I daresay that to many people most accounting firms are perceived as being very similar. So let me start by saying that positioning is important because it gives you the ability to cut through and separate your firm from the bunch. It makes it easier for you to win and keep the clients you want. It also makes it easier for you to attract and retain the right team members for your firm. So what is it?
Wikipedia has a good definition as follows:
Positioning refers to the place that a brand occupies in the minds of the customers and how it is distinguished from the products of the competitors…
Primarily, positioning is about “the place a brand occupies in the mind of its target audience”
In order to position products or brands, companies may emphasize the distinguishing features of their brand (what it is, what it does and how, etc.) or they may try to create a suitable image (inexpensive or premium, utilitarian or luxurious, entry-level or high-end, etc.) through the marketing mix.
I’ve added the emphasis to highlight the key part of the definition. I’ve spoken at length on the importance of identifying your ideal client (target audience) so that your marketing and business development efforts can be targeted for maximum effect. See a previous article here for more detail.
You will see that the definition of positioning talks about emphasizing the distinguishing features through “the marketing mix” The marketing mix is usually defined as Product, Place, Price and Promotion. Let me unpack each of these a little.
This is your product or service that is going to satisfy client needs or wants. This includes the features and quality, product range and product mix and branding. It could also include any guarantees or warranties offered. For example some firms are very clear that they are business focused firms and offer the products that businesses need, as opposed to others that may focus on individuals. And Some firms might have a money back guarantee (although this is pretty rare.) Some firms have a strong niche, or specialisation, which is a key part of their positioning.
This is what the client pays. I think of it as pricing and packaging – for example does the client pay a proportion up front and the balance on completion. Or perhaps it is 12 equal monthly instalments. This is also about payment terms – when an invoice issued what is the expectation of timing and what payment methods are accepted. Some firms are still a bit reluctant to accept credit card payments for example. Historically I reckon accountants have been inclined to under value what they do and therefore not price high enough. If that’s you, now is a great time to be looking to correct that.
Generically this is about how customers get access to the products. For accounting firms this includes the location of offices and what services might be delivered online and what are delivered face to face, or perhaps a combination of these. Although technology now supports firms to have clients pretty much anywhere, I still see that for a majority of firms a majority of their clients will be in their local area. Do clients visit you in your office or do you visit them? These considerations are all a part of this element of positioning.
This is about your marketing communication including the channels you use and message being communicated. It is about how you reach your target audience. For accounting firms some elements of promotion will include website and social media activity, traditional media, public relations, pro bono work, events, networking and making it easy for existing clients to refer new clients.
It is the combination of these four elements, and the choices you make about each, that builds your positioning.
Sometimes you might be able to distill your positioning down to a simple word of phrase. For example I reckon for Qantas, historically the positioning has been about a single word “SAFETY”. Watch the movie Rain Man to understand more about this! When Qantas wanted to be able to compete with Virgin it knew it needed a different brand with a different positioning and so Jetstar was born with a positioning of “CHEAP”. Luxury fashion brands are fantastic at positioning themselves as exclusive and there are a few who tightly control entry into their retails stores as part of managing this. (Think queues you might have seen outside a few of these stores in your local CBD.)
Remember that every interaction a client, prospect or other third party has with your firm is shaping their perception of your firm. Knowing that you want to be very intentional in how those interactions occur and be in control as much as possible of the messages being delivered through those interactions.
Also remember that decision about positioning are high level strategic decisions that should be made before you build or update a website or spend time and effort on marketing and business development. A good question to ask is “what is the positioning I want to have and what do I need to do to achieve that?”
If you would like to chat more about the positioning of your firm I’ll be pleased to hear from you. Meantime you might like to read Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout if you want to dig into this more.