Download (direct link):
7. The brand is too new and is yet to be accepted.
Bedbury here notes that raising a brand is much like raising children. It takes commitment, consistent values, and a long time. The payoff is that it can be done, can be done well, and the brand can outlive the parents. This may not be possible if one is subject to excessive turnover and shuffled responsibilities. In this regard Bedbury is much like Kelling and Barsky, who have both commented on the need for consistency of leadership to achieve significant social change.
The possibilities for change we are discussing within the forensic profession may be, in some instances, profound. Can we realistically expect these changes to take place if there is significant movement at the top? Within a given organization that is probably a reasonable assessment. There are few long-tenured coaches in Division I-A college athletics, since immediate performance or rapid dismissal seems to be the common model; however, those coaches that have remained in place for decades are almost always associated with notable programs, both athletically and academically.
We may find such tenure and security in some organizations, but it will probably not be the common case. One remedy we may have at hand is professional associ-
ations. These are natural catch basins for the collected wisdom and experiences of their members, and they often have more stable leadership to assist in the guidance of change. In short, it may not be necessary to be about the task of reinventing the wheel simultaneously in hundreds of organizations. If that happens, fine. I believe the profession will be stronger for it, but should that not occur, there may still be significant advances to be made from a professional, associational level.
8. A brand is seen as a commodity.
Anything that is left to sit long enough runs the risk of becoming a commodity. Bedbury notes that there were great coffee sellers long before Starbucks, but these companies saw themselves as being in the business of keeping grocery chains—their distribution channel—happy. Eventually, their goods were stacked next to each other—rows and rows of red and green cans, each trying to catch the eye of a potential purchaser. From time to time a promotion could raise one can an inch higher than the others, a significant advantage when all the cans look essentially the same and are filled with about the same stuff. But, promotions are just that—short-lived events that eventually end and restore the rows to their previous uniformity. The idea of a continuous promotion really made no sense, since a continuous promotion—a contradiction in terms, really—is a price reduction. In a war of price reductions, no one wins in the long run, as American automobile manufacturers have learned several times over.
We, too, risk becoming a commodity. One of the more common complaints heard from audit partners in the Big Four professional services firms is that auditing has become a commodity. Once the province of long-term relationships, the industry seems over the past several decades to have become a commodity, with buyers seeing one pound of auditing being pretty much like the next. As a result, there has been price pressure to attract or retain business and this, in turn, has caused firms to seek greater and greater efficiencies in the conduct of audits as they become more competitive and less profitable.
However one views the impact on the accounting profession, this is not an ideal stance into which to be thrust. There are only so many efficiencies that can be drained out of a system before quality begins to suffer or the business is simply unworkable at the profit margins involved. Some in the profession see audits as loss leaders to establish and maintain a client relationship, hoping to make up lost profits on the provision of other, higher margin services. But these too are being impacted by regulatory and financial market concerns about independence, particularly in the aftermath of the Enron situation.
The forensic profession runs the same risks. If it is thought of as a commodity, the rules of the marketplace apply. Those rules say over time people will buy a like product at the lowest possible price. For a while one can strive to be more efficient, and this will buy time, but ultimately price pressures will prevail upon any commoditized service offering.
Some, perhaps many, of the thoughts set forth in thinking about the message of Bedbury’s piece may seem novel, even goofy. Fine. If they are, it is a clear attempt to recast the construct of our profession and what we do. To do less is to risk being just another can in a long row of cans.
Bedbury offers the following ideas to counter the momentum toward becoming a commodity:
• Set your sights high. Do not be content to be in the field—be a leader in the field.
• Elevate your product. Can you argue persuasively that who you are or what you do or how you do it is in some way unique? If not, why not? Bedbury notes that Krispy Kreme is not just a doughnut and that protects them and makes them highly profitable. The country singer Loretta Lynn is reported to have offered the following advice some years back to those interested in making a name for themselves in that field: “Be first, best, or different.” It is not bad advice.