Why Rebranding Your Firm Is Not Enough

So you want to rebrand your firm. Your competitors’ websites are making yours look like a kindergarten painting project, and you need to act fast.

But I warn you: rebranding alone, or even first, won’t do you any good.

What most firms don’t realize is that you must position your firm before you brand it. This means identifying your unique expertise, separating yourself from the competition in meaningful ways, and narrowing your market.

Of course, nobody likes positioning, and for good reason: it involves purposefully alienating potential clients, in order to zero in on your best fits. Scary, yes, but necessary? Definitely.

The reason most firms will go through rebrand after rebrand, hiring agency after agency, is that they try to bypass positioning. They see rebranding as an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors through personality, without having to let go of any services or clientele. As Blair Enns, founder of Win without Pitching, put it “in the world of professional services, branding is used only by those trading on personality instead of expertise.”

The following examples are regular fanfare in the industry:

  • A firm comes to us for a new website. They say their current one looks dated—that they want to “keep up” with other firms and “look competitive.” What they don’t realize is that before they can make their website more competitive, they need to make their firm more competitive. How do they do that? Positioning. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the core problem is not branding, it’s positioning.
  • A firm comes to us because they want to rebrand their company, to better align it with their new messaging. But their new messaging isn’t that new at all—in fact, their client relations, company culture, and brand promises are all pure boilerplate. They might use different words, but it’s all the same underneath, and ultimately, this firm is selling itself shamefully short. Professional service firms should be differentiated on expertise, not language or design.
  • A firm insists on treating their marketing like fishing: cast a line, hope you reel in a fish. They think that if they just find a new way to be the same firm, their website will start passively bringing in leads. It just doesn’t work that way.

Position your firm first, build your brand second, and then hustle to build relationships, be memorable, and build deep expertise.

What’s the most disappointing is that when these deficiencies and oversights are brought up, they’re almost always dismissed by the firm’s leadership. Leadership is generally open to website changes, but they’re rarely interested in business changes. They don’t want make the tough decisions of deciding what niche they’re in—or dare I say it—what niche they’re not in.

“So many companies are competing against each other with similar agendas. Being superficially different is the goal of so many… rather than trying to innovate and genuinely taking the time, investing the resources and caring enough to try and make something better.” – Jon Ive, Chief Design Officer at Apple.

I truly doubt that “superficially different” is what you’re after. You wouldn’t be reading this article if it was.

Yet despite all the wisdom in the industry now—all of it pointing to a better way to do things—so many firms are still settling for easy changes over real changes. New words and new designs over new business intentions.

They pat themselves on the back, feeling courageous for achieving their latest rebrand, and rub their hands together, waiting for the new opportunities to start rolling in. Too bad there’s a high probability that they just wasted their time and money.

Sure, they’ll oooh and aaah over the new brand image, and everyone in the firm will stand up a little straighter for a month or two. But ultimately, the high will fizzle out, and when revenue numbers refuse to budge, they’ll wonder if they missed something.

What they missed, of course, is that a new brand cannot produce excellent results on its own. Design should never be the first or only step in “fixing” a business problem, and it is almost never to blame for poor results.

What really works, according to our experience and research, is this: excellent design paired with a thoughtful, well-informed positioning strategy.

Want to know more? Grab a copy of our free positioning guide.

We're Not for Everyone

But when it's right, it's really right. Let's have a conversation and find out if we're a good match.