Establishing your brand in the market for legal services

by Huntly Gordon and Micah Buchdahl

Esky, Thermos, Aspirin, Walkman, Rollerblade, and Dictaphone either have been or currently are registered trademarks. These trademarks are synonymous with the products that stand behind them. Think about it for a moment. When you want to dictate a letter, what do you use? A dictaphone or a Dictaphone™?

Everyone strives for brand recognition. Yet few actually achieve it. While the practice of law falls under that mysterious “professional services” category, it does not mean lawyers shouldn’t try to achieve recognisable “brand” status in the legal industry. The art of branding is not for every lawyer or law firm, but if you have the right “product” and the right “approach”, your firm can benefit from establishing a brand.

What is a brand?

Philip Kotler, a renowned marketing expert, describes branding this way. “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.”

A brand can be your name, the name of your firm, a logo, a slogan, and even a practice area so tied to you that it becomes your brand. Often, it is a combination of some or all of these elements, and it does not establish itself overnight.

“Johnnie Cochran” is a brand. In the United States his name is synonymous with the practice of law, recognised instantly by all. Businesses spend millions unsuccessfully trying to achieve the branding that Cochran has. Thanks OJ!

Slogans are part of branding efforts. Two Australian law firms have memorable slogans. Slater & Gordon have the slogan “No Win – No Fee™” which they have registered. Anne O’Donoghue & Associates trades under the name of “Immigration Solutions”, which is also the slogan. Their target audiences readily remember these slogans.

The name of a law firm can be a brand. In the last few years, law firms have strived to follow the corporate marketing approach of shortening their names, making them easier to recall, write and promote. Think of Freehills, Deacons, or Gadens.

Understanding the current level of your brand’s awareness among your target audience is critical before you embark on growing your brand’s awareness. Law firms that depend on consumers for business are likely to follow the same attempts in establishing a brand as any company focusing on consumer marketing. Those firms seeking to establish a brand among fellow practitioners or in-house counsel will take a different approach.

Cash can be a shortcut to establishing brand recognition. When Andersen Consulting changed its name to “Accenture”, the new name and logo was backed by millions of dollars of print and television advertising, in addition to numerous sponsorships. Major corporations spend hundreds of millions annually to both establish new brands and reinforce market position and share against competition. How much do you spend on your branding efforts?

Branding is an investment, and you cannot sit there and immediately establish a return on investment (ROI). A solid, long-term plan will allow for increased profitability.

How do you go about establishing a brand for you, your firm or practice?

Positioning

Develop a positioning statement. What is it that you want clients to come away with when they see your brand? The focus here is not how you want to be perceived, but how you think your clients will perceive you. Questions to consider include the following. What is unique about you or your practice? Your geographic location? Resume? Client base? Practice specialty?

Elements

Is your brand your firm name, a phrase, a design, colours or symbols? Is your brand distinctive? Memorable? Positive? Easy to recall?

How will you promote your brand? It is important to have a well thought out, executable plan that is focused on building your brand over the long-term. It takes time, patience and money to establish it. Working in coordination with public relations and marketing firms, media buyers, and relevant organisations can be your best approach. Think before your develop and spend.

A consumer-based law firm, for example, probably needs to spend the $30,000 on next year’s Yellow Pages advertisement, and develop a decent web site to back the advertisement up. A firm trying to make a splash with corporate counsel probably wants to develop a very sophisticated and content rich web site. It pays off. Peter Hay, the Chief Executive Officer of Freehills points to a direct ROI from Freehills’ new web site.

“. . . work we have received directly as a result of enquiries from the site has more than paid for the investment already,” says Hay.

Leave the true marketing campaign development to professionals! I’ve sat in lots of boardrooms listening to some horrible ideas from otherwise talented lawyers. I’ve seen campaigns orchestrated by amateurs. Have an outsider meet you, meet your clients, have focus groups set up, test out concepts - do it right! Create a client profile, and work from there.

Look at your competitors. Recently, a TV commercial appeared on the screen with two drink machines next to one another, Coke and Pepsi. My wife (the real brand marketeer in our household) said, “Oh, a new commercial for Pepsi.” I asked her how she knew that. She said that the market share leader never brings up or promotes the followers. Does Coke ever mention Pepsi? Ever since then, I immediately see that every time someone makes a comparison, it is someone striving to be more like the market leader.

Good branding and other marketing efforts do not replace good lawyering, but for most firms, trying to differentiate you from an “apples to apples” comparison is getting more and more difficult to do.

Lastly, law firms must develop their brand image so that it is uniform throughout their stationary, promotional materials, and web site. Firms must develop a brand, image, ‘look and feel’, call it what you like, but it must be simple, attractive, and persuasive. You must convince a potential consumer of legal services that your firm has the expertise and experience to solve their legal issue in a timely manner. This message must be uniformly reinforced across all media.

Next Steps

If you plan on developing a branding campaign, take your time, think and be prepared to invest both monetarily and otherwise, for an extended period of time.

The following is an action list:

- Select a small committee to oversee the branding program.
- Determine a budget.
- Hire professionals to guide you through the process.
- Do not make compromises to try and please everybody - create a brand that is best for the firm overall.
- Be consistent in incorporating your branding and following your position statement in everything that you do.

Micah Buchdahl can be contacted online at http://www.htmlawyers.com.
Huntly Gordon can be contacted at mailto:huntly.gordon@thomson.com.au.



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