Dennis Kennedy formerly a lawyer with Thompson Coburn, LLP, is now in the private practice of law in St. Louis. He maintains a blog on the subject of intellectual property and legal technology and a website with many of his articles on Internet and technology.
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Jerry Lawson (JL): Last month we examined whether law firms can and should use branding techniques to market themselves. This month, we will look at the specifics of developing and implementing a successful branding campaign. What should be the first steps?
Dennis Kennedy (DK): There are a number of excellent books on branding. I often think that the best starting point for anything related to service marketing is Harry Beckwith’s wise and wonderful book, Selling the Invisible. After that, go back to the precept of the Oracle of Delphi: “Know thyself.”
Brenda Howard (BH): In addition to books, there are many resources on the Internet about branding. You’ll find everything from articles on why branding is the most important part of your marketing plan, to articles that suggest that branding is overrated. As usual, the answer really lies somewhere in between. Don’t spend all of your marketing dollars on creating a brand, but definitely leverage the power of having a brand. Branding should not be ignored. The following web site focuses on nothing else but branding, http://www.brandchannel.com. At Brand Channel, one can read case studies; find out who has the “best brand” and even debate branding issues.
(JL): Brand Channel is a great suggestion, Brenda. The first branding question that comes to my mind is “Where’s the beef?” The best branding campaign in the world will have limited effect if you don’t back it up with the quality of service you have promised. Don’t promise more than you can deliver. It’s pointless to talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk.
(DK): Beckwith says, “In the public’s eye, a brand is a warranty. It is a promise that the service carrying the brand will live up to its name, and perform.” Note the emphasis. A brand is not simply a catchy name. More important, Beckwith goes on to argue that a brand is more important than a warranty, because “it is the closest thing to a guarantee that the customer will not need the warranty and have to endure the claims process [associated with enforcing a warranty].” Be sure you get the service right before you work on the branding. You may succeed in creating a brand – but no one wants to have a brand that indicates inferior service. Deliver what you promise. Consider Beckwith’s comment: “Integrity is the heart of a brand.”
(BH) : Branding is definitely the reason that I consistently buy certain products. I know that my Timex Ò watch “takes a lickin and keeps on tickin”. I’ve purchased more expensive watches and cheaper watches, but the bottom line is that I keep going back to Timex Ò . For me, the quality of the product backed up the branding campaign. It does what it says it’s going to do. That’s the key to successful branding.
(JL): Another preliminary issue is: What should you brand? Most firms only brand the law firm as a whole. For many firms, especially larger firms, I believe that is a mistake. For many firms, it will make more sense to brand particular practice areas. Proctor and Gamble and similar companies use multiple brands. Especially with the Internet lowering costs, law firms can and should segment themselves as well, another application of “narrowcasting.” This idea is developed in articles by Richard Levick, Branding the Firm AND Its Individual Practices, and Theodore Voss, Law Firms Doing Branding All Wrong.
(DK): How many law firms are marketing themselves more or less as full service law firms serving individuals and small to large businesses? 90%? 95%? Branding helps make you unique in the market. It’s far better to stand for something than to try to stand for everything. I like Beckwith’s comment: “To broaden your appeal, narrow your position.”
(JL): I love it!
(BH): Most definitely. When a person retains an attorney for a domestic case, they want to know that they have retained the best domestic lawyer in town. You don’t want to be known as a “Jack of all trades and master of none.” It simply does not help to know that your firm also files bankruptcy cases – the client for the domestic case simply does not care.
(JL): I agree that it’s very desirable to try to focus your branding campaigns. Intelligent focusing has market power. Boston Chicken was a valuable brand. It was probably not a coincidence that they went belly up shortly after changing their name to Boston Market and trying to be everything to everyone. One way law firms can improve their focus is by establishing separate brands for different parts of their practice.
(DK): I like Mayer Brown’s approach of creating web sites with separate names, like www.appellate.net, as part of an effort to brand the firm as experts in a number of areas. Except for boutique firms, I believe that it is difficult to brand an entire firm these days. In part, that is because it will be so difficult to get the various constituents of a firm to agree on what the firm is.
What to Include?
(JL): People tend to focus on web sites, but once you have decided on a theme (or themes), just about everything your firm does should advance the branding campaign. For example: make your e-mail newsletter consistent with your branding strategy. Include your logo in the HTML version, and your slogan in the text-only version.
(DK): Consistency and reinforcement should be your priorities. If you are going to try to “create” a brand, don’t confuse your potential clients with inconsistent messages. I can hardly stand it when I see law firms with one design, logo and message on a web site and a completely different set in a brochure. Carry through on the brand. Put consistent brand markings and messages on stationery, business cards, voicemail recordings, e-mail signatures. It’s not rocket science, but you need to follow through.
(BH): This is the “heart” of branding. It’s a visual image or slogan that creates a “feeling” of confidence in the client. Repetition of this visual image of slogan, throughout all marketing materials, is a necessity.
(JL): Consider encouraging your lawyers to include branding material in their e-mail signature blocks. It’s more likely to benefit you than the form confidentiality notices that are so common.
(DK): Amen. The use of e-mail signatures is about as inexpensive and simple a marketing vehicle as you can find. Why waste the chance to use it? My other criticism of firms who try to establish brands is that they fail to follow through at a personal level. If your brand implies technology proficiency and your lawyers use outdated technology, you undercut the brand every time someone meets one of your lawyers. It’s like the stories of lawyers selling clients on how successful they are and then pulling out a nineteen-cent ballpoint pen to sign a document.
(BH): Hey Dennis, don’t knock the nineteen-cent ballpoint pen. As long as it has the law firm name and telephone number and the client gets to keep the pen. It can be used as a tool to continue the branding of the law firm. Of course, if the client is signing the settlement of a million dollar personal injury case, by all means pull out the expensive pen… Just make sure that it contains the name of the law firm and the phone number.
(JL): Of course, web sites are a key component of a branding campaign, and you can’t have an effective web site without a domain name. Many law firms have experimented with trade names. There’s a whole market out there, with many vendors like http://www.lawyerdomainnames.com. We looked at domain names generally back in Internet Roundtable 23, so let’s focus now on how domain names fit into a branding strategy. What do you think, Brenda?
(BH): Most definitely. Every time a client thinks of your law firm, they should think the same thing and the domain name should center on that particular thought. This is the first step in establishing a brand and bringing the web site into the overall branding of a law firm.
(DK): If you’ve hit on the right brand name, your web site simply must reinforce the branding in every way. Again, watch for undercutting your message. Take a firm that focuses on elder law, for example. They might decide how to position themselves effectively as a caring firm, focus on their niche, find the right name and communicate the brand very well. Then, they might toss all that away by having a web site with a font that is too small and cannot be easily enlarged. They’ve fallen down where the rubber meets the road and shown that they aren’t so caring after all. Firms marketing themselves as technologically advanced run into similar problems. Jerry, I know you have concerns about the common practice of simply choosing a trade name as a domain name, such as yourpracticesgoesherelaw.com.
(JL): Using a trade name like nyclawyers.com for your web site might be effective, but I’m not sure trade names are always necessary. Mike Dell initally sold computers under the generic name PC Limited, but it was only after changing the name to Dell Computer that its PC sales surpassed IBM, HP, Compaq and all the rest. As noted by Al and Laura Ries in The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding:
The best-known, most valuable brands in the world are all proper names, not common or generic names. There are sixty worldwide brands worth more than $1 billion each, according to Interbrand, a brand consulting group. And none of these are common or generic names.
(DK): If I may quote Beckwith again, “generic names encourage generic business.” You want to be distinctive and memorable. Beckwith suggests that “if you need a name for your service, start with your own.”
(BH): Good point. One thing I’ve noticed is that many law firms don’t think about branding when they create their web site. In addition, they frequently don’t create their off-the-net marketing with branding in mind. Why do you think this is the case?
(JL): It’s a consequence of traditional lawyer attitudes that we are all familiar with. It was only in 1977 that the Supreme Court ruled that lawyers have a right to advertise their services, and many state ethics groups imposed onerous restrictions on advertising for years after the Supreme Court’s ruling. Many, maybe most law firms don’t think about marketing in a way that leads them toward systematic branding. It seems artificial to them and contrary to the way they intuitively think a law firm should operate.
(BH): For some, the creation of the web site causes the law firm to think about branding for the first time. Sometimes the graphics created for the web site end up being recreated for use in print. This may be a result of the “lack of advertising” for so many years within the legal profession.
(JL): No doubt. The Internet has been the main impetus for many law firms to think about branding campaigns.
(DK): Let me add a thought about current ethical rules. As you begin to understand branding and the way other professional services providers are marketing services, you really begin to see that the advertising and marketing rules put lawyers and law firms at a distinct disadvantage. For careful lawyers, understanding and complying with these rules can be difficult. There may well be unintended negative consequences of these rules for the legal profession.
Taglines and Slogans
(JL): Taglines or slogans are frequent components of a branding campaign. Web usability consultants recommend them, and I thought Brobeck’s “When Your Future Is At Stake” seemed brilliant, but in general I tend to be skeptical about taglines for law firms. What do you think?
(DK): The departure of Brobeck from the scene is just one reason to be cautious about clever slogans. Events can turn your slogan into an ironic comment. I’m not sure that I’m as skeptical in general as Jerry is, but I am very skeptical of slogans and taglines written by lawyers or, worse, committees of lawyers.
(BH): Jerry and Dennis, I have to disagree. I LOVE tag lines. It’s akin to a mission statement that a client can understand. When you have a tag line for your law firm – you have a mission that a client can understand. More precisely, your law firm has a mission that it can understand. Jerry, your own tag line on your web site is wonderful, “Internet Tools for Lawyers.” Your visitor knows immediately where your focus is and you can keep that focus because you have identified a “one sentence mission statement”. When I designed the site for O’Connor and Hannan, I asked them for their “tag line” and they immediately provided one that showed me that they understood the “mission” of the firm. Their tag line is a long one, but it’s very clear: “Building lasting relationships through knowledge, experience and trust – since 1957.” Reading this one tag line evokes a feeling of solidity and strength. Every law firm should have one.
(DK): Lawyers tend to want have really long slogans, which sort of defeats the purpose. A slogan is also probably not the place to use words like “thereby” or other legalspeak. If the slogan helps tie together and focus your marketing or keep people on message, great. If major players in your firm don’t like the slogan and don’t use it, it’s not going anywhere.
(JL): Right on several points. We’d all agree that the Brobeck example doesn’t sound quite as brilliant now as it did when the firm rolled it out. Long signature blocks are probably also the product of an internal political process within the firm, watering it down so it doesn’t offend anyone. However, the blander the tag line is, the less memorable and less effective it will be. One of the advantages of a short tag line is that it doesn’t look as awkward appended to an e-mail signature block, for example. You are also absolutely right about the support of key players being essential for the success of a branding campaign.
(DK): Branding is one of those things that everyone can get swept up in and then they realize that they can’t tell whether the efforts have worked or not. The more assumptions you make about your target audience the more you will tend to make assumptions about whether a branding effort is working or not. Put some effort in at the front end to gather “scientific” information and measurements so that you will have a set of metrics to compare the results of your campaign. I hate to mention a term that law firms dread, but client surveys are obviously a major way to gather this kind of meaningful data. There are companies that specialize in all this stuff and it probably makes little sense for lawyers to do this in house. You do, however, have to be fearless about seeing what the results tell you.
Mistakes to Avoid
(JL): What do you think are the biggest no-nos in implementing a branding campaign on the Internet?
(BH): It’s probably a mistake to assume that your branding campaign must start from scratch. Generally, any existing marketing materials should be followed when creating the web site – especially if these materials have been professionally created and a branding was unknowingly established by their use.
(JL): Absolutely. If you have successful themes, logos, etc. that you are using off the Internet, by all means, use them in your branding campaign and migrate them to your web site.
(BH): A note of caution. I’m not advocating duplicating exactly the print materials, but you should use the same colors and design them that previously existed. While the O’Connor and Hannan web site is not a replica of their print materials, the same colors were used and the same block style was created. After looking at the web site, you’ll feel comfortable that you are at the right law firm when they provide you with their printed information. It all flows together.
(DK): The most common mistake is failure of consistent execution. A firm develops a branding effort and consistent materials. A lawyer or practice group doesn’t like them (or, as is surprisingly common, doesn’t know about them) and creates or uses something else. You start to get inconsistent messages. A good start is commonly followed by a lack of attention and the brand fades away.
(BH): The biggest obstacle is obtaining a consensus regarding tag lines, logos, marketing material colors and design, etc. By the time all the partners weigh in, there’s usually nothing exciting left. If a law firm finds themselves bogged down by this type of discussion, it’s probably time to bring in a reputable marketing expert and then trust their guidance.
(DK): I’m surprised by a few firms that haven’t given what could be a great brand a long enough chance. I really liked the branding effort of the firm that used the advertising campaign and slogan “in court every day.” Unfortunately for them, they pulled the effort just before I could remember their name. Even so, I realized that I was beginning to think of them as one of the premier litigation firms in the country. Oh well, too bad for them.
(BH): Dennis, it probably goes back to the fact that law firms have not been in the “marketing” business long enough. I’ve seen law firms start out with good ideas and they lose “steam” along the way.
(JL): The example Dennis raises is very instructive. I mentioned that I think slogans are excellent for companies like Coke, but not necessarily for law firms, and the example of Howrey & Simon that Dennis mentioned illustrates why I’m skeptical. Law firms are not as stable as soft drinks. Howrey is now Howrey Simon Arnold & White. Also, large law firms have wider “product lines” than Coke. Does this example mean branding doesn’t make sense, or that slogans in particular don’t make sense for law firms? Not at all. You just have to adapt the concepts to the law firm environment. For example, slogans may make more sense for subsections of a firm. “In court every day” would still make sense for the merged litigation departments.
(BH): Branding is a wonderful marketing tool and should be used to continue the success of the law firm for years to come. It takes some forward thinking, but the dividends are worth the risk.
(JL): So long as lawyers work within the ethics rules, and adapt conventional strategies to make them work in the legal environment, I think branding is a must. Law firms build a brand every day, whether they realize it or not. The question is not whether your law firm will develop a brand, but whether the process brand will be planned and controlled, or unplanned and haphazard manner. When you think about it like that, adopting a branding strategy becomes a no-brainer.
(DK): There is an argument that only a few law firms have achieved brand status. Skadden for mergers and acquisitions is the classic example. But, if you can navigate the ethical rules, branding, especially using the Internet, has some great potential for law firms, law practice groups and individual lawyers – probably more so for individuals. I suggest three steps. First, think local and/or to your niches. Are you the first or the only lawyer or firm to do something? What is your uniqueness? Second, branding, uniquely, is a job for professionals. I guarantee that the odds that a “brand creation committee” in your firm will create a winning brand are pretty near zero. Third, take a look at the resources below. I’m a huge fan of Beckwith and believe his book is essential, but branding is a case where it is better to get some outside perspectives and not “think like a lawyer.”