Build your brand advantage with PM Forum and Sholto Lindsay-Smith

In June, Sholto Lindsay-Smith (founding director of International brand and business consultancy ( presented a new PM Forum – PM Forum  training session on “Build your brand advantage”.  Sholto has worked with many professional services firms including: Bidwells, Birketts, Cluttons, Jackson Lees, JLL, Nexia and Stephenson Harwood.  Delegates from law, accounting, restructuring and consultancy firms joined from across the UK. Build your brand advantage with PM Forum and Sholto Lindsay-Smith.

Some delegates had general marketing and business development roles whereas others had a brand and/or design focus. Some had undergone a recent brand refresh whereas other were contemplating embarking on the journey – so their firms were at different stages of the branding journey. The course was structured into three parts:

  • Understand the principles of brand – Brand fundamentals
  • Explore brand methodologies and models – analytical tools to build performance
  • Frame brand objectives and consider everything that’s needed for a rebrand 

Brand fundamentals

“Branding is a strategic discipline to build long-term competitive advantage”

Delegates talked about how their brands were seen by the firm, the stakeholders (partners and staff) and themselves. Recognition and resonance in the market was achieved through consistent design, tone of voice and values (aligned to culture).

Many commented that most people in their firms had a limited view of brand in terms of visual identity. Other commented on the interplay between personal and corporate brands and the link with reputation, client relationships and touchpoints.  The need for education about brand within firms was stressed.

Sholto conducted a quiz where delegates were asked to guess the logos of dominant professional services firm brands through key symbol fragments and colours. He asked them to reflect on the two or three words that illustrate their brand essence.

“A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is” Intuit founder Scott Cook

The benefits of a strong brand were explored and included: recognition, preference, loyalty, pricing, differentiation, aspiration, profitability, resilience, attracting talent and long-term strategic advantage. He shared results from Kantar’s latest BrandZ report that showed the top 100 most valuable brands had grown in value from $5 trillion in 2020 to $6.9 trillion in 2023.

One recent legal brand survey shows brand is considered very important by – Inhouse lawyers (75.7%), private practice lawyers (72.5%) and law students/graduates (77.7%) How do you know when you have a brand advantage? – Legal Business

Delegates reflected on how many professional services brands were differentiated and which stood out. There were not many! There were also suggestions to galvanise internal support by looking at competitors and conducting benchmarking studies.

Sholto offered a model approach for firm-wide branding: Proposition – Identity – Culture – Communications – Experience. Delegates commented that often the marketing department was expected to be responsible for brand but the need to embrace the whole organisation and culture was often overlooked. Others commented on the lack of time and attention for major brand projects.

(Note: Whilst talking about employee value propositions (EVP)  it was interesting to see that David Haigh, of Brand Finance, recently launched the Employer Brand Index New data: What employees in 16 countries say makes them join a company | Press Release | Brand Finance)

Whilst Sholto advocated that brand values should be limited to around three, the majority of the delegates reported that their firms had between four and five values. There was a helpful distinction between personal brands (substantiates expertise and quality) and corporate brand (reputation for quality, trust and expertise).

From brand strategy to brand experience

Sholto took us step-by-step, behind the scenes on a 10 year brand journey of a leading professional services firm using a Design Thinking approach

  1. Discover
    1. Strategic briefing
    2. Brand audit
    3. Internal research
    4. External research
    5. Competitor review

There was an illustrative situational analysis with research components including surveys, partner discussions and client interviews. The brand universe and competitor context were analysed along with the typical profile of target clients. Strengths and core truths were identified with a SWOT analysis.

  1. Define
    1. Positioning options
    2. Strategy workshop
    3. Testing

Three positioning territories were explored with questions about how comfortable partners felt with it and whether it could be owned by the business.

  1. Design
    1. Identity concepts
    2. Identity workshop
    3. Testing
    4. Guidelines
    5. Templates

Initial identity concepts (a visual metaphor for the proposition) were presented and debated and the governance and guidelines discussed.

  1. Deliver
    1. Engagement
    2. Web site
    3. Marketing
    4. Environments

There were reflections on how identity and values evolve – branding isn’t static but a continuing journey. And how well you can execute the brand identity and achieve buy-in across the firm and its stakeholders.

There was a jargon-busting exercise which considered:

  • Vision, mission and purpose
  • Brand equity and brand value
  • Difference between brand position, brand proposition and brand promise
  • Difference between brand personality, tone of voice and brand values
  • What is brand architecture?

This was followed by some insights into good strategy, bad strategy (see also Book review of Richard Rumelt’s “Good strategy, Bad strategy” ( where Sholto offered the following advice:

  1. Beware of unnecessarily complex and overlayered brand models that result in people saying the same thing three different ways
  2. Beware of brand tropes that feel familiar and comfortable
  3. Beware of dressing up bad strategy with fancy wording

Bad strategy is:

  • A statement of the profession
  • A statement of the obvious
  • A statement of ambition
  • A statement of fact
  • A statement of what you would expect from a well-managed company

“Great brands are built on strategy that is simple to understand, simple to communicate and simple to act on”

Good strategy will

  • Serve as a decision-making tool
  • Attract certain clients and repel others
  • Be palpably different
  • Be something your people can get behind

There was an analysis of the difference between customer experience and brand experience:

  • Consistent quality + high satisfaction = great client experience
  • Consistent quality + high satisfaction + signature moments = great brand experience

Brand Tools

The following tools were explored:

  • Brand triangulation (Client perspective, competitive context and current strengths) can be used to determine your position. It reveals where to focus effort to achieve differentiation
  • Brand pyramid (Proposition, Benefits and Core attributes and qualities)
  • Brand onion (Experience, Values and behaviour and Core brand proposition)
  • Brand metrics – The brand advantage matrix (brand recognition vs brand relevance) leads to four quadrants:
    • brand saliency – undervalued brand
    • brand latency – unknown brands
    • brand advantage – leading brands
    • brand affinity – underleveraged brands

Brand guidelines and Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems were introduced.

Delegates were encouraged to identify the gaps in their brand strategy using the brand value chain:

  • Purpose and strategy
  • Brand positioning
  • Brand engagement
  • Brand identity
  • Brand led marketing
  • On brand experience

Preparing for a rebrand

Eight common triggers were examined that indicate it is time to consider a rebrand. The general view was that a rebrand or refresh was required about every 8-10 years – although it was noted that the world is speeding up.

Topics required to prepare a business case for a rebrand:

  • Market analysis
  • Client research
  • Strategic aims and plans
  • Benefits – ROI
  • Costs – rebrand and then implementation

On timeframe, the first three phases of a rebrand can take typically around six months, with implementation lasting at least nine months. Delegates were encouraged to prepare the ground with a detailed brand audit (a brand audit checklist was provided).

Illustrative budgets were described

  • Discover – £30K
  • Define – £20K
  • Design – £60K
  • Deliver
    • Web site £75-125K
    • Marketing collateral £80K
    • Office signage £40K
    • Office environments £30K-£300K
    • Engagement £30K

Steering group members and consultation groups were outlined. To pull everything together, delegates embarked on an exercise to develop a brand brief – start with strategy, define your audience and set your goals/desired outcomes.

“A brief is not about writing, it’s about thinking” Dave Trott

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