Why the "Loneliest General Counsel" Says Branding Works

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"...no law firm has ever come to me and defined its brand essence in a way that demonstrates responsiveness to my needs."

By listening to their customers, Maytag understood that they had to make the most dependable appliances in the marketplace. And they did. Thus, began the brand essence that has carried the venerable appliance maker through decades of good business.

Branding has created value for scores of consumer products like Maytag, but professional services firms, like law firms, have not always completely understood how branding can pay off and help grow the firm’s business.

But Maytag does. During a feedback interview I conducted for the client of an AmLaw 10 firm, Richard Mosher, Associate General Counsel and Assistant Secretary at Maytag in 2004, explained why branding is the right strategy for consumer product companies as well as law firms.

“When a law firm takes the time to identify and communicate its distinctions in how it practices, how it deals with its knowledge and content, and how it relates its clients, we [in-house counsels] can see it and feel it. More law firms need to identify their brand and be certain it is shouted from the roof tops and applied to their websites, blogs, social media posts, webinars, presentations and e-blasts,” said Mosher.

Not lonely at Maytag

"Maytag's brand impacts our company and our legal department significantly," Mosher shared.

"Our brand essence proudly says, 'We are a 100-year-old company; we are not the biggest or the least expensive, but we definitively stand for quality and reliability.'"

That description applies equally to all of its product line of washers, dryers and dishwashers.

What makes the brand distinction work at Maytag?

According to Mosher, the brand differentiator works because Maytag lives, breathes, and practices its "brand essence" of quality. A number of years ago Maytag acquired some appliance companies including Jenn Air, Hoover, Admiral and Magic Chef. At first, the company kept the Maytag name away from these brands. "Then we had a cultural shift in our corporate thinking. We wanted our strong brand identity to rub off on these other products because if Maytag makes it, the perception is that it must be well-built. That is helping us leverage our brand equity," he said.

Actually, demonstrating quality is the other element of Maytag's brand success. With a new washing machine at the time, called the Wind Tunnel, Maytag initiated a test in a small town in Kansas by putting washers into every home.

"We had the Department of Energy measure the water and energy savings, which really drove home the quality of our brand." Mosher adds that the company continues to look for ways to demonstrate quality and show its customers why it is such a “reliable” company.

Post Script

While this interview took place almost 17-years ago, its messages are still quite impactful. Kudos to Dick Mosher, now a Senior Counsel and IP Specialist at Dentons, for recognizing and practicing how to apply the company brand, even to the running of their legal department. Dick brought all of his outside law firms to the Maytag headquarters annually to create an atmosphere of cooperation, collegiality and excellence in the delivery of their legal services.

Today, branding continues to be a critical step for law firms that want to be impactful and distinctive about who they are and what they do.

What makes your firm different? How do you communicate that? Brands take time and consistency to become a reality. Clients notice and care. Who doesn’t want to work with a great firm that is clear about how it practices, why it practices and how interacts with clients?

But How Can Law Firms Brand Themselves?

If such a simple approach as demonstrating quality works for Maytag, could it work in the law firm environment? Mosher seems to think so.

"I don't think I'm alone in saying that no law firm has ever come to me and defined its brand essence in a way that demonstrates responsiveness to my needs." Mosher feels law firms are missing out on a huge opportunity for their businesses. "In fact, some large law firms do not understand that the brand essence they communicate to our legal department is: 'We don't return phone calls,'" he said.

The connection for law firms is simple. Define their brand of lawyering and make it come alive by demonstrating it within the firm and to clients.

Instead, many law firms make the mistake of selling their services without regard to unique distinction or client's needs. "Large law firms try to cross market to me by telling me they have a great corporate department or litigation department but without any knowledge of how that department can provide services that benefit Maytag based on our needs," said Mosher.

Identifying the law firm brand can be as simple as asking clients about their needs. "Ask me what is important in the delivery of legal services in this new practice area. Ask how the firm can delivery services to me in an innovative way. Then show me how and why the firm is different and better," explains Mosher.

What is unique about a particular practice group?

It may relate to staffing, technology, service, pricing or value-added abilities. Whatever the distinction, law firms need to dialogue with their prospective clients. "This is how a law firm or new practice area can brand itself in my eyes," he said.

Meanwhile, at Maytag, Mosher says that financial analysts are predicting record-breaking receipts for the second consecutive year. "The answer to why this is happening is simple – we keep expanding our brand of quality and listening to our customers."

*

Merry Neitlich, Managing Partner of EM Consulting, is located in Irvine, California. We assist law firms with strategic business development, branding, websites, legal operations, and client enhancement programs. Merry can be reached at 949.260.0936 or merry@EMconsults.org

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