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7 Critical Components of Law Firm Branding
by Laura Powers
A law firm brand is much more than the name of a firm and the logo that represents it. There are many elements to the communication of a successful brand.
In conducting a brand assessment, law firms must think strategically about the design and development of the visual elements and key messages required for their brand. A firm must consider how the brand will integrate through multiple media platforms, audiences and geographies – before design and development begin.
In today’s legal marketplace, there are significant challenges for law firms including growth in competition, the post-recession economy and the commoditization of legal services. It is increasingly more important for firms to understand and communicate their differentiators and strengths. Unrelenting brand consistency is a critical factor in achieving and sustaining differentiation, engagement and top-of-mind awareness.
A strong law firm brand considers seven critical components in its development, implementation and longevity: strategy, research, naming conventions, differentiation, consistency and attention to detail. Let’s examine each.
1. Law Firm Brand Strategy
An effective firm brand will support new business development, client loyalty, the cross-selling of firm services and internal pride in a firm. The brand is a firm’s promise to its clients, colleagues, referral sources, judges, potential clients, internal audiences and others. A firm’s brand tells target audiences what they should expect from its services as well as how those services will be delivered.
Understanding strategy is one of the most important foundational pieces of building an effective brand. Understanding a firm’s business goals is critical to determining strategy. The only way to truly create a successful brand promise is through strategic planning. Creative concepts and ideas must always take into account core messaging, law firm culture and positioning in the marketplace. One of the most critical parts of communicating needs and expectations for brand development is strategic planning which allows creative development partners to be better equipped to engage in a winning creative process.
The strategies employed during brand development must complement the marketing and public relations plan. Marketing portfolios should be natural extensions of a well-designed, strategic brand. The brand needs to communicate “who” the firm is and be consistent with presenting how the firm wants to be perceived to ensure uniform delivery.
2. Law Firm Brand Research
Research is critical to brand implementation and is derived from the strategic direction for branding. The design and development of a firm’s brand will be inherently flawed without at least a basic footprint of research to support the brand strategy. Research for branding should concern itself with understanding the target audience, first and foremost, but it is also about understanding the competitive landscape and the current state of the marketplace.
Brand research can be a relatively expensive proposition if a firm is considering focus groups and other qualitative research. Thorough research will examine icons, emblems, symbols, typography and color theory. Trademark availability research also fits with best practices.
3. Law Firm Name
The name of a law firm is critical to its brand success. A firm’s name needs to be ethical, easy to pronounce, easy to remember and short. It needs to be easy to refer a potential client to the firm using the name. And, it needs to be easy to find online. The domain name (URL) that a firm uses is just as important as the selection of a firm name. Every day it becomes increasingly more difficult to find a short and appropriate top-level domain. Today’s competitive online search landscape places weight to keyword-rich domain names that use a firm name or a firm’s practice area of focus (when rules of professional conduct permit). While domain names cannot always be changed easily, good domains should not use firm initials (the public does not refer to a firm using its initials and the firm should never refer to themselves using initials) and never have more than one hyphen.
The trend in firm naming is short, memorable, catchy and distinctive. This does not necessarily mean that the trend doesn’t adhere to the tradition of using partners’ names; it just means that firms are becoming more flexible.
From an ethical perspective, if a firm shortens its name for marketing purposes, but does not change it legally, it should include the full firm name on all formal communications (letterhead, business checks, etc.). This procedure takes a step towards preventing a potential client from being drawn to a firm without understanding it’s legal entity status. That same client may claim that the firm’s communiqué was misleading.
4. Law Firm Brand Differentiation
In setting the foundation for differentiation, focusing the firm’s marketing on specific practice groups and industry segments, if possible, allows for a more focused message and marcom effort. Differentiation becomes easier as audiences are segmented and enables a firm to showcase their unique offerings.
In today’s economic and legal environment, it is more difficult for firms to present their benefits in ways that resonate with clients, however, it is also more important than ever. Understanding differentiation means defining how the firm helps solve problems, alleviate concerns and handle issues for key audiences better than the competition. It also may mean offering alternative fee arrangements, unique consulting services and other value-added benefits.
True differentiation starts within a firm and permeates through the culture and is then projected through the market positioning. Firms first need to understand their unique differentiating factors before they can communicate them – internally, externally and through the firm brand.
5. Building Trust Through a Law Firm Brand
There are many factors that build trusting relationships between clients and attorneys. One of these is a consistently presented, understandable and relatable brand. Firms that do not make an investment in building their brand are missing a critical element in today’s business environment of relationship marketing. Not only do an attorney’s words and actions build trust, but consistent visual brand elements and messaging components of the attorney’s law firm will intrinsically support their relationships as well.
Building trust also means implementing internal systems and quality controls for attorney-prospect and attorney-client communications such as CRM systems. The more systematized a firm is, the greater the likelihood of attorney responsiveness and trusted relationships. No matter how strong a law firm brand – service and responsiveness of staff and counsel is critical to building trust.
6. Law Firm Brand Consistency
Well-developed marcom collateral is a natural extension of a well-designed, strategic brand. It is consistency in the application of the brand that establishes a competitive advantage, ensures differentiation and builds trust with target audiences.
In order to secure consistency, the brand’s corresponding standards manual should be thorough and comprehensive. The manual should contain regulations and instructions for the practical use of the firm’s identity in daily operations. It should address the correct, approved usage of firm name, brand images, fonts, colors, icons, emblems or symbols and more. It should address all potential brand usage ¬– from social media to airport billboards.
Today’s legal marketplace accentuates the need for strict attention to consistency as digital channels evolve, external and internal resources become more and more diluted and competition continues to grow.
7. Details of a Law Firm’s Brand
Law firms need to consider all the small details that comprise the overarching success of a brand. For example, there are both shocking and subtle emotional reactions that font selection can elicit in an audience. There are deliberate choices that should be made based on the psychology of color and thoughtful attention should be given to the placement of visual elements. In design development, a multitude of variations must be considered such as scale for small and large applications; color standards for press printing, digital printing, online usage and other reproduction methods; variations in fixed dimension avatar placement and online profile management for social networking channels; and more.
It is in a firm’s best interest to seize upon brand opportunities in order to capitalize on differentiation, consistency and integration across all touch points, audiences and geographies. Typical, outdated law firm messaging usually conveys the features of working with a firm but does not effectively communicate all the benefits of working with, or working for, the firm. A successful brand will resonate with target audiences – and it will also resonate with a firm’s employees, making them feel proud to be connected with something larger than themselves.
This article originally appeared on the Legal Marketing Association's Metro Philly LMA: News & Insights Blog.