HomeThe InfluencersThe ConsultantsHow brand (not branding) might help law firms

How brand (not branding) might help law firms

Just because ‘brand’ is the first syllable of ‘branding’, that doesn’t mean they’re the same thing. In fact, they’re quite different. The ‘brand’ part should be done before the ‘ing’ part is even considered, otherwise everyone will be disappointed and the whole exercise discredited. Let me put it another way: after 30 years’ involvement in brand strategy (and design) I have still never seen any organisation do better because it has a new logo.

I’ve often used a framework with my clients, imaginatively called “The Three Ps”, to help us approach brand programmes correctly. The Ps stand for Physique (the tangible aspects of the business) which leads to Personality (culture, values, behaviours) and only then can the Presentation be determined, to represent the desired business.

Why mention this now, and why focus on law firms? Because there still appears to be confusion, or interchangeability, between ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ – which wastes a lot of effort and even more money.

Let’s consider some of the competitive pressures on firms, so we can understand the demands for real and enduring differentiation. And then focus on what will be of most value in firms’ marketing efforts.

The ’battle for talent’ is intensifying but seems at the moment to be fought with financial weapons. Many firms will choose not, or be unable, to join in the escalation of salaries.

Some are already re-thinking their ‘employer brand’ and the experience of culture that they can offer as an alternative to money. Even those who do join in are finding that they’re still one of a number, with a need to clarify why earning £150k with them will be better than earning £150k elsewhere. Logos and colours won’t do much there.

All firms would like greater certainty in their client relationships. The more resilient and resistant to competitors, the greater the likelihood of continued business.

The old ‘cross-selling’ expression has faded away, but the principles remain – as do the most obvious problems in achieving that. I’ve lost count of the number of firms’ clients who have told me that working with different teams is like working with different firms.

Back to our second ‘P’ and the need to ensure real consistency of standards and behaviours. That’s not at all passive: it’s the basis of a compelling market position.

The legal sector is beginning to feel the impact of technology, but this really is only the beginning. An interesting question now emerges, which is similar to that within the salary inflation debate: if firms increasingly adopt similar new technology platforms, where will they achieve any real differentiation?

The balance between ‘human and machine’ will be critical, with the first part of that relationship undoubtedly taking even greater prominence as the means of earning preference in the market. That’s a mix of the first two Ps, and another huge opportunity for those who think about marketing and their brand in the right way.

Time to rethink brand
Law firms are no different from most other organisations: they have to adapt and position themselves for the world in which they are operating.

As PWC said last year, “the need to transition to a new world was apparent well before Covid-19 arrived…the pandemic just made the need for that transition greater”. Accenture concluded that “Covid has forever changed the experience of being a customer, an employee, a citizen a human…”

So firms need to ensure they’re aligned with those trends, and ahead of them if possible. Their clients increasingly demand it (look closely at the O-Shaped Lawyer initiative for an example and real insight) and the younger talent expect it. A glib statement of ‘purpose’ won’t do it, but it would signify a recognition that wider and deeper factors now count.

All of these ideas, and many more, should make firms understand that there is actually a brilliant opportunity to strike out for a meaningful position.

It’s a great time to think differently about their brand strategy, and to commit to it. That doesn’t have to mean simply more money, but better judgement in how to direct the existing budgets. And, critically, to realise that the most valuable and enduring brands in the world are not based on a product, or a name, or a logo, but on an idea. Now, there’s a challenge…

Keith Wells has 30 years’ experience in brand strategy. A former strategy partner and group managing director of two international businesses, for the last 10 years he has been an independent consultant specialising in the B2B sector in general and the professional services market in particular. Visit www.brandwell.uk.com for further information.

Matt Baldwin
Matt Baldwin
Co-founder – Coast Communications

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