
  • Develop the personality of your brand
  • Broaden your reach across the web and improve your SEO

What are your thoughts on video marketing? Have you or would you ever consider employing videos as part of your marketing strategy? Share your experiences in the comments!

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