How surveying your ideal audience determines your real brand presence

This article appeared in the October 2023 edition of PM Forum

Menzies have been on a rapid growth trajectory over the last few years, helped by launching their “brighter thinking” positioning statement in 2016 and embedding this throughout its culture and service provision. In the same year the firm embarked on a sector based go to market strategy to reflect its clients’ wants and needs. Since then, the firm’s client profile has expanded to include larger and more complex companies, winning work from much larger competitors. Given this success, we were keen to understand why our client base was expanding and where our brand stood relative to other players. We had anecdotal evidence but needed concrete facts to work out our current positioning and inform our future strategy.

A full 360 brand audit

Menzies regularly conducts client and pitch feedback to measure and improve client service, however, this project was different. The central point was to understand the firm’s brand presence and answer four central questions:

To get a true reflection of the firm’s market position it was clear we needed to canvas the views from across our target audience as well as people who instruct us. The research had to be independent to provide a realistic, unfiltered view, with Flare Insight selected to shape and take the project forward. We incorporated feedback from Salvador Amico, the project’s partner sponsor, with fieldwork designed precisely to answer Menzies’ questions, including:

An independent quantitative survey completed by decision makers in larger SMEs to gather data on the accountancy firms that they could recall outside of the Big 4 (crucially they didn’t know Menzies were sponsoring the project).

Interviews conducted with

The insights from the quantitative survey were important as they provided the concrete statistics that held up under the scrutiny of our board and partners. This was essential as Menzies were making key business decisions around direction and positioning based on the findings.

The interviews added colour to the data and gave us the opportunity to deep dive into target and referrer motivators – essentially what really matters to them. The interviewees knew that Menzies were sponsoring the project, and so it allowed us to explore how they described their own pain points, what they want from a firm and how they would describe the Menzies brand.

Interviewing new clients provided an opportunity to explore the key factors for selection and satisfaction, including their feedback on the initial pitch and their expectations of the firm in the first few months of becoming a client.

The data from intermediaries was also a gold mine. These interviewees typically refer to a host of firms and so have a unique insight into the good, the bad and the ugly. They gave their opinion on the firms that have and have not earned the right to work with the larger SME market, helping us ascertain how the firm stacked up against the competition.

Using the results to spark change

Flare Insight compiled the results into a report which blended the quantitative survey with themes from the interviews. The quantitative results were extremely positive – Menzies’ brand presence is impressive relative to its size, showing that the firm had made major progress in marketing itself and are punching way above its weight. The interviews confirmed this – with the firm seen as a strong and growing mid-tier brand that could cater for both corporate and personal need. Both the interviews and the survey also provided clear indicators of targets’ needs and wants, particularly post-COVID where expectations may have changed. This was invaluable in informing Menzies own client relationships and service level standards.

The research provided the basis for pages and pages of insight for the firm to act on. It was important for the board to see the weight of the evidence as it was clear that Menzies had a strong brand presence and had deservedly earned the right to work for larger, more complex clients. This had to be translated into digestible actions so that the wider partnership and fee earners could understand this quickly and seize the opportunity.

There was a lot of data to get through and collating the key themes and sound bites was a huge undertaking. Once we had had created a clear and representative summary, Lily - Menzies’ in-house designer - set to work turning our themes and actions into a slick slide deck that gave the findings the impact we wanted.

It was important for partners and fee earners to engage with the process and the results and sowe presented our findings at the firm’s Partner Conference. This included objective research delivered by Catriona, bookended by context and actions from Nicky. We also structured our conclusions to become the topics for breakout sessions so that partners could express their views and work out the next steps.

All ideas were then collated into a Project Plan, and this has been shared with the wider stakeholder group. We now have 4 sub-projects where we are taking the brand to the next level and looking at Referral Management; Service delivery; Internal mindset and development of our larger SME segment – so lots more to get my teeth stuck into!

Menzies has grown so much in the past decade. It is standard process for us to conduct regular client and pitch feedback, but the deep dive analysis that Flare Insight gave provided steering to realise the actions that we need to take to continue to thrive.

Tips to get the full 360

Envisage your ideal client and test where you are currently positioned. This will inform how much work your firm will need to do to elevate its profile.

Incorporate a cold survey into your approach to gain an unblinkered view of your firm’s brand awareness. This can be tailored to your ideal audience, regions and sectors.

Interview all gatekeepers to new and repeat business. This includes referrers who are generally very happy to share their views on your firm and its peers.

Package the results clearly and succinctly for different audiences. It is important for internal audiences to see the key messages and debate potential actions based on highlights from the evidence.

Nicky Purnell is the Marketing and Business Development Director of Menzies LLP, a full service accountancy firm delivering the complete range of accounting and tax compliance services, combined with strategic commercial thinking.

Catriona Collier is the Managing Director of Flare Insight, a marketing research agency dedicated to helping professional services firms chart a rapid path to growth.