Branding is the heart of Your marketing message

Author: Micah U. Buchdahl

Let’s just start with the premise that branding is not optional. Every law firm, practice group and individual lawyer has a brand. The question is whether the market dictates it or you control it yourself. Ideally, you want to control the message to the best of your ability. But it takes planning, strategy, implementation and ongoing monitoring to be truly effective.

BusinessDictionary.com defines branding as the process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumer’s mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.

Renowned marketing professor Philip Kotler defines branding as a “name, term, symbol or design, or a combination of them, which is intended to signify the goods or services of one seller and to differentiate them from those of competitors.” It is the concept of differentiation that is lacking in most law firm branding efforts.

Nobody is suggesting that an Am Law 100 firm is spending six-figure sums annually on print advertising in corporate counsel-targeted publications because a general counsel is thumbing through a magazine looking for representation. But there is clearly a reason for doing so. It is image advertising and brand awareness marketing. It is branding.

Every law firm and lawyer strives to be the Kleenex, Xerox or Tylenol of the profession, where you replace “I need a criminal defense lawyer” with “I need Johnnie Cochran.” In the case of Cochran, who passed away in 2005, his firm has grown significantly since his death. With offices nationwide, the firm has basically franchised the brand to lawyers in markets across the country. It is a combination of the law firm brand and the individual attorney brand morphing into something significant and rarely achieved.

The power of the law firm brand is not limited to consumer audiences. You can argue that Cravath has a brand for mergers and acquisitions to the corporate counsel crowd or that David Boies carries a powerful individual brand for litigation. Those are both brands that transcend basic geographical or practice boundaries. Branding for plaintiffs’ firms often follow the same methods and formulas as is used for consumer products. For most corporate firms, the tact is more along the lines of professional services (following the same leads as accountants and architects, for example).

Most attorneys will argue that their individual brand trumps that of their law firm. The client hires the lawyer, not the firm, so why should the firm invest so much in brand identity? Why spend money on a “brand” when it is the good work lawyers do that truly develops the reputation in the marketplace? Proper development of an individual brand is a subject for another column. It is at the core of any lawyer’s success at becoming established, but the individual brand is just that—individual—and a different conversation.

WHY A FIRM BRAND IF CLIENTS HIRE LAWYERS?

My oft-used line about what happens to your book of business if you get hit by a bus tomorrow always goes over like a lead balloon in conference room conversation. But it leads to the very real importance of developing some sense of firm loyalty and identity with the client.

In addition, it is a key component to succession planning for the same reason. If the law firm has not developed any sort of connection with the client, a lawyer’s retirement can lead to a company putting the legal work back out to bid.

For associates and junior partners, the stronger the firm brand,
the easier it is for them to build their own books. A strong firm brand can help a lesser-known attorney get the better speaking gig, appointment to a prestigious nonprofit board or be quoted by the media.
I work with plenty of journalists who won’t consider interviewing an attorney if the name of the firm does not resonate with them.

The same theory holds true when in-house counsel explains to a company’s leadership or board that they hired XYZ law firm. Just as many law firms like the “safe bet” for some business decisions, so do the clients.

A strong brand that the firm controls allows for greater success in implementing a strategic plan, remaining consistent in messaging and putting the firm in a better position for cross-selling, whether the intent is geographic or practice-driven—usually both.

Finally, the firm’s brand goes a long way in helping with recruiting, whether it is newbies out of law school or lateral hires. I think back to my days coming out of law school in Philadelphia. The reality is that I did not know much difference between the names of Am Law 100 firms and small boutiques. A strong brand in the legal and civic communities automates the process of being known in the circles you seek.

REBRANDING

In this issue of Law Practice, you’ve read about the rebranding efforts of the ABA Law Practice Division, changing from its prior incarnation as the Law Practice Management Section. I’ve had the privilege of working on this rebranding effort as a member of the Division and as a past chair. Rebranding included a new name, logo and change in messaging. Yet it was important not to lose the market recognition and value—the brand equity—we had established. This is similar to many of today’s law firm rebranding efforts. We don’t want people to get the idea that the good name, reputation and skill sets have left the building. You need to rebrand without losing all that went into creating the original brand.

In recent years, law firm merger mania has led to changes in long-recognized law firm names. For example, Fulbright & Jaworski, identified for so long by many as a Houston-based national firm, recently became Norton Rose Fulbright. If it follows typical name brand patterns, the Fulbright part will eventually drop off and it will become known as Norton Rose. This type of rebranding is part of the law firm marketing fabric today. It is a serious concern when firms change names, merge, shift locations or add new practices. You want to retain the good without diluting the great, while touting the new. More law firms are not really branding today, but rebranding or refreshing the brand. An unknown brand is still a brand—it’s just a weak one.

Some of the drivers that go into a rebranding effort include who your clients are, what barriers exist for your firm in today’s market, public perception, competition, industry trends and changes in the areas of practice. At the same time, you need to look at your internal and external messages, where you market and/or advertise, the firm culture, budget and staffing. If there is no media buying involved and/or no staffing to implement, you take that into account when finding your optimal brand position.

POSITIONING

What is your law firm’s position in the marketplace? This takes into account elements such as geography, practice, uniqueness, client base and characteristics. For some, the law school pedigree is a key element (i.e., lots of Ivy League). For others, it is the library of representative clients or matters. Your position is a combination of what you perceive it to be and what outsiders see. But ultimately, the goal is to determine a position in the market—and reach it. Proper positioning goes hand in hand with brand development.

ADVERTISING AND PROMOTIONAL STRATEGY

I’ve seen law firms that believe their brand is what they put on the side of a coffee mug or pen. Others think that it is what you see in a print ad, billboard or television commercial. While it is not inaccurate to say they are devices used to connote the image, they are not “the brand.”

Niche branding is popular with many small law firms that want to tout something very specific. If you are truly a boutique that does one thing and one thing well, marketing a niche is one of the easiest things to do. From the website to print pieces, the images, message and target are relatively simple to define. The problem is that the vast majority of law firms don’t want to be that limited, and as you eventually start to float away from your brand, you end up diluting what you worked so hard to create.

This leads me to another repeated boardroom conversation where I ask attorneys to tell me their favorite law firm brands—and what makes them effective. The question is usually met with silence and blank stares. A law firm brand should be distinctive, memorable, positive and easy to recall. It should be what you want it to be, and therein lies the challenge. Most law firms simply cannot do this on their own because the members are too close to the action. It is the outsider who determines a brand’s effectiveness, not those who make up the “products.”

CONSISTENCY IS PARAMOUNT

Regardless of whether you are implementing a new branding effort or refreshing an old one, the importance of consistency should not be ignored. It is the lead marketer’s role in a firm to own the brand and do his or her best to protect it. That includes everything from consistency in colors, logos, imagery, messaging and promotional language to discussions relating to where the firm name appears and how the wrong place might send a message that is off-brand. Sometimes bringing in the wrong lateral or adding the wrong office or practice group designation is damaging. It is the brand that you are selling and people are buying. While the concept might seem foreign to some attorneys, the truth is that it is at the core of everything you do. We’ve all got brands. Make sure you are protecting yours.

Fonte: http://www.americanbar.org/publications/law_practice_magazine/2013/november-december/marketing.html

 

Marketing and Branding for law firms: Beyond Positioning

ABSTRACT

Most business law firms try to differentiate themselves on client benefits that do not differentiate them from the competition. “Positioning” law firms is therefore not the most succesful strategy in the current landscape. Law firms are starting to see the need for branding efforts, although most law firms are locked into a “house of brands” strategy rather than a “branded house” strategy. The author enumerates why more efforts should go to branding law firms through media exposure.

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The positioning strategy

Many managing partners at business law firms today are faced with the difficult question of how to market their firm effectively. After all, most top tier firms offer the same range of services, at more or less the same internationally accepted price points. The in house talent is perceived as superior to that of competing law firms, but then again marketing is not always about delivering superior quality. It is about convincing prospects and clients of the superior quality that is on offer.

On top of that, the business law firm market has been in a state of constant turmoil over the last two decades. Partners have moved in and out of firms, started new firms with old rivals, merged firms with up and coming players. One could forgive clients who think that there shouldn’t be too much different between law firms.

Unfortunately they would be strengthened in this belief when taking a look at the majority of the marketing communication of business law firms. Most, if not all of them try to differentiate themselves on these client benefits (opzoeken):

“technical” know how

business acumen

pragmatism

full service

The overall tone of lawyer marketing communication, either as a result of a clear strategy or the lack of a real strategy, is subdued and careful, as if the foremost principle guiding the communication was: thou shalt not offend.

Sadly little or no differentiation is actually taking place. For the prospect, all these firms look alike. Choosing a law firm (or, on the other end of the spectrum, promoting the law firm) becomes a game of networking, of knowing the right players. In the end, it may happen that a large corporation chooses Firm A for their litigation, Firm B for a merger deal and yet another Firm C for handling their IP.

For the managing partner interested in cross selling services of different departments, this is the fundamental dilemma he is faced with. On the one hand, he wishes all of his partners to enjoy an excellent reputation as a lawyer and a healthy dose of commercial flair. On the other hand, he can feel the vulnerability of the firm in having to rely on the reputation of individuals. Individuals who might decide to join another firm, or start their own firm.

The effects of this lack of clear positioning has far reaching effects on the other type of “clients” that law firms depend on for their sustainability: recruits. A young lawyer will choose a firm on the basis of his specialty, and the name of an individual partner who enjoys a solid reputation in this chosen specialty. Again, the firm is vulnerable here. It will prove impossible to retain top talent if young recruits choose to work for a particular partner rather than a firm, a “brand”.

Branding: the “house of brands” vs. the “branded house”

Brand:

A name, sign or symbol used to identify items or services of the seller(s) and to differentiate them from goods of competitors. (Dictionary of business and management)

In recent years, law firms have begun to understand the need for branding, hence the arrival of the “fantasy” name in law circles like Altius, Elegis, Eubelius and more recently, Lydian. Unfortunately, having a brand is not the same as having brand equity (“a measure of the influence that a brand exerts on the buying behaviour of customers”).

Law firms are still, for the most part, “houses of brands” instead of a “branded houses”. The archetypical house of brands in consumer markets is Procter&Gamble. P&G is relatively unknown to supermarket shoppers, but currently holds 24 billion dollar brands like Tide, Duracell, Gilette, Vicks, Pampers, Pantene etc. No consumer chooses Pampers based on the fact that it is a Procter&Gamble brand. Few consumers even realise that by buying Gilette and Pampers, they are actually buying products from the same company.

Opposed to this is the so called “branded house”, which chooses to sell all its products under the same name, like Nivea. It sells shaving cream, skin lotion, sunscreen, etc. Here, shoppers do choose Nivea products because of the Nivea brand, which has succesfully positioned itself to signify ‘skin care’.

In Belgian law firms, the predominant model is still that of the house of brands, where partners attract clients based on their individual reputation. The name of the firm is of little or no importance to the client.

Partly, this strategy is understandable and even unavoidable: the “house of brands” strategy is especially useful when trying to dominate niche segments of the market, especially in a market as specialised as lawyering. A partner’s name might well be a ‘billion dollar brand’ in his chosen specialty.

But for the managing partner interested in cross selling and in making the tide rise for all the ships, there is a clear need to move towards more of a “branded house” position. This need not be disadvantageous for the individual partners. Consider: a strong niche specialty will, when handled correctly, translate into a stronger firm name or brand. A stronger brand, will attract top talent and retain them better. This in turn will strengthen the other departments. For a successful law firm, a common ground will have to be found between the “branded house” strategy and the “house of brands” strategy. The question is: how?

Branding the law firm through media exposure

One area that is consistently overlooked in the branding efforts of many firms: consistent, strategically embedded media exposure. Sometimes because lawyers are suspicious of journalists or media. Sometimes because they don’t know how to approach media. Sometimes because they misunderstand the needs of media outlets: a ‘radical’  ruling by a judge is met with indifference, while a legal triviality can suddenly appear in bold uppercases on the front pages of newspapers.

And yet it is the experience of the author that media exposure is probably one of the most cost effective  means of branding a law firm currently available. Due to the nature of the law firm, it is also ideally suited to make regular appearances in the business and financial press.

Lawyers are experts.  Law is difficult, and it changes often. Journalists have too much work to understand and digest all changes themselves – few journalists have a law degree. They need a reliable guide. In return, they will give the guide exposure. They will also invariably mention the firm brand. This status as “expert” will empower both the partner who is mentioned, and the firm. The “expert” status will attract new clients and convince recruits to apply for a position at your firm.

Law firms are confronted with the public interest on a daily basis. Law is (mostly) made on the basis of policy choices, and policy is made for the public interest, “the greater good”. In a way, everytime a lawyer gets involved, some principle of the legal system, the democracy, is being put to a miniature ‘stress test’. The lawyer is in the unique position of seeing our system probed continually for weaknesses and fault lines. These are also matters that the media are naturally interested in.

This does not in any way mean that the firm brand must become a synonym for controversy and conflict. Rather, what should be highlighted in media communication is the ability of lawyers to rise above the “stress test” and make rational and reasonable assessments of the problem, to propose avenues for resolving common types of problems.

This can easily be done because law firms are, above all, centers of learning and expertise. As we said, the goal for the managing partner is to  have as many of his partners considered experts by leading journalists. That way, the firm is continually in the news.

CASE: In one case, the author worked together with a lawyer who had done extensive research on rulings in matters of automobile concessions. An article was written and released to coincide with a large automobile trade show. Result: the article was not only picked up by a business newspaper, but the firm was mentioned on the front page. Media exposure is about knowing what to tell, how to tell it, and when to tell it.

Law firms are divided into departments, and so are media. This provides a tactical advantage to the law firm. The fact that a HR lawyer of Firm A appeared in the jobs section of a large business paper, is not likely to dissuade a journalist specialised in mergers and acquisitions to call a lawyer of Firm A the same week to ask his or her opinion on a certain merger. For the media outlet, two specialists gave their opinion on two unrelated matters. For the managing partner, the firm brand was mentioned twice in one week in the same newspaper.

Credit: Kristien Vermoesen (http://www.finnpr.com/node/18)

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