Tan Nguyen
Apr 22, 2015

Do professional-services brands need a new model?

Tan Nguyen of PwC Vietnam continues her exploration of how professional-services firms can build more emotional connection into their branding.

Tan Nguyen
Tan Nguyen

Major firms in the professional-services industry are technically savvy, intellectually sophisticated and morally justifiable. Some are even visually appealing and verbally eloquent. On top of this, they are hard-working and fiercely ambitious. 

However, as discussed in my previous article on the lack of emotional connection between professional-services brands and their stakeholders, brands need to get over their reticence toward using emotion in their marketing to gain a substantial competitive edge over their competitors.

In this piece I will put ‘emotional connection’ into a bigger picture, the state of brands, to provide a more complete view on the different dimensions of professional-services brands. I will also attempt to suggest a new brand model and how firms can put it into practice.

The three dimensions of brands in professional services

The essence of professional-services brands currently consists of three dimensions: technical, intellectual and moral (Figure 1). These are the three pillars that firms use to construct their added value to appeal to target stakeholders and compete against one another. On top of this, every firm develops its own visual and verbal identity system to ‘look’ and ‘sound’ differently from other players in the field.

Figure 1: The three dimensions of brands in the professional services industry  

The technical dimension of brands is shown in firms’ efforts to prove their technical superiority in service offerings over other competitors. Different formats and channels are adopted such as: proposals, case studies, videos, articles, marketing collateral, presentations, public speaking engagements, events and campaigns. Topics covered typically include: credentials, experiences, theoretical frameworks, structures and processes, technology, technical know-how and techniques.

The intellectual dimension of brands is shown in firms’ efforts to demonstrate their sophistication and understanding of matters related to their business and the bigger environment in which they operate. Topics covered typically include: macro-environmental factors, industry specific issues, and cross-sector issues such as: ‘megatrends’, innovation, technology, risks and sustainability to name a few. Among other formats and channels, thought leadership projects are among the most prominent methods adopted by firms to showcase their intellectual muscle.

The moral dimension of brands is demonstrated in firms’ various initiatives to contribute towards corporate, social and environmental issues. For example, currently quite prominent on the ‘Big 4’ firms’ agendas are corporate responsibility and diversity and inclusion programs, which address various issues such as gender equality, disability, homosexuality, work-life balance and cross-cultural awareness.

The need for a more ‘well-rounded’ brand model

Technical, intellectual, and moral superiority are all hard-earned and respectable qualities, which will continue to serve as the needed foundation for firms’ competitiveness and longevity. However, as discussed in my previous piece, they are not enough for firms to build an unbreakable bond with their targeted stakeholders, which will lead to trust and loyalty.

To win the hearts and minds of stakeholders, the new brand model needs to be more ‘well-rounded’, adding a critical fourth dimension: emotions, the most powerful factor that has shaped human beings’ behaviour since the beginning of history.

Figure 2: The new four dimensional brand model for professional services firms

How can firms put the model into practice, bringing this fourth dimension from concept into practice?

To investigate this question properly would require far more space than I have here. The complexities and multiple dimensions of human emotions might make it impossible for us to ever arrive at an ‘ultimate’ answer. In addition, building emotional connection with individuals is already hard enough in the personal world, let alone in the corporate one. However, it is totally possible when there is a sincere desire and hunger to achieve it. This is the first and foremost condition for any substantial change to happen. This means firms need to start giving this new dimension the same commitment they give to the other three existing dimensions of the brand.

In this short piece I would like to recommend two specific investments that firms can make to ‘humanise’ their brands, including both internal and external campaigns. 

Internal campaigns

A brand is a matter of not only ‘saying’, but also ‘living’. As a result, firms need to empower their employees to live up the fourth dimension by investing in internal campaigns to motivate, inspire and coach people on the mechanism and driving factors behind the development of emotional connection. The necessity of this investment is partly reflected in many professional services firms’ current challenge with the relationship building side of the business, in which their people are perceived to be very ‘technical’ but not always strong in building relationships. Among other things, the inability to build strong emotional connection and rapport at a personal level plays a major, critical role in this challenge.

Typically, we tend to only connect with a certain few people, and not the majority of people we meet in our life. In more extreme cases, many people almost lack this capacity and feel very ‘disconnected’ with their surrounding environment, which normally leads to a sense of inner emptiness or even depression. This in turn can have a significant negative impact on performance at work. This phenomenon has a lot to do with how we are ‘programmed’ to feel towards people in general through our upbringing and experiences we have in life. However, this could be changed, or at least significantly improved through the right ‘interventions’.

The internal campaigns should focus on three key pillars:  

  • Point out the problem with the current situation and fuel a hunger for change
  • Offer a clear vision on the desired goal—the alternative way of ‘being’, and
  • Show ‘the way’—how to go from the former to the latter.

If done well, professional-services firms will have not only a much stronger relationship building muscle but also a team of much happier, and hence much more efficient, employees.

External campaigns

The second commitment is to invest in the ‘saying’ part, the expressions of the brand, through external campaigns that enable people to feel an emotional connection with the brand as an abstract representation of all the individuals behind it. While formats and channels are different, the mechanism and core principles behind building emotional connection at the institutional level are similar to the ones at the individual level. Among other things, brands need to ‘open up’, share and inspire in their stakeholders a wide range of deep human feelings and emotions as well as character-defining moments that we all experience but almost never have the opportunity to express in the corporate world.  

All need to be done with authenticity and creativity, a deep understanding of the human needs and a sincere desire to inspire (not impress) people. Trust and loyalty will be much more likely to come about when professional services brands learn to artfully show their human side.

Tan Nguyen is marketing and communications supervisor with PwC Vietnam


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