October 4, 2023

Law firm branding – do you walk the talk?

How strong is your law firm branding? Brands and client expectations are dynamic. Unless your brand measurements are equally dynamic, you risk losing sight of the gaps between the promises your firm is making to clients – on pitch decks and web pages – and the experiences your client’s are actually having.

In the fiercely competitive legal industry, the strength of your law firm's brand is a key driver of future success. Your brand promise is what sets you apart from the competition and how it's delivered leaves a lasting impression on clients.

So how do you know if the promises you are making in pitch documents match the experiences clients get in reality? Brands, like client expectations, are dynamic and constantly evolving. However, many firms have a stagnant approach to assessing the strength and positioning of their brand.

What is a law firm's brand?

Your firm's brand is more than the logo, colour schemes, imagery and tag lines. These are all important of course, and help bring the brand to life. But ultimately your brand lives in the hearts and minds of the people that interact with it - your clients, prospects, people and referrers.

Your brand - and by extension your firm's reputation - is what people say about you when you're not in the room. It's what they say, or don't say, when asked to recommend a firm. It is what's said in the privacy of a Chambers or Legal500 research call.

How clear is your firm's brand promise?

If I asked 20 random people from across your firm to explain what makes you different, what would they say? Would I hear 10, 15 even 20 different stories? Would they focus on how they as an individual deliver value, or how the firm as a whole stands out?

At the recent Alternative Legal Management Summit, several Managing Partners told me a similar story. They have big growth plans for their firm, but they aren't generating enough new work from existing clients. Worse, happy clients were going elsewhere because "I didn't know you did that".

This is not just a sales problem. It's a brand problem. Fee-earners are seeing the market 'inside-out' from their own perspective. But your website and pitch documents are making a different promise, one based on your brand.

These promises get undermined by confusing messages, and get destroyed when expectations don't match reality. That's often why fee-earners don't refer other parts of the business - they don't believe other people can deliver the same experience they do. Which is probably true.

So your brand is the sum total of the promises and experiences delivered across your firm. A bit of variation is inevitable, but too much makes it harder to have a strong and differentiated brand. There's a reason why Apple, Nike, Amazon and Virgin are strong and differentiated brands. They work incredibly hard to ensure their customers get a consistent brand experience regardless of who they meet and how they interact with their products and services.

In a world where reputation is key, a law firm's brand promise is not just what it tells the world it can do. It's what the world believes it can do based on what it sees and hears.

Rebranding your law firm - added complication

Brand promises often come into focus, when a firm starts thinking about a rebrand. This main seem overly simplistic, but there are really only two reasons for rebranding a law firm:
  • Design-led - refreshing or evolving the brand to reflect where the firm is now
  • Strategy-led - changing the brand to fit where the firm is going
Yes, arguably there's a third reason, creating a new brand when two firms merge. But I'd argue that the leaders of the newly merged firm still need to decide whether the rebrand will reflect what the combined firm offers now, or what it can deliver in the future.

The risk with a rebrand, is that debates over logos, colours and name changes dominate the agenda. The design and copywriting then drive the positioning. In this case, the result will be a refreshed look and feel, but a fundamentally unchanged promise.

The rebrand's with the biggest impact work the other way around. They start with how the firm is evolving, and the promises it wants to consistently deliver on with it's target audience. The rebrand reflects process and cultural change, and the design work brings the evolving story to life.

Rebrand's are an exciting opportunity to reset client expectations. A chance to make bold promises about the future client experience and how the firm is going to stand-out and win in a competitive market.

4 ways of measuring brand alignment

As Marketing and BD professionals, the question then becomes, how do we measure our brand alignment? Brand alignment is the extent to which our promises match reality.

This doesn't just mean measuring the size of any gap. It also means generating dynamic insights about why gaps are opening or closing. It's these insights that keep the brand conversation alive around the boardroom table, long after the rebrand is declared finished.

A differentiated brand can be measured along 4 dimensions:
  • Recognition: How well-known is your law firm within your target market? A strong brand will have high levels of recognition and be easily identifiable. Back to those Chambers and Legal500 interviews - when asked which law firms they work with, do clients mention you first?
  • Reputation: What is your law firm's reputation among clients, prospects and referrers? Is your firm known for being approachable, innovative, collaborative? Or do people only talk about the strengths of specific individuals?
  • Differentiation: Where does your firm stand out? Is your brand and client experience seen as different and better than competitive alternatives? Take a look at your testimonials and reviews - what aspects of the brand get mentioned most often? What attributes don't get mentioned at all?
  • Consistency: Is your brand consistent across people, teams and practice areas? Do certain processes generate more client praise or frustration than others? No individual or firm is perfect. But when firm's consistently deliver on their promises, across all stages in the client journey, clients will forgive uncharacteristic drops in service.
I'll continue this theme next week, looking at specific examples of how firms can measure brand alignment and use the insights to consistently walk the talk.

Further reading

What's driving your firm's reputation?

Your firm’s brand is what clients say about you

Unleash your brand's potential

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