This article was first published in Lex Witness August 2014 issue.
SHOULD LAW FIRMS FOCUS ON BECOMING A BRAND?
The word Brand usually brings to mind a logo, or a tagline and similar tangible aspects that a product or service provider is defined by amongst its target audience. But, what about the intangible aspects of the brand? Is it not only fair that the key perception about what the organization providing services be about its values and what it represents. Isn’t it crucial that a brand’s philosophies and mission be equally recognized and valued?
Brand building is essential for many industries, but historically professional services firms have been reluctant to invest in brand building. Law firms share this unique predicament in the service industry, wherein the talent, i.e. the lawyers of the firms are already regarded has high valued and respected professionals. However, this does not necessarily mean that the firm as an entity has created its own space to its intended audience.
Branding is important because clients have too many choices, and feels the constant need to be assured of making the right decision. Clancy and Schulman, in their Marketing Myths That are Killing Business (1994), explain the key benefits of branding: “In a cluttered environment where buyers have little time to ponder product decisions, it is highly advantageous for a marketer to stand for one thing that is important, to be remembered for something significant. [Branding] helps a company hold current customers by giving them constant reminders of why they buy, while providing protection from competitive onslaughts.”
To become a market leader in a competitive marketplace, to be top-of-mind in a way that resonates with prospective clients and colleagues, law firms must be able to communicate, authentically and memorably, about what makes them distinctive. Positioning themselves in the most strategic manner, which helps create a recall value to the existing and the prospective clientele of the firm, is what’s called ‘Becoming a Brand‘.
SO, WHAT IS BRANDING?
It all comes down to a brand’s power to influence the existing and prospective clientele to choose between one firm over another. It is all about perception. A brand name on a website or a profile is different than a brand name in the mind. The trick is to position oneself in the mind of the client as a leader, and half of the work is done.
A strategically positioned law firm resonates with us in a significant way, and create its own individuality. Consequentially, this may not appeal to every current and prospective clients.
The firm should own the category it aspires to be positioned in, and ideally should be the first in a position. Differentiation is key!
Brands which are based on an idea vs. a service product, can help the firm to sustain on its own terms and yet grow as a business. “Client oriented,” “Going the extra mile,” and “Attention to detail” are not positioning statements. The idea has to big enough, and the firm has to be keen on creating a balanced approach and ingrain their philosophy not just internally but to its target market as well.
One way to understand branding is to recognize what it is and what it isn’t. Branding is not just advertising, a theme line or a logo. These are only ways of expressing the brand, and not the brand itself. The principle of branding is surprisingly simple. Branding answers the question, “What are we known for?”
THE SCIENCE BEHIND CREATING A BRAND
It is not always easy to create the ‘first mover advantage’. How do you position yourself as ‘The First’ if your firm was not indeed the first national firm, or the first full service firm or the first that was client oriented?
According to branding gurus Jack Trout and Al Ries, “The easy way to get into a person’s mind is to be first. An also-ran must find a hole in the mind not occupied by someone else.”
Create a new category for leadership and keep it simple. Anticipate the characteristics of a law firm that will motivate prospects. If your firm was the first to demonstrate detailed standards of client service in the most unique ways? What if you returned calls within 24 hours, sent personalized acknowledgement emails, responded to emails within 48 hours, reported on files every week, and so on. If these are significant motivational issues for your clients, then these are the motivators which can position you as the ‘first’ in your category. A firm can be branded in the minds of clientele if it is known for something which others are not (or cannot be); and its image is uniform among employees, clients, prospects, referral sources and the media.
These are the identifiable qualities which are going to make you a leader, and create the recall value in your existing and prospective client’s mind.
The process of establishing a brand includes everything from Appropriate Design Sciences and Conceptual Literature Development, like logo, colors, typefaces, names, targeted profiles and more; all the way to Pro-active Business Development and Client Retention. Today, a successfully positioned law firm captures the essence of a firm, connects with you, and evokes emotion in the hearts and minds of current and prospective clients.
Most law firms are known for what they do, but unknown for who they are. Since clients and potential clients most often engage an organization that stands for something, it’s not enough anymore to just to provide high-quality legal services.
Pramita leads The Lex Witness Strategic Counsel Desk, an invitation based initiative, which caters to law firms across the globe who seek to create and improve their brand and undertake market activation strategies.
Photo credit: Mick Rooney