Cannes Lions

Challenging the Accounting Category Expectations

MERKLE B2B, Chicago / GRANT THORNTON / 2022

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Overview

Background

Accounting is dominated by the top four firms, commonly known as the Big Four, each with long-established reputations and big budgets, our client was the distant number five. After a long advertising hiatus, in 2017 the firm wanted to reinvest in their brand to stay competitive and grow their business.

Our task was to re-establish the brand to increase awareness and consideration by focusing on the strengths of their people-focused culture in a distinctive way.

Idea

We launched the challenger brand strategy by portraying the firm as the antithesis to the “status quo”, identifying as “Status Go”. We launched internally and externally using unique compelling, human imagery and videos ads that poke fun at category pain points.

But the core idea of challenging category expectations was infused into all creative marketing efforts and brand storytelling moving forward. Some examples include, rather than writing a big check to a big non-profit, the firm developed their own charity called Purple Paladins, this group champions start-up non-profits beyond just money but business consulting and promotion. And rather than going for the big established golf ambassadors, they chose a representative group of up-and-coming golfers that include people of color and women.

As the advertising campaign evolved over the years, the communications were always insightful and unexpected. Helping to build a distinctive brand in a category filled with uniformity.

Strategy

Our research showed that most of our target felt they had no choice but to hire the leading firms, but when they did, over half were dissatisfied with the experience. They found these firms slow to act, with rigid processes, and delivering old-school thinking.

The strategy was not to keep up with the leaders but to forge our own distinctive path focused on the firm’s people-focus and culture-driven strengths: agility, collaboration, and a practical future-focus and this had to extend beyond paid media into all aspects of the brand, including employee engagements, recruiting, content and sponsorships.

This strategy became the platform that drove all marketing decisions, “is this what the category expects?” if it is, it’s denied. Ideas that were unexpected or exceeded expectations were approved.

Execution

We’ve kept our commitment to being the unexpected brand over the past 5 years. Launching in 2017 with the Status Go campaign we used humor and imagery establish us as the category challenger brand.

In 2018, when we needed to explain our size/scale, we hired a band of drummers and filmed their story in their US headquarters.

In 2020-2021, when the world came to a stop with the pandemic, we talked to our target and evolved our message to inspire action and demonstrate how we can help them take the right next step. Always told in a surprising way, either with visual storytelling or humor.

Beyond advertising, we share the soul of this firm through the Purple Paladin CSR program. Using video storytelling (and beyond) we support these noble causes, from inclusive comic books to building refuge communities with stories to reuniting veterans with their military units.

Outcome

Being a challenger can be a winning and lucrative proposition. Since the start of the campaign the firm has seen awareness grow 13 points to 63%. But more importantly, their familiarity and consideration numbers have skyrocketed. Since 2017, familiarity has grown from 82% to 96%, showing our message is clear. And consideration is showing our storytelling is driving the target to put us in their consideration set - with 2021 data showing 97% of those aware would consider the brand, up 23% points from the start of the campaign in 2017.

And the business has seen the benefits too – the US firm has grown 20% in the past five years, growing from $1.65 Billion in 2016 to $1.97 Billion in 2021.Finally, the rest of the global firm is coming on board and adopting this challenger strategy 2021.

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