• Mark Arevalo

A question of brand trust

Updated: Jul 19, 2019

The ideas and scope around a brand in professional services have more constraints and less manoeuvrability than in other sectors. The shiny, sexy, aspirational values of B2C marketing have little resonance here.

Your clients require many qualities from your firm and they might be reassured by your firm’s brand statement, something along the lines of: It’s the sum of everything your firm represents, your brand communicates a business personality that shapes perceptions of who you are. It should project the expectations and promises that you give to your clients in terms of expertise, sincerity, engagement, quality, integrity, reliability, etc, and create trust and loyalty.

Having a strong brand helps to build your reputation and makes you stand out from your competitors. A brand is more than a logo, it’s the character and individuality of the firm - a persona. It makes sense for a firm to investigate the impact of their brand persona on the key variables of their clients’ purchasing behaviour. The marketing communications mix of publishing, advertising, imagery, people, presentation, etc and every exposure that the brand receives shapes its persona. A firm that works towards understanding its perception and position in the market, its strengths, weaknesses, goals and strategies to achieve them, will develop and co-ordinate focused brand activity to differentiate and promote itself in order to gain increased market share and succeed over its competitors.

Two main triggers that affect your clients’ attitudes are; brand trust – “will they be able to perform the task? (in the way that I'd like..)” and brand reaction – “what do I think of when I see their brand or hear it mentioned?” It’s been said that aspects of human relationships are mirrored in those that we have with brands and thinking around the brand persona idea, suggests that humans (yes clients) can have a relationship or interaction with a brand as an entity, and that feeding your brand with targeted, marketing-based activities through the various channels helps to create a seamless, human-corporate brand that combines both trust and positive reaction to your firm.

Expertise and sincerity are obviously crucial aspects of brand trust and if a client trusts your brand, they rely on its ability, but if it fails to deliver, the brand is eroded. The nature of professional services work itself means that gaining a prospective client’s trust forms a major part of the route to brand loyalty and then to instruction. Brand reaction serves as an enticing provocateur that should ideally interest clients enough to bear your firm in mind. It’s built around your firm’s reputation and standing in the marketplace, what they have heard about you and what they already know.

Getting a positive emotional reaction from your firm’s brand is paramount, without it you’ll have an uphill struggle to convince prospective clients of all the qualities that fall under brand trust. People’s brains gain an impression of something by episodes of exposure (Shank & Langmeyer, 1994) and the most powerful of these is the quality of the first exposure to your brand. The well known ‘you'll never get a second chance to make a great first impression’ or ‘people make up their minds in the first thirty seconds’ statements spring to mind.

In product marketing, psychological research has measured the qualities of (for example) sincerity and competence and their effect on brand trust and brand reaction (Effects of Brand Personality, Sung & Kim, 2005). For example, the sincerity dimension on its own affects brand trust by a coefficient of 0.64 and brand reaction by just 0.41. Overall though, brand reaction is the major influencing power that motivates the consumer to buy at 0.61. Brand trust at just 0.25 turns out to be a much smaller factor in the buying decision. Quite different to professional services.

A website is something that a prospective client will look at early on and it’s interesting to see how professional service firms set out their ‘exposure’ online. There’s a range of approaches, but below I have chopped it down to three broad styles. We might logically assume that the visual style relates to how firms would have us perceive their way of doing business, their brand persona. I favour the first two categories, but text-led sites may provide something their clients feel warm and comfortable with…or firms could be planning to get more brand-reactive soon. See if you agree or not.

When there is too much to change about a firm to get it where it wants to be, a well thought out and managed rebrand is the route-one way to turn a firm around. A successful example of this was RPC, a mid-sized City law firm, whose brand persona was not very well known outside the insurance sector. It did not have much brand reaction in the wider legal marketplace, but this changed dramatically with the introduction of a new brand, marketing and support team led by former Deloitte marketing partner, Richard Emanuel. The firm had the desire to become a modern legal services business brand and set about changing themselves from the ground up.

Visually, the old brand was retired and the introduction of modern, clean designs and progressive brand/talent initiatives, contributed to a firm representing itself in a completely new light. A major factor in the overall success of the rebrand was the complete buy-in and approval from the firm’s leadership, the hearts and minds were won and Reynolds Porter Chamberlain became RPC. Apart from strengthening itself in a range of markets, its realigned brand delivered strong client focus, emphasised service depth and breadth and promoted modernity, dynamism and trust. RPC went on to win Law Firm of the Year twice.

Mark Arevalo is a design and brand specialist with over 20 years’ experience working with professional service firms. He has worked on the brands of; Clifford Chance, JLL, BNP Paribas, RPC, NAI Global and Henley Business School.