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Patrick Horan

Partner, Patrick Horan Solicitors

Quotation Marks
“Clients want to know what you stand for – and where you fit in this complicated world ... That’s what they’re looking for: the essence of who you are.”

Steve Jobs and the Apple example: are you who you advertise you are?

Steve Jobs and the Apple example: are you who you advertise you are?


Patrick Horan examines firm branding and Steve Jobs' Apple approach

People are exposed to hundreds of ads every day – along streets, TV and online, everywhere. But the industry has faced a growing problem over the years. People remember almost none of them. The world is a busy and noisy place. People’s attention span is short. They don’t have much time to consider your company or remember much about you. They spend little time trying to figure things out: either its immediately clear to them or it is not. If it is, they’ll maybe spend extra time looking at it. If it’s not, they won’t. That means if they do focus on you, you have to be clear about what you want them to remember.  The way to do that is not to talk about how 'client-focused' your company is. It’s not to talk about the awards you’ve won, your 'wealth of experience' or how many people work in your company. Is any of that really impressing people? Says who?

Steve Jobs and Apple

Look at what Apple does. In the 1980s, Apple spent a lot of money every year trying to convince people their computers were better than Microsoft’s and IBM’s, and their operating system was superior. By the mid-1980s, this strategy had failed, and Steve Jobs left Apple. When he returned in 1997, Jobs took Apple in a new direction. The company began to focus on something else. That ‘something’ revolutionised the company industry. Today, when you think about Apple you think of something more than a tech company, making computers. Its advertising never tries to tell you why its latest phone is ‘better’ than Samsung’s or Huawei’s. It never tries to convince you that the technology in its MacBook is ‘superior’ to Microsoft’s or Dell’s. It stays away from self-promotion and bragging. Apple focuses on something else –honouring design and innovation. That’s what they do – what they’re about.. The focus for Apple is not themselves, it’s you. The focus is the consumer, always. That’s who Apple are, what they’re about, what their brand is. And it’s arguably the most powerful brand in the world.

Believe half of what you see…

Firms spend a huge amount of money advertising themselves online. You’d never know it. Very little is memorable. Much involves self-promotion or ‘claims to expertise’. Do you really think the public take this stuff seriously? Massive sums of money are harvested by digital marketing companies weaned on the fallacy if they shove you in front of consumers’ faces online, you’ve ‘made it.’ They get away with this, because while the business of law is filled with some of the most intelligent and erudite people in society, the vast majority are utterly clueless about technology and how people behave online. So they’re easily malleable when digital marketers spew techno-babble at them. That’s usually where the conversation ends.

The value of values

The only problem with all this is the public stubbornly don’t agree. They’re not stupid. They’re well used to companies making inflated claims or appearing at the top of Google when they search for services or products. As far as they’re concerned, the internet is full of trolls, fakery and downright charlatans. In short, they’re extremely sceptical of everything they see or read online. You know this is true because this is exactly how you behave online. You read ’big claims’ by companies and comfort yourself by muttering: “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”

Why is that cynicism different for law? Are we some sort of specialised class, imbued with inherent honesty in the public’s eyes? Lawyers? Of course not.

So what do the public want? They’re looking for something more than self-promotion and big claims, even if they’re not sure what that is. They’re looking for values – a set of beliefs that guide your firm’s actions. They’re not whatever’s ‘fashionable’ or trending on social media. They’re long term, sort of like a lighthouse guiding you – immutable, solid, timeless. Values don’t just govern what you should do. They also govern what you shouldn’t. And those values are known. People should instinctively know these things when they think about you.

Clients want to know what you stand for – and where you fit in this complicated world. When they think about you, what should they think? Not virtue-signalling nonsense someone dreamed up at the last minute – but the stuff that goes to  the essence of who you are. That’s what they’re looking for: the essence of who you are, the sort of stuff that can’t just be made up on the fly. You’re not who you say you are. The public will decide that…

Patrick Horan is the managing partner of Patrick Horan Solicitors: In 2018, he co-founded Legal Index Ireland, a legal marketing website which uses advanced AI to position firms on page 1 of Google: