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Law Firm Branding Demystified

Apr 4, 2008
Mike Kneffel

Let's dive right into the concept of branding and discuss how your firm can use this concept

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There have been numerous articles written about the emergence of branding in the legal industry. Some of these articles are very conceptual and fail to provide what I consider a proper definition of branding and how it can help a firm grow. Instead of restating for the umpteenth time the reasons why creating a brand is important, I would like to dive right into the concept of branding and provide a discussion regarding how your firm can use this concept.

Branding is based on a clear view of how your clients and prospects perceive your firm. A successful brand is perceived to have at least one meaningful and positive attribute that is unique among its competitors. An attribute is meaningful when it is involved in the decision making process of a client or prospect. It is positive when it enhances your firm's value in their mind.

For example, one of our clients likes to tell people that they have been in business since 1865. By itself, this is a parity statement - a lot of law firms have been around that long. However, when they tell you some of their clients have been with the firm for over 125 years, that might be a positive and meaningful point of difference compared to other firms. It implies consistent quality, service, etc.

Prerequisite to creating a brand are: (1) A knowledge of how you are currently perceived, (2) A knowledge of how accurate the current perception is, (3) A knowledge of the firm's attributes that make you different and better than your competitors, and (4) A brand positioning statement.

How you are currently perceived. The most accurate way to identify how your clients and prospects perceive your firm is through a survey. Short e-mail surveys can be implemented, collected and analyzed quickly. From the feedback, you will build a profile of your firm in the eyes of your clients and prospects. Another way to collect this feedback is to ask your clients, and any prospects you may have approached. However, I will caution that this method will take much longer and provide a smaller response base compared to a survey.

How accurate the current perception is. With the profile of how you are perceived in hand, you can look inward to measure how accurate it is. We work with a law firm that was perceived as "old and stodgy." This perception was based on the fact that the firm had many attorneys in their 70s who would not incorporate technology into their practice (some did not even use e-mail!) This perception was not entirely accurate as many of the older attorneys had retired, and the new attorneys were 30-45 years old and very tech-friendly. Also, the firm had invested heavily in technology across all departments. In this case, the firm employed a brand repositioning campaign that shifted how they were perceived to more accurately reflected their current situation.

Attributes that make you different and better. A competitive analysis is required to identify what makes you different than your competitors. By studying the competition across all attributes you will identify advantages and disadvantages attached to your firm. This analysis will also show the target industries and business segments of your competitors.

Brand positioning statement. This is a paragraph that defines the way you want your brand to be perceived. It states what you are selling, who you are selling to, and why you are different and better than the competition. This paragraph will also serve as your firm's 60-second elevator speech.

When measuring the results of your branding campaign, you will not see overnight results. However, overtime you should see an increase in client activity and more positive responses from prospective clients. Another benefit of a successful branding campaign is an increase in interest from like-minded attorneys looking to move their practice. The power of your brand perception extends outward to clients and prospects, as well as inward to the attorneys and support staff.

A successful brand will add value to the firm credentials before and after the sales presentation. The brand provides positive support when the prospect evaluates the degree of risk attached to a firm, and words like "reputation," and "trust," are discussed.

Branding vs. Marketing. Many times, the terms branding and marketing are used as if they are interchangeable. As I see it, the big difference is that branding helps you know what to say, and marketing provides the vehicles to deliver the messages. Just like a politician will steer any question back to the handful of key campaign points, your brand positioning statement steers all advertising, website content, brochures, public relations, and face-to-face selling to your firms competitive advantages.

Branding analysis and strategies are becoming more common in the legal industry as firms hire non-lawyer marketing directors. These marketing professionals bring experience from other industries where a successful brand can command double-digit premiums in price. More importantly, a successful brand reputation is attached to everything it is associated with. Sometimes this could be the difference between winning new business, and coming second.

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