For small and medium-sized high street law firms, branding might seem like something that’s best left to consumer goods giants like Apple, Nike, or Coca-Cola. However, implementing the same tactics on a much smaller scale can serve law firms in similar ways: set them apart, drive purpose, and create the same trust and loyalty that the big brands enjoy.
The spotlight is increasingly being shone on corporate social responsibility and how brands can improve the world around them as well as their toplines. Global consumer goods company Unilever’s chief executive, Alan Jope, stated recently that it is no longer enough for consumer goods companies to sell washing powders that make shirts whiter or shampoos that make hair shinier, because consumers want to buy brands that have a “purpose”. Unilever has gone as far as to warn it will sell off brands that do not contribute positively to society. Though law firms face different challenges, they do face an extra challenge, in that they deliver a specific, niche service.
This niche makes branding in the same way as the big brands difficult – identifying and targeting the right audience is paramount. Other challenges facing firms include establishing their values and mission – what their audience is going to connect with and remember – and communicating this message across different platforms. Couple this with the saturation of different brands we see every day (estimates currently sit at around 10,000). As humans we’ve thankfully developed a means to filter them out, yet around 100 usually penetrate our attention. This means firms need to compete against a huge amount of saturation, combined with a reduced attention span, as well as multi-screening (people are not only increasing their time on their smartphones, but using them while watching television, or on their laptop or tablet). So how can branding help you stand out against this noise and get you in the room? A strong brand guided by strategic input from marketing can help determine your purpose and drive your firm forward.
BRAND IS NOT A DIRTY WORD
As law firms look for ways to demonstrate their value, they need to be able to clearly demonstrate what sets them apart in this overcrowded market. Similarly, a new firm that has come together from a recent merger needs to demonstrate they have emerged as a unified whole, which a solid brand strategy can provide. Branding is more than just making things pretty’ Though often treated as a lick of paint, branding a law firm involves much more than a new logo, website, or materials. The most successful branding activities start with ‘why’ – the idea is to analyse introspectively, and uncover your firm’s purpose. The ‘why’ in turn inspires clients to enlist your firm’s services. The ‘why’ or the purpose of your firm should really inform everything you do – your marketing strategy needs to effectively communicate this purpose to engage not only potential clients, but also the firm’s employees. This is the foundation of your brand. It includes your purpose (values, mission, guidelines) and how you communicate them (tone of voice). From here, a strong and consistent visual identity (logo, colours, website, document design) help to paint a clear picture of your firm. Consistency intimates that the firm has its affairs in order and demonstrates diligence – it should be applied to internal and external documents in both digital and print format (pitch documents, contracts, call scripts). As there are so many brands out there, firms need to look at their ‘why’, what sets them apart, and use branding as a way to get them not just in the room but a place at the table.
MORE THAN REFERRALS
Nothing helps you stand out in the market like branding. A consistent, purposeful brand increases recognition and reach, which allows you to attract the right audience. At a time when the internet makes competition a constant challenge, branding can add a personal element, connecting to potential clients on an intimate level. Referrals are, undoubtedly still as important as ever. Word of mouth can convert people into clients better than a heavy whitepaper or thought leadership piece because of the level of trust that comes from an authentic recommendation. People need to know the firm they engage can manage the sensitive issues surrounding their case, so being able to create trust mustn’t be overlooked or undermined. However as legal firms provide a niche service, it’s often difficult for people to find someone in their social circle who has employed a specific type of legal service. This gap, along with societal changes around where people go to find information, means that a firm’s online presence is more important than ever before. Online reviews, in particular, can determine a prospect’s decision to engage a firm. Similarly, if your firm’s online brand isn’t consistent or impactful, potential clients can easily look at the next firm recommended by Google.
SIMPLICITY IS KEY
SME law firms need to know what their competitors are up to, to see how they can stand out from the crowd. Don’t blend in but ensure your brand drives home the point of what you do and why you do it. The old adage to keep it simple is worth remembering. The most impactful and memorable brands are often the clearest and most direct. They do what they say on the tin. In many firms, the partnership model influences decision-making regarding branding, marketing, website design. Attempts at branding activities often fail because this isn’t taken into consideration. Every person at a firm should be taken into consideration and consulted in order for creative solutions for law firms to succeed, and for purposeful branding to be embraced.