Elizabeth Harr

COMMENTARY

How to manage your brand in a crowded market

Across professional services, brand positioning plays a crucial role in getting on the short list of firms receiving RFPs. In this article, I’ll share some of the most effective strategies for ensuring that government buyers not only understand your capabilities and certifications, but also recognize you for the expertise you bring to the table, and can easily distinguish you from others offering similar services.

What exactly do I mean by brand positioning? The strongest brands are those that convey relevant messages in the most simplified manner possible. This foundational platform is called positioning, which lifts a brand above the fray so that buyers can’t help but take notice.

As I explain below, to be effective, a company’s brand position must be three things.

1. Be Different

You can’t attract followers if nobody notices you. So your first order of business is to make sure you stand out among the competition.

Of course, the line between being memorable and outrageous isn’t always perfectly clear. Differentiation makes a successful brand unique — and in doing so, provides contrast and helps prospects choose you. Here are just a few ways your firm might set itself apart:

  • Project a memorable personality
  • Offer a unique business model
  • Use new language to describe your firm and services
  • Offer a truly unique – and provably unique – technology or service
  • Be the first (or only) firm to do something

2. Be Focused

When agencies face a problem that they can’t fix themselves, they reach out to specialists. Specialists may cost a little more than generalists, but many buyers are willing to pay a premium for relevant expertise.

A large number of contractors today, however, take the opposite approach, expanding their offerings with the hope that they will broaden their reach and attract new buyers. The problem is that this lack of focus actually means you have more competitors — and can even begin to commoditize what you do — a direction you definitely want to avoid.

Instead, find a niche. Doing so not only gives qualified buyers a reason to seek you out, but to also understand why they might even pay more for your services. Here are a few common ways your firm could increase your focus:

  • Specialize in a service offering
  • Concentrate on a specific role within your customers’ agencies
  • Focus on a specific geographic area

What sort of specialization works best? To find the answer, my firm recently conducted a survey of 91 government contractors, ranging from micro firms to large firms with more than $50 million in annual revenue. Among questions about marketing threats, opportunities, tactics and strategies, we asked about whether and how they were specialized. (You can download a free executive summary here.)

We separated responses into those firms with the highest rates of growth (20 percent or greater compound annual growth in revenue over a three-year period) versus their no-growth competitors. The difference in how the two groups position specialize, shown in the chart, provides useful insight for firms wanting to increase their likelihood of growth.

Harr chart

3. Be Relevant

Of course, a contractor can be highly differentiated and specialized but, if few buyers actually want its services, the firm won’t make it onto any RFP lists.

Before you start moving in a new direction, test your messaging with your market to see if there is sufficient interest in your specialty. You could find that the niche you are considering succeeds in attracting buyers’ attention — or that it’s simply too narrow to support your expenses (much less your growth plans).

Can a contractor survive without positioning? Absolutely. In fact, I’ve personally interacted with several that have eked out a modest existence without one. But branding, and the positioning that supports it, isn’t simply about survival, it’s about creating a lasting emotional connection with customers that fuels reputation, visibility, and growth. And brand positioning is where it all starts. Establish great positioning, and your firm will have the space and visibility it needs to grow and flourish.

Additional Resources

About the Author

Elizabeth Harr is a partner at Hinge, [http://www.hingemarketing.com/] a marketing and branding firm for professional services. Elizabeth is an accomplished entrepreneur and experienced executive with a background in strategic planning, brand building, and communications. She is the coauthor of Inside the Buyer’s Brain, How Buyers Buy: Technology Services Edition; and Online Marketing for Professional Services: Technology Services Edition.

Reader Comments

Tue, Jun 19, 2018 Robert Jones Hagerstown, MD

Useful article. I have passed it along to a SCORE Hagerstown client. Glad you are doing well. Bob Jones

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