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How Branding Works (And Why Law Firms Should Care)

In the olden days we weren’t allowed to say the M word (marketing) within 50 meters of a law firm because it was considered too unprofessional and trendy. Now, Partners throw around the B word (branding) like there’s no tomorrow! Yet in my experience, very few lawyers understand what branding is, why it works, and how to use it to their advantage. So here’s a primer on branding for lawyers and those who support them marketing-wise.

martini-clipartIf you’ve seen Mad Men then you know about the ad agency business in the fifties. That was the advent of strategic marketing. At that time, agencies found that certain types of marketing produced certain types of results. They were unsure of why this occurred, so most marketing was trial and error. It was a time of great experimentation to see how the public would react to various marketing tactics in an effort to bring about certain purchase behaviours. But it was very unscientific.

Things progressed slowly until the late seventies when agency-based Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote an article (and later a book) that promoted the concept of “positioning” which later morphed into “branding”. The book is called “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind”. This article and book formed the basis of what we now refer to as branding, and explained for the first time why it works.

I’m told that they engaged with individuals who better understood human behaviour (physiologists, neurologists, etc.) to determine how we make choices about the things we do and the products or services we buy. They learned that (at least in those days) we get hit with over 3,000 advertising messages a day. This could include seeing a logo on someone’s clothing, seeing an ad on the side of a bus, hearing a radio ad for a store, seeing an ad in between segments of a TV show. While our brain is a fairly powerful computer, it can’t fully process each and every one of those 3,000 messages, so it high-grades. First, it determines the categories that are important to us: cold medication, hockey team, active wear, car. Then the brain considers the values we have in relation to that category. These could be price, quality, status, where it was made, safety, etc. Now the brain scans through those 3,000 messages as they arrive, separates them into their appropriate category, and compares that message against the values systems the brain has assigned as a priority for that product or services.

Our brains can effectively hold information on only 3 to 5 contenders in each category. How does it create that short list? Believe it or not, most marketing is encoded with values or attributes. When those values align with the ones you’ve selected for each category, that product or service has a higher chance of getting on your short list. The rest of the competitors don’t even blip on your radar screen.

Then each time we see, hear or read messages from those products or services on our short list, it reinforces our choice, and keeps those products or services top of mind. Once a product or service has secured this positioning with us, we allow their subsequent messages to imprint themselves – almost like a brand – into our brains. Pretty soon, we don’t need to see their entire message. We just need to see their logo to immediately recall the positive values we associate with that product or service.

The Three Pillars of Marketing pillars

How can a law firm use this concept to improve their marketing by establishing and promoting a positive brand about themselves?

  1. Your firm needs to understand what category your service would fit into in their client’s minds. Obviously our category is legal services, but consider how you might differentiate yourself from your competitors by being known for a value or benefit. Consider your target market. Is price important? Security? Community involvement or sustainability? You can’t be all things to all people. Pick one to three qualities, values or benefits that will make you positively stand out and rally around that.
  2. Once those qualities or values have been determined and instituted into your firm (because if a brand doesn’t hold true, no marketing in the world will save it), become intimately familiar with your target market. Who are they, where are they located, what age are they, what can we know about this target market that generally holds true for most of them? Understand who you need to market to before you do your marketing. That’s just common sense, but rarely followed.
  3. Next, determine how to create a compelling message to connect with them in a meaningful way. Ideally, you want your message to show how closely the values of your firm align with your targets’ values about legal services.
  4. Finally, determine where and how to get that great message out. By ads? By newsletter and social media? By community events? By pitches and cold calls? It’s likely a combination – what we call an integrated marketing strategy. But be picky about this. Firms market all the time, but few truly consider the best venues given their target market and message.

How Powerful is a Strong Brand? dumbbell

Very. It used to be that first to secure top brand position in a market could take over 70% of market share – but that’s rare these days as marketing has become such a science. Still, good branding is big money. Look around your house and consider how many brands are represented there. Next time you go shopping, consider the degree to which brand names are shaping your purchase decisions.

What if a company that hasn’t been actively developing a brand wants to get into a market already saturated with good competition? That’s easy: create a new category. For example, when Vick’s wanted to branch out into cold medication, that market was already swamped. So they invented something called night time cold medication. What is it? You guessed it…Nyquil. It took over the night time cold market (brilliant) and stole revenue away from cold medications that hadn’t realized they were only valid during the day : )

Still Unsure? Here’s a Test…

  • Name a car that’s known for safety (you must be 45 and older to get this one).
  • Name a clothing company with a logo that looks like a check mark.
  • Name a restaurant with golden arches.
  • Name the largest search engine in the world.
  • What company is represented by a white f in a blue box?

If you guessed all of the above (see below for the answers), then focus in your mind’s eye on each logo and think about the words that image inspires. They might have positive or negative connotations for you, but you’ll undoubtedly have something to “think” about them. Brands form opinions. You can’t please everyone; but hopefully you find a way to please your target market because they are the ones you are trying to attract.

It’s Worth Noting…

Once you’ve established a brand, it’s important that you prove you mean it. In fact, all those points of interaction between you and your clients or target market and called “proof points”. You need to ensure that at every proof point, you successfully prove that your brand is sincere and consistent. If part of your brand message is that you are responsive and that one senior partner is hopeless at returning phone calls, you’re brand has failed with everyone he or she comes in contact with. Some firms respond to this by creating a brand promise that is the lowest possible common denominator. It’s a bit lie marrying the ugliest person you can find to lessen the chances of them cheating on you. Marry someone great and then work on the marriage. Or in the case of a brand, select something that is realistic for your firm and your client base, but slightly asprirational as well, and then work at living up to it. Otherwise, there isn’t much point in going through the exercise at all.

Developing and maintain a brand calls for delicate balance, for sure; but it’s a strategy that’s been proven to be well worth it when it’s done well.

(Volvo, Nike, McDonald’s, Google, Facebook)

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