It’s spring 2022. You pull into your firm’s parking lot and take a sip of your iced coffee. As you enjoy the hazelnut goodness, you think to yourself, “Everyone is back in the office, and things are finally back to normal. We had to change a lot during the pandemic, but those days are behind us. It’s back to business as usual as just another normal, run-of-the-mill CPA firm.”
Just then you hear a sudden boom and look up to the sky. To your shocked disbelief, a flying DeLorean is hovering above you. The butterfly doors of the car spring open, and a white-haired scientist pokes his head out. He exclaims, “I’ve come back from the future to save the firm! We lose business by just trying to fit in and going back to normal. We need to differentiate ourselves before it’s too late!”
What is Differentiation? And Why is it Important?
Okay, you may never receive a “Back to the Future” wake-up call to differentiate your firm, but differentiation should be on your radar as an essential cornerstone of your firm’s marketing strategy.
Simply put, your firm’s differentiators are what separate you from your competition in the minds of your audience. They are the reasons why your ideal clients choose to work with your firm over another.
For example, if you were a firm specializing in working with dairy farmers, your differentiator would be the clients you serve and your expertise in that particular area. Or it could be that you have been the only CPA firm in your county and have successfully served that region for years. In that case, your differentiator would be a specific geographic location.
The benefits of developing your differentiators are plenty. They help guide your marketing and service offerings. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, pick a particular niche to focus on and successfully lean into it. Also, differentiatiors can allow you to demand a premium price that prospects are willing to pay (if you are the best in a particular area).
Not differentiating your firm can become detrimental. If there are no clear reasons for prospects to chose your firm, then often their selection criteria comes down to price, and competing on price can lead to lower profits and less firm loyalty.
How to Select Your Differentiators
According to Hinge Marketing, there are three criteria you must evaluate when selecting your firm’s differentiators: they must be true, relevant, and provable.
True: Your differentiators must actually exist. You cannot just pull differentiators out of a hat, copy another firm, or simply say something is different about your firm.
Relevant: Your target audience must care about your differentiators. It is not about being different just to be different. It’s about selecting differentiators that will resonate with your target audience and make them want to select you as their firm.
Provable: You must be able to provide evidence that proves your differentiators. If you say you are the top firm for restaurants in your area, can you prove this with whitepapers, research, or reviews from clients?
These are the tests your differentiators must pass. However, when it comes to selecting your differentiators, there are several approaches you can take. One approach is to survey your current clients, staff, and referral sources to see how your firm is perceived. You can then select differentiators from survey results. Another way is to research your competition to look for areas where you can distinguish your firm. Finally, you could hire outside marketing agencies like Hinge to help with the differentiator process.
Firms with Interesting Differentiators
As competition in the market continues to heat up, firms are finding new and interesting ways to differentiate themselves in the market. Here are several examples:
Sensiba San Filippo (SSF), a California firm with headquarters in Pleasanton, CA, became a Certified B Corporation in 2018. B Corps are a new type of company that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. In addition to the positive differentiation becoming a B Corp brings, the firm also now helps businesses become Certified B Corps themselves. SSF living and breathing the B Corp differentiator gives potential clients the confidence that they can help them move successfully through the process.
A Toronto firm, Segal LLP, is differentiating itself by offering an exciting technology service, penetration testing (PEN testing). PEN testing is a practice in which a trusted data security expert intentionally attempts to hack into a client’s security system. Through this process, the PEN tester will be able to gauge the possibility of a cyberattack and offer helpful and practical solutions to help clients improve their data protection. With the ever-growing threat of ransomware, this is undoubtedly a growing field for a firm to specialize in.
When it comes to recruiting new staff, my firm, ALL CPAs, located in Chestnut Hill, MA, distinguishes itself with our commitment to work/life balance with our Fridays off in the summer work policy. Many firms offer half-days off on Fridays, or every other Friday off in the summer, but having every Friday off has proven a valuable differentiator to recruit staff and retain them (especially college students who are used to summer breaks).
Prepare for the Future by Differentiating Your Firm
You may never receive a dramatic wake-up call to work on your differentiators, but you can begin the process today and help prepare your firm for the future. Once you select differentiators that are true, relevant, and provable, they will be an invaluable aid to your marketing and help your firm gain new business, retain clients, and attract new talent.
About Chris O'Day
Christopher O’Day is the Director of Marketing at ALL CPAs, a 50 person firm in Chestnut Hill, MA. As the Director of Marketing, he is responsible for business development, strategic marketing, digital marketing, social media, communications, recruiting, event management, and other growth efforts for the firm.