Stories Differentiate Accounting Firms

My last blog post, The Accounting Brand Gives Permission To Pursue Personal Ambition, explored the concept of brand. Accounting firms could consider their brand (accounting is the language of business) as permission to explore new ways to provide clients’ businesses value. A method that ties in well to permission is story.

It’s only by understanding who for and why that we get to a better how.

Bernadette Jiwa, 2016

Differentiation Is First Deciding To Be Different

In his 1996 article, What Is Strategy?, Michael E. Porter essentially laid out a framework to describe strategy. First, he told us, “Strategy is creating fit among a company’s activities” (Porter, 1996). That relies upon the functions of a firm, and decisions about how that firm is different.

Strategy is making trade-offs in competing. The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. Without trade-offs, there would be no need for choice and thus no need for strategy.

Michael E. Porter, 1996

So other than the type of functional accounting work, what differentiates one bookkeeping, accounting and tax services from the next? More broadly, where are the trade-offs between firms from which clients can choose?

The Message Of An Accounting Firm

According to author and Member of the Marketing Hall of Fame, David Aaker, “Customers and employees are often not interested in your strategic message, so they tune it out.”

That begs the question. What is the message of an accounting firm?

The sense I get from Portland-metropolitan area accounting firms’ websites is the following.

Competence
Technology /
Resources

Comfort
Relationship / Communication

Person Before Professional

The simple difference from one firm to the next is the person running the accounting firm, and, from there, the people who conceivably share the same values.

Let that sink in for a moment.

In what does he or she believe? Why did he or she start the accounting firm or come to lead it? Why were those employees chosen and are they attuned to the values of the leader(s)?

Two (actual) scenarios

Was it about the numbers? I’ve met two accountants who were just naturally-talented. Those of us for whom accounting was not palatable in college or in our careers know some are more naturally-gifted than others. It’s a personal choice to conduct their careers in accounting.

Was it to ground individuals so they could pursue careers in which they were talented? There’s another accountant who I have met who fits this description. I’ll do it so either they don’t have to or because they simply cannot. She is spectacularly talented in the discipline. The work comes easy and, thus, she serves her clients by empowering their talents.

For Comparison’s Sake

Let’s put those two scenarios together along with the ambition I’ve observed–again, a human interest in the good fortunes of others–and see how a composite, hypothetical scenario becomes different than the websites I have viewed.

Portland-area
websites

Competence
Technology / Resources
Comfort
Relationship / Communication

Something
different

My firm and its employees have human interest in the good fortunes of others. Back when I chose a career path, I did so out of personal choice to empower the talents of those who own and operate businesses. My expertise is in bookkeeping, accounting and tax services.


Two differentiators appear in the above comparison. First, the hypothetical scenario tells of authentic purpose that targets the deep-seated desire of the client through the delivery of accounting services. Why accounting? Well, that’s the second differentiator. There’s a story to be told.

Stories are a hot topic in marketing because they have been shown to be superior to facts in getting attention, being remembered, changing opinions, stimulating social activity, developing emotion and, curiously, communicating facts….We call such stories “signature stories” because they represent some form of strategic statement about a mission, values, the brand, customer relationship or strategic intent.

David Aaker, 2018

Mind, the right-hand-side scenario is not a story – or at least not a very good one. But it’s a start. Better yet, it offers something personal and meaningful to the hypothetical author whose ambition is human interest in the good fortunes of others. That’s where the story starts and ends; that’s where accounting practitioners may begin delivering a repertoire of professional services.

Audience

At the outset of this article there is a quote by Bernadette Jiwa of thestoryoftelling.com. I discovered her when researching for this blog post. She had another quote from the same article that jump-started this idea of storytelling as it pertains to permission and brand. I’ll tell why on the back-end of the quote.

Instead of wondering what we should say, we need to start our storytelling by asking who the story is for, and then by asking why this story will resonate with that particular audience….It’s only by understanding who for and why that we get to a better how.

Bernadette Jiwa, 2016

Accounting firms might consider giving themselves permission, first, to tell their own stories like the hypothetical scenario from earlier. Quoting David Aaker once more, “a personal, professional signature story helps you understand yourself, identify your higher purpose, chart your course and gain credibility” (2017). Similarly, Jiwa asked “who is the story for?” The story is for the accounting firm, first, and then the customer for whom the story will resonate with genuineness, trust and patronage.

Why?

Differentiation.

Again, Porter wrote, “Strategy is creating fit among a company’s activities” and that “without trade-offs, there would be no need for choice and thus no need for strategy.”

This idea of strategy doesn’t just work for accounting firms. It works as well for clients, too. Last time, “It’s only by understanding who for and why that we get to a better how.”

‘Still wondering how?

Rehr Consulting

In a 30-minute to 1-hour informational interview (in person, telephone call, Skype, etc.) I would get the answers to 3 basic questions:

  1. Why did you get in business in the first place?
  2. What are your Top 3 goals, and Top 3 risks?
  3. Is your business operating in alignment with your personal ambition?

From there, I would work with that client to figure goals, devise ways to achieve the desired business performance (strategy), and strengthen resilience.


Jiwa, Bernadette. “The Five-Step Brand Story Framework”. The Story Of Telling, 2016, https://thestoryoftelling.com/five-step-brand-story-framework/. Accessed 21 June 2019.

Porter, Michael E. “What Is Strategy?” Harvard Business Review 74.6 (1996): 61-79. Cengage Learning, Inc. Web. 30 Dec. 2016.

Aaker, David. “How To Create A Signature Brand Story”. American Marketing Association | Marketing News, 2018, https://www.ama.org/marketing-news/how-to-create-a-signature-brand-story/. Accessed 19 June 2019.

Aaker, David. “14 Reasons Your Brand Needs Signature Stories”. American Marketing Association | Marketing News, 2017, https://www.ama.org/marketing-news/14-reasons-your-brand-needs-signature-stories/. Accessed 19 June 2019.

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