Presentation matters. We live in a highly visual world, so when it comes to communicating the proposition of a professional services firm, the way the messages are presented matters. Matters more than the words? Most certainly not; but matters? Most certainly

IQ + EQ

In its simplest terms, the visual identity of a professional services firm must reinforce the brand strategy and messaging it wants to get across to its external audiences. Generally – but not always – the strategic ‘direction of travel’ is to project a more modern, digital and innovative firm. It’s rare that the brief is to be more old-fashioned, out of touch and conservative.

Law firms are not cereal bars – they need to look modern and innovative but at the same time premium and sophisticated.

The challenge however in partnerships is that if messaging is a mix of art and science then visual identity is more art than anything else. Or put another way; it’s a lot more subjective, and there are far fewer robust ‘data-points’ to orientate debate around. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

DRESSED TO IMPRESS

Developing a new or refreshed visual identity system for a professional services firm requires strong sensitivity to the world in which these brands exist. Law firms are not cereal bars, and management consultancies are not mobile phones – they need to look modern and innovative but at the same time premium and sophisticated.

If you find yourself reaching for the Pantone books in the middle of a meeting to ‘find a colour’ it’s time to retreat and rethink the process.

Most good designers have very little or no direct experience of the buying process of top tier professional services. So, to put themselves ‘in the shoes’ of the client, they need super-clear briefing and direction from the strategists they’re working with and those strategists, in turn, need to be careful to guide but not stifle creativity in the process.

GOOD JUDGEMENT

Then the process is about exploring options together in outline form and getting closer to the right ‘fit’ before getting serious about developing the one or two options to take through to final decision making. The role of the consultants here is to guide not follow, and if you find yourself reaching for the Pantone books in the middle of a meeting to ‘find a colour’ it’s time to retreat and rethink the process.

My former business partner and legendary branding expert, the late Wally Olins, would tell his clients that when it came to judging the right design for their brand, “You need the courage of my convictions” – said for effect and with a smile, but there’s something in it.

Despite the substantial challenges, it’s also true to say that, compared to most of the decisions leaders of global professional services firms have to make these days, developing and choosing a new visual identity can be one of the less stressful ones – it can even be quite enjoyable.


This article is part of a weekly series ‘How to think about…’; short summaries looking at the components of branding for professional services firms. Read them here as they’re published or look out for them on LinkedIn.


Ian Stephens

CEO and Founder of Principia, the world's most experienced branding and innovation consultancy for professional service firms.