Rebranding: An Accounting Firm’s Marketing Love Story
Last summer, I embarked on one of the scariest experiences of my professional life: a rebrand of my accounting firm.
From the moment I realized it was necessary, I was steeped in dread. I tried to talk myself out of it and consulted with close friends and colleagues who I thought would reinforce the idea it wasn’t a necessary move. They were no help. Ha! And here we are, a little over a year later, and it was hands down the best decision I have ever made for the firm. If you’re considering a rebrand, our rebranding and marketing love story might help.
I am what I like to refer to as a reluctant entrepreneur. Never really wanted my own business. In late 2015, I was working as a subcontractor for a CPA firm. My primary role was sales, marketing, and business development, but I was also involved in several clients’ monthly accounting and tax prep. I was comfortable, but I also had a nagging feeling I could be doing more.
Personally passionate about serving the nonprofit sector (I often refer to myself as a recovering nonprofit executive director), I had noticed through networking and serving nonprofit clients that there was a need for executive and board education around nonprofit finance. I consulted with my network and nonprofit colleagues and floated the idea of a consulting/coaching program to address nonprofit financial literacy and there was broad positive feedback.
And so, in 2015, I reluctantly started my company and With Balance was born.
Our ideal client was female executive directors of small to medium sized nonprofits and our vision was simple: to provide financial coaching and education to small business and nonprofit executives, occasionally in tandem with bookkeeping, payroll, or tax preparation.
While initial market research indicated that this kind of coaching was unique, we struggled to sell it all by itself. Essentially, most of our prospective clients felt they needed actual professional financial services more than coaching. So we joined the ranks of the growing virtual accounting world and began offering a combination of services – coaching, yes, but also bookkeeping, payroll, consulting, and tax preparation services.
But the problem with shifting the focus of your service offering is that sometimes it means your old brand might not match your new direction or vision.
With Balance was a mark that was developed to appeal to the individual (the nonprofit executive or business leader). But now, while that individual was still our target decisionmaker, the corporate entity (nonprofit or for profit) was our new customer. The moment I accepted that truth is the moment I felt the first wave of dread, because I knew a rebrand was necessary.
I was horrified at the prospect.
It was Spring 2018 – just over 2 years since our launch – and my company was getting off the ground. My brand was out there already. So many people helped me conceptualize it, and I loved the logo, website, and all the marketing collateral we’d worked so hard on. I was (surprisingly) embarrassed to have to start over. A rebrand does feel like starting over at times, if you’re doing it right. Regardless, it had to be done.
Now, I’m not a marketing professional, but I am an odd duck in the accounting space because my brain’s creative and analytical capacity is pretty evenly yoked. By the time I was faced with my own rebranding, I had already led the rebrand/brand development of two nonprofits and a couple of accounting firms. I knew what was ahead, and what the stakes would be if we didn’t nail it. Stakes = my and my firm’s reputation.
Marketing is both art and science, and I decided that if I was going to do this without getting an ulcer, I needed to science the heck out of it. So, I mapped out the steps for myself (these steps will be more fleshed out for you in an upcoming blog series – stay tuned!):
- Outlined my traits and values, as the owner, and the values I wanted to reflect in the branding of the firm
- Identified our ideal client and do a client persona exercise
- Named our ideal core services – what we love to do and what clients need us to do
Somewhere in the nexus of your values, the ideal client, and your ideal services is what I call your brand’s secret sauce. Secret sauce then becomes the bedrock of your brand’s visual identity.
Now I should say here that rebranding does not always mean a new company name – sometimes it’s just a refresh or alteration of an existing logo. For as long as I possibly could, I held on to my original brand name. But after going through the steps above, it was clear the name had to change.
The process showed us that we wanted to create a fresh, sharp, friendly, and memorable corporate brand. We wanted our new mark to reflect not only our unique corporate persona, but also our commitment to innovation, problem solving, and our role as key advisors. Enter the Fox.
From our brand origin story blog on our website: “Cultures around the globe assign some cool attributes to the fox. Strategic, clever, intelligent, resourceful, spirited, loyal, and wise are some of our favorites. And who doesn’t want those qualities in their finance team? The Celtic people even assigned the fox the role of guide – deeming it a knowledgeable, helpful creature. That’s exactly what we strive to be – and so we were powerless to resist, completely beguiled by the legendary Fox.”
I really do love the fox as a symbol, and when we asked around our clients and colleagues, it resonated as an icon. (Tip: if you’re not excited about your new name or icon, stop and start over. Something’s wrong.)
But now we needed to add something to the name. “Fox Accounting” just didn’t have the pizazz or panache we were looking for. Importantly, we were also thinking long-term and knew that we would need a unique name and tagline if we were going to trademark down the road. (Most branding experts will ask you if your intent is to trademark because that does inform the choice of name, URL, etc.)
One common branding trick is to pair two words together to make a new word. Think:
- Star + bucks
- Red + box
- Quick + books
New words have challenges, though, most notably that the world must be trained to smush the two root words together. So, I didn’t want a new word, but we did need an additional complement to our fox. But what to choose? (Oh look, more dread.)
When all else fails, I retreat to the simple things and copy the best of the best. The most memorable brands in the world are short names and two syllables, like those above. Here are some more in case you doubt me: Apple | Windows | Nike | Target | Samsung
We decided to start our hunt for a second word started with colors. And I’ll never forget talking it through with my husband at the kitchen table. Green and blue are my favorite colors so I floated them both. (Incidentally, they are also often cited as the two most universally appealing colors.) He dropped his cereal spoon and his eyes got big and he smiled as he said, “Blue Fox. That’s it. You’ve got it. Interesting, friendly, unusual, fun. Blue Fox. It’s already sticking with me.” He said it over and over. And he was right.
As I researched the color blue to make sure it was aligned, I found it often symbolizes depth, stability, wisdom, confidence, and truth. Blue is the color of the sky and the sea, and in our minds it captures the infinite opportunity of both. Beautiful, no?
We’d done it! Welcome to the world, Blue Fox! The name was the hardest part. The second hardest part was the logo.
It took us about three months to finalize the new logo. I knew I wanted it to be transitional in nature – meaning a sort of visual bridge between the old brand and the new one. Our colors stayed the same more or less and we retained some font similarities as well.
I tried not to overthink it, but it was a challenge – this was like giving birth to a whole new company! Once we had a handful of solid logo options, again I sought out friends and clients for feedback. That helped us decide the final brand identity. Here’s what we came up with:
The most rewarding moment, though, came a couple of months later after we had finalized the logo and new website. We launched our first newsletter on November 6, 2018 and the response was nothing short of incredible. (Open rate was almost 35%.)
My email was flooded with congratulations, curious inquiries, and accolades about our new brand and website. My phone rang off the hook for a solid 2 weeks. The next 4 weeks ended up being back-to-back calls with friends, networking contacts, prospective clients, and long-lost colleagues who were also possible referral sources.
The brand was doing its job. The brand was speaking to the right people and sending the right message at the same time. It was a beautiful thing.
Suddenly business poured in – new monthly CAS clients came, saw, and closed on engagements with Blue Fox, doubling our revenue in a matter of months. Hiring ramped up in tandem. This year, we’ve more than doubled again. We are now at a delightful moment in our growth where we are only accepting ideal clients.
I can’t say enough what a rebrand has done for me both personally and professionally. Personally, it forced me to be brutally honest with myself about what I want to be known for and reflect, what good I want to do in the world, and what kind of company I want to lead. Professionally, our company simply would not be where it is today in terms of size or revenue if we had failed to take the leap and rebrand. There’s no question it was an absolute gamechanger for us.
If you’re nervous, anxious, or scared to take the leap, I get it. I was right there with you not long ago. But it’s just like George Addair said, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”
Subscribe or stay tuned for an upcoming 2-part blog series on Bill.com with steps and an outline for how you can rebrand your firm – in the least scary way possible!