Your brand or mine: Which should be displayed in RFP responses?

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branding montage

branding montageThere’s an interesting discussion within the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) LinkedIn discussion group about branding strategies within RFP responses.  The question: Should you design your response to emulate, reflect and even demonstrate your prospective client’s brand, or should you make yours front-and-center.

There is a third option, putting both brands within the documentation, of course. The danger there, and in anything you do with the clients’ brand, in running against rules by the potential client against falsely asserting relationships which don’t exist yet (you don’t have the job, of course, until the RFP has been approved.) However, even assuming you checked the rules about overt association/brand tie-ins — always wise before submitting the RFP documentation — would it still make sense to dress your proposal in the style, colour and formats of your potential client?  After all, wouldn’t that identify you, add to trust and presumably (by mirroring the client’s style) help to build “rapport”?

Epiphany Studio RV president Susan Walsh Milne posed this question in a provocative (and thoughtful) blog posting, and observed the reasoning behind the “your brand” option:

“This marketing executive for a Dallas-based firm wondered whether an A/E firm responding to an RFP should reflect her own firm’s brand in the RFP or the the RFP issuer’s brand?” she wrote. “Our immediate answer:  Always reflect your own brand.”

Before I tell you why we answered the way we did, I’ll acknowledge the good thinking behind her question. Let’s say the issuer of her RFP was a major hotel chain. The chain has an established brand that includes its colors, fonts, style of photography, tone of copy and overall look and feel. It’s safe to assume that the chain’s decision makers went with those fonts, colors and images because they like them. When they see them in her RFP, the hope is that they’ll like them again and that, by extension, they’ll like her firm.

Ok, but there are some rather strong counter-arguments, and Milne makes them clear in her blog posting. I hope she won’t mind my copyright stretch in reproducing her three points here:

  1. Staying true to your brand will position you as the outside expert. A firm doesn’t issue an RFP looking for its own expertise; it’s looking for yours. They’re going outside for solutions. So provide those solutions while conveying your expertise and reflecting who you are, not who they are.
  2.  Staying true to your brand will help you stand out in a sea of me-toos. If you’re thinking about adopting your prospective client’s brand in an RFP, how many other firms are thinking the same thing? (And then going ahead with it?)Let’s say you’re responding to an RFP for an institutional project for a major health system here in the south. You use the health system’s signature blue as your major color, accent with lime green, choose a modern font and add a horizontally oriented image at the top of every page … but so do your major competitors responding to the RFP. Now let’s say you brand the RFP, instead, with your own colors, fonts and imagery. That’s the way to get attention.
  3. Staying true to your brand will earn you more money. Prospective clients are willing to pay a premium to work with firms that have a strong brand and solid reputation in the marketplace. There’s no better way to convey the strength of your brand than by expressing it consistently and professionally in all client touchpoints. They include your business cards, envelopes and letterhead, ads, brochures, website, emails, blogs, social media, product packaging and RFPs.

At Epiphany, we’re big on planting our flag. Owning our philosophies. Staying true to who we are because that’s the best way to help you be who you are.

So be that iconic blue Tiffany box. Be the two-tailed Starbucks siren. Be Louis Vuitton’s fabulous “LV” monogram, the Apple logo with the single bite taken out and the tiny red tag on the back pocket of the world’s best jeans.

In other words, be distinctive.

I couldn’t say it better.

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