In addition to ICAEW, the latest UK Business Superbrands index features the Big Four together with Grant Thornton and BDO, with Deloitte the only firm to make it into the top 100. This year, 1,588 business-to-business brands across 71 categories were assessed.
The Superbrand index takes into consideration factors such as brand purpose, positioning and distinctiveness, and feedback from an independent expert council comprising 26 senior business-to-business marketing leaders and 2,500 UK business professionals, all with purchasing or managerial responsibility within their businesses.
Stephen Cheliotis, CEO of The Centre for Brand Analysis (TCBA) and Chair of the UK Consumer Superbrands, Business Superbrands and CoolBrands Councils, said reputational issues across the accountancy sector, particularly around audit quality, had undoubtedly had an impact on brand perception.
“The reality is that a failure in one area leaks across the entire reputation of the firm and the industry as a whole. The last time an accountancy firm was in the top 20 was quite some time ago and for the last three years, the reputation of the big firms has been relatively steady. But there is clearly room for improvement,” Cheliotis said.
Cheliotis said that although the biggest accountancy firms benefit from their size and profile, most people struggle to distinguish between them. “Branding and reputation matters in any sector. Brand is about who you are and what you do, and it needs to be at the centre of your organisation so that employees are making decisions based on your values and purpose.”
Cheliotis said too many accountancy firms continue to just pay lip service to branding, regarding it as a marketing activity, however, that would need to change as competition for clients and the war for talent hots up. “Potential recruits increasingly want to work with organisations whose purpose aligns with their own and if you think a firm is only focused on profit, and the rest is veneer, that could potentially be an issue,” Cheliotis said.
Tim Prizeman is a director with public relations advisors Kelso PR, and has both advised and worked in accountancy firms of all sizes since the days of the ‘Big 8’. “The irony is that the strongest brand in accountancy has no logo, no brand guidelines book and is owned by no firm. It is ‘Big Four’,” Prizeman said.
“The downfall for much accountancy firm branding is that firms concentrate on the tactical elements of branding and rebranding – colours, logos, fonts, websites, social media and collateral – but neglect the important elements of having a distinctive and attractive proposition that is both clearly articulated and consistently delivered. They end up putting lots of effort into promoting a weak brand, and then wonder why their marketing fails to bring much impact,” Prizeman added.
Firms with a weak brand resort to generic descriptions and ‘me too’ platitudes that fail to differentiate them from the competition, Prizeman said. “Your people are your best advertisement, and if your own people are inconsistent, then your tactical marketing won’t create a memorable brand without first putting in some serious groundwork internally on having a distinctive proposition they can remember easily and articulate clearly.”
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