Branding Is the Strategic Backbone of Law Firm Marketing

by JD Supra Perspectives
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Branding is a tactic. Brand development is a discovery process...

Just as we have witnessed a tremendous forward momentum in the sophistication of law firm marketing over the past five years, so have we seen a significant growth in the incorporation of true branding as the backbone of successful business development strategy. Law firm branding has come of age.  

What is the difference between Branding and Brand Development?

Law firms are starting to wrap their collective arms around the difference between a brand and brand development. Branding is a tactic. And brand development is a discovery process that unearths brand distinction. The definition of a brand is, “A claim of distinction.”

Branding tactics include the consistent use of color, graphics, and positioning lines used in communication of a brand’s distinction. But the color, graphics and tag line are not the distinction itself.  No, a brand’s distinction is whatever separates it from its competitors, makes it stand out as extraordinary, or better yet, more valuable to the client—the end user.  

Branding is the process that unearths a law firm’s unique distinctions. If you know three solid, bulletproof unique selling points (USPs), ones that no other law firm can claim, then communicate that differentiation by creating a clever and catchy positioning or tag line.  If you can’t really define at least three USPs, your law firm should go through some sort of discovery process that will uncover them.  Start by listing as many facts as you can about your firm (a hundred or so) then distill those facts down to three to five USPs.  

We call this process Turning the Telescope.

This means we turn the telescope on the firm and conduct an inward search of what is unique about it like its culture, people, products, history, you name it. Once you’ve accomplished your discovery, find ways to make them absolutely unique. That creative and clear positioning line that communicates your firm’s brand essence is the beginning of the branding process. This line becomes a firm’s brand promise.

The concept of branding expands from tag lines or clever slogans to encompass brand-focused integrated strategic marketing plans. Successful brands have a well-crafted Brand Essence Statement or a paragraph that captures what the brand stands for. The critical attributes of this statement should be applied throughout a firm’s website, not just on the Home page or the About the Firm page. Website branding should also be realigned with new technologies and industry trends – not just redesigned.

Your firm’s unique distinction helps clients and potential clients understand who you are, what you stand for and what’s important to your firm. Branding is a serious proclamation of a firm’s brand values to its clients.

In articulating a brand promise your goal is to imbue your mark or logo as well as your positioning line with consistent meaning so that every appearance of it further communicates the brand promise and reinvests the logo with all associations. These traits are integral components of how your firm will go to market. All of a firm’s communication materials reiterate the brand concept. Over time we expect that when clients, prospects, recruits, and other friends of the firm see the collateral materials or hear the firm name, they will recall the brand concept and link it mentally to the critical attributes that differentiate your firm from other law firms and define its value proposition.  

How Brands Help in the Business Development Process

Brands can create excitement that yields integrated marketing tools and messages through which the brand essence reverberates. Brands, in their truest sense, take on special meaning to a buyer. A successful law firm brand rewards a client with a certain amount of comfort in their purchasing decision.

The key to successful branding is that the target audience perceives a distinction between your firm's brand compared to other firms. 

This differentiation cannot be accomplished with advertising alone. The equity of your firm's brand is determined by knowledge created in the buyer's mind through all of your marketing programs. Once your firm's brand has been determined, each of your communication vehicles should be evaluated in terms of their ability to deliver and support the brand. Advertising, while a highly effective tool to articulate a firm's brand, is most effective when it is well managed and coordinated with other marketing strategies.

Many law firms are becoming educated on the differences between a catchy slogan not based on the true unique essence of the firm versus a branded positioning statement. A true brand executed as part of an integrated marketing plan separates a law firm from the competition—in a memorable way.  

A positioning line is also a promise. 

But the most important thing about a positioning statement or tag line is that it is also a guideline for internalizing the brand within the firm as well as externalizing it to your marketplace. This is exactly where the future of law firm branding lies. It is taking your firm’s brand essence and using it as an umbrella in all facets of your strategic marketing plan. This would include training, internal communications, your firm’s web site, firm sponsored events, email campaigns, blogs, speaking engagements, proposal responses, social media, content marketing, printed collateral materials, client feedback programs, and advertising.

The number of law firms advertising continues to rise. Many firms utilize consistent color, graphics, tag lines and firm logos. These are simply branding tactics and the ads alone don’t provide the ultimate reason for purchasing legal services, rather it’s the brand’s valuable distinction that instills confidence in the client’s purchasing decision. Advertising becomes a tactic in externalizing a firm’s brand.

There are so many creative ways that a law firm can use its brand as part of an integrated marketing and business development plan. A brand codifies the “why” message meaning why the attorneys at your firm practice and why they do so at your firm.

Case Studies

Klein & Wilson, a litigation boutique located in Newport Beach, CA went through a brand development process earlier in 2018. The firm’s unique distinctions revolve around its unusual approach to structuring predictability and efficiency for large litigation matters. They codified this process with a formal Litigation Analysis Memo (LAM) which identifies a detailed factual background referencing key exhibits necessary to understand the events leading to litigation. They prepare a comprehensive legal analysis and litigation strategy; legal issues are identified and resolved; discovery is explained; anticipated motions are identified; damages analyzed – if possible; strengths and weaknesses are reviewed; the theme of the case is developed and then a thorough budget is presented based on these assumptions.

This case analysis creates predictability and contributes to efficient handling of litigation, minimizes discovery and motion expense and offers more predictable outcomes. Preparing a LAM at the outset of a case is one of the reasons Klein & Wilson has over a 90% win rate at trial.

All of this contributes to the adoption of their positioning line: "A reputation built on winning."

TLD Law, or Tredway, Lumsdaine & Doyle, is a small firm based in Southern California with four offices. As the majority of their partners are women and minority attorneys, they qualified to become members of the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF). Less than 2% of all law firms qualify to become members of this prestigious group. Large companies, mid-size and small are often seeking firms that are minority and women owned to satisfy their own diversity needs and preferences in hiring outside law firms.

This organization describes itself like this, “NAMWOLF is a network of the most outstanding law firms in the country. If you want to work with the best, and support diversity and inclusion, we’re here for you.”

After a thorough introspection, TLD Law describes its brand as a law firm as: “Where diverse thinking, innovation, and inclusion are our competitive advantage.

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[Merry Neitlich is managing partner of EM Consultants located in Irvine, CA. She can be reached at merry@EMconsults.org or 949-260- 0936.]

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