Branding Your Legal Practice
When you mention the word branding, most people immediately think of the huge global brands, from Coca-Cola to Nike. Imagine your practice being instantly recognisable to the world at large by a symbol, a mere tick. Of course to reach those dizzy heights of branding requires a significant amount of investment of both time and money. But look at the results.
Let’s take Nike, for instance. From sponsorship of a large number of sports teams to the latest most expensive “must have” trainers at the local shopping centre. The Nike brand allows the company to charge the highest margins for similar products to their rivals’, because Nike’s products have a much higher perceived value.
However, brands are not only for the global players, they apply to every single business including law firms. As a result of my interest in marketing (one aspect of which is advertising) I regularly trawl through my local free paper small business section. One regular advertisement is for a one man domestic repair business. His brand is his face as it is included with every advertisement and is a prominent part of it. His business is called Alan Brown Domestic Appliance Repairs. Immediately he appeals as a brand. If I have an appliance breakdown, I know who will appear on my front doorstep with a toolbox. I trust his brand as it is so visible, because Alan Brown is the brand and he is so visible on his advertisements. So branding applies to every business, large or small, worldwide or within a small geographic area.
What does your brand say about your practice? If you left your desk now with a piece of your letterhead and took it out into the street would anyone recognise it? If you take away the word “Solicitors” from the company name and let the public see “ABC and CO” in your corporate colours, would they know what you do or what the benefits of dealing with your firm over your nearest rival would be?
If you are a commercial firm and present at networking meetings each week to win new business, try the same test and ask for a reaction to your brand. If you rely on large businesses to refer your clients to you, what do they think of your brand?
However you obtain your business your brand should be recognisable and identifiable to that group of people or that company. I am not talking about spending money on redesigning your logo or letterhead as if there is nothing wrong with it why waste your money. I am talking about having an identity which is unique to you.
Once you have focused on your unique selling points, they must be communicated:
- You must believe in and act upon your messages. What is it about your practice ( i.e. your brand) that makes you special? Once that is understood, the most important factor is to ensure that those messages are acted upon. You cannot suddenly profess to be a Rolls Royce by sticking the RR badge on the bonnet of your Mini. You must first upgrade the interior, change the engine, stretch the bodywork and increase the veneer before anybody will start to believe you. The same applies to your practice. If you want to be known for providing a first class service, you need to ensure that message runs throughout your practice, from answering the telephone within three rings to returning telephone calls within the hour. Once you and your team know what it is that makes you different from your competitors and you put that into practice, then you can start to communicate this to the outside world.
- Once your team understand what your law firm is renowned for, they must communicate the key messages each time they talk about your practice. It might be that you are well known for providing very expensive yet high quality legal advice, or a reasonably priced efficient service, or even an old fashioned personal service in a Tudor building. Whatever it is, once you know you can let your clients know.
- The same message must stand out in your advertisements. Most solicitor advertisements seem to focus on the areas of work they undertake, with no other message about the benefits to the clients of using that particular practice. Imagine Tesco advertising that they supply vegetables, tinned fruit, toiletries and drinks, then adding only their contact details. The unique selling points of your practice must be communicated.
Whatever your brand stands for, or is going to stand for, the most essential requirement is to service your client’s needs. If you supply a service which your clients do not require, you will not succeed in selling it.
Look at some of the largest brands and learn from their mistakes. Coca-Cola was worried that their drink was losing out to its main competitor Pepsi in blind drinks tests, so they changed the flavour and instantly upset their customers. The old Coca-Cola was soon back on the shelves, a costly mistake for a huge brand to make. They supplied a product that their customers did not want.
Another example is the Video recorder war between Sony Betamax and VHS. Whilst many believed that Sony’s recorder was a far better model than the VHS version, there were two problems with it. Firstly, whereas JVC let other manufacturers build their model, Sony did not, so it was in short supply. Secondly, and perhaps the main reason that VHS prevailed over Betamax, was the failure of Betamax to supply what their customers wanted. A key feature of the VHS recorder was that it could record programmes for up to three hours, the Betamax could only record for up to one hour. Translating this into a benefit to the customers, it meant that if they purchased a VHS recorder they could record their favourite films, whereas if they purchased the Betamax recorder they could not.
Look at another brand, Tesco or RAC for instance. Two well known brands, particularly in the United Kingdom. Tesco is renowned for reasonable value and being an innovative business which has expanded into many areas to maximise not only its existing client base, but also to make the most of its well respected brand. Recently they have expanded into the legal market with packaged law.
RAC is another brand renowned for high quality service and perhaps bears a closer resemblance to a law firmas a result of their mainly providing services as opposed to products.
As these larger businesses move into your specialist area there will be benefits as well as threats. When the Government allowed Claims companies into the personal injury arena, their huge advertising budgets increased awareness of the ability to make a claim. A number of well known companies failed to provide the service levels required and took too much of the claimant’s damages to survive. Sure enough they no longer trade.
Tesco, RAC or the High Street Banks offering legal services will again increase awareness of legal services. Your law firm must be in a position to benefit from these campaigns. You can only benefit if you have a brand which is known, which has key messages behind it, and which is ready to take advantage of a more educated and aware market place.
If you only take one piece of action after having read this article, please ask yourself whether you are a Betamax or VHS legal practice? If you are the former, now would be a good time to rebrand.
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