• Transform magazine
  • June 21, 2024

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Don’t be afraid of the ‘B-word’

Duncan Shaw Bio Photo 2020 Bw

Duncan Shaw is the co-founder and chief creative officer at independent global branding agency Living Group. He explains the importance of law firms utilising brand and how this can lead to greater standout if done right.

The ‘B-word’ or ‘brand’ is all too often considered solely the aesthetic part of marketing or even avoided and feared by law firm marketers who are afraid to tackle the issue in a partnership structure. 

While we understand that it can be a daunting prospect to address your firm’s brand, it is inexcusable to ignore it. Doing so can cause long-term damage to your firm with brand savvy modern consumers. However, if done properly, a new or refreshed brand can help your firm stand out in a crowded and largely homogenised marketplace and solidify relationships with clients, your lawyers and potential employees. And we can help you do it properly.

The partnership challenge

The legal marketing sector is unique. Typically, law firms have dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals involved in making decisions. This results in a difficult and bumpy road to reaching consensus, making it challenging for the voices of the marketing team to be heard above the din. Kudos to those marketers who recognize the importance of brand and push for progress and change. We know that it can often feel like a Sisyphean task.

Adding to the challenge is that most lawyers consider themselves the firm’s ‘brand’, and view everything else with skepticism. There is certainly a kernel of truth to that; lawyers are indeed an important part of your brand, and we should leverage them. However, they should be influenced and supplemented by the core components that constitute a law firm brand:

1. What you look like
2. What you say, and
3. What you do

Finding consistency in these aspects will create a North Star for your firm – one that unifies marketing and communications, and provides direction for your sales efforts. The legal marketing sector is unique. Typically, law firms have dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals involved in making decisions.

We just need a new website

Too often, this is what we hear from law firms, and we have even been told on several occasions not to mention the ‘B-word’ as it will spook the partnership. Law firms frequently spend significant time and money on a new website and supporting technology while failing to recognize that their site is the Trojan horse in which brand sits. If properly executed, a website delivers an experience that resonates with target audiences through messaging that establishes an identity and makes your firm stand out to visitors who may not know who you are or what you do.

With most new law firm websites ignoring that reality, the result is a plethora of sites that look and sound the same, delivering cookie-cutter content wrapped in a bland, corporate cloak. Devoid of distinctive brand strategy and lacking a thoughtful user experience design, they offer little of value to their target audiences. Our Living Ratings of law firms’ analysis confirms this point. It’s fact, not fiction.

Discovery, data and people

The success of a law firm’s brand rests on a well-executed discovery phase. Research and data are the building blocks that drive the business case for change. A proper discovery phase provides a unique and valuable opportunity to engage with your internal stakeholders to determine the answers to three crucial questions: who you are, what you do, and why it matters to your target audiences. This is a ‘hearts and minds’ exercise that paves the way for change and provides the foundation for an authentic brand that reflects your culture and values while setting you apart from your competitors.

Interestingly, associates often offer up the most useful insight and have a better grasp of the value of brand than most partners. Recent lateral hires are also a good source for understanding the reputation of your firm’s brand. Ask them why they joined.

It’s crucial to look externally as well to get a well-rounded picture of how your firm is viewed in the marketplace. Your primary audience of clients, recruiters and referral firms can reveal key insights that might not be readily known or apparent to individuals on the inside. Furthermore, a thorough review of competitors can expose areas in which your firm’s current brand may fall short. Closing that gap will prevent you from falling behind.

This is a 'hearts and minds' exercise that paves the way for change.

Building evidence

Through this fact-finding process, a body of irrefutable evidence is built that will provide law firm marketers and decision makers with the insight and tools to reshape your firm and make it stand out. Every firm with which we work has unique attributes; usually they are not what you do but how you do it. Identifying those attributes will help lay the foundation for your new or refreshed brand and digital experience and help you deliver a unique message that resonates with your target audiences.

So don’t be afraid of the ‘B-word’ – brand is all around you and should be embraced. It will make your firm stand out, attract the best talent and help you engage with existing and potential clients with clarity and purpose.