By Tim Williams, Ignition Consulting Group


It’s a true and remarkable fact that 60-70% of a company’s market value is intangible; value created by how the brand is perceived by its customers. This phenomenon has been widely studied and plays out in dramatic ways especially in large consumer good companies. A study of brand equity by Prophet quotes former Quaker CEO John Stewart as saying “If this business were split up, I would give you the land and bricks and mortar, and I would take the brands and trademarks and I would fare better than you.”

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But intangible brand equity counts as the major part of the market value of knowledge firms as well – like advertising agencies.  Agencies actually understand this concept better than most companies because it’s precisely what they preach to their clients.  They understand that differentiated brands are infinitely more valuable than me-too brands, and they do a good job of helping client companies make brands look, sound, and behave differently.  In other words, the best agencies have applied their considerable branding skills to their own brand.

Agency, differentiate thyself

A previous post, “How Differentiated is Our Firm?” will help you gauge your firm’s current level of differentiation.  Of course the most important dimension of differentiation is to have a clear positioning – a focused business strategy that avoids the “full service” trap.  (No topic has received more coverage by Ignition than why and how to develop a positioning strategy.)  But beyond that essential question, you can achieve additional differentiation in the following 10 ways:

1. How you solve

(For example, do you have a distinctive way of approaching client marketing problems, like Victors & Spoils and their crowdsourcing model?)

2. How you produce

(For example, do you take an unconventional approach to execution by outsourcing production work to companies likeAffinity Express?)

3. How you collaborate. 

(For example, do you work in an agile framework like Brunner and their “momentum teams.”)

4. How you deliver. 

(For example, do you leverage uncommon technology to distribute deliverables or share work with clients likeLatinWorks’ client-accessible intranet?)

5. How you serve

(For example, have you moved beyond the traditional “account service” role by introducing disciplines like Client Leadership and Program Management like Moxie?)

6. How you price.

(For example, have you adopted creative approaches to pricing and compensation that transcend the hourly rate likeVenables Bell & Partners?)

7.  How you manage.

(For example, does your firm provide exceptional benefits to its employees like Peter Mayer?)

8.  How you look.

(For example, do your offices communicate your philosophy like GSD&M and the principles that appear literally in stone in the lobby?)

9. How you sound.

(For example, do you have a rule that a live human should always answer incoming calls like GlynnDevins?  Are clients and associates entertained by music during the day like at Partners+simons?)

10. How you promote.

(For example, do you have an exceptional social media footprint like Teehan+Lax?)

Every single one of these areas presents an opportunity for differentiation.  All you have to do is apply the same creative thinking to your own business as you do to your clients’ business.  We preach differentiation.  Let’s differentiate our own brands.