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FORECAST 2013: Branding Is Not Just For Cattle
The Connecticut Law Tribune
"Branding? As in a hot iron and livestock? What does that have to do with my law practice?" While not the actual response I receive when I use the wording "branding" and law practice in the same sentence, it might as well be. As solo and small firm practitioners carve out a marketing and promotion budget for 2013, putting a little thought into re-defining and re-designing your brand may imprint your legal presence in a saturated industry.
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a name, term, sign, symbol, and design intended to identify the goods and services of one seller and to differentiate them from those of competitors. A brand is a seller's promise to deliver consistently a specific set of features, benefits and services to buyers. The best brands convey a warranty of quality.
Think Nike, Coca-Cola, and Apple. Each is a famous brand in its own right in that each is known for a specific type of product and more importantly, a specific feeling associated with its products. Whether it is television, online, radio or print advertisement, consumers have too many choices and are receiving too many messages. A company that has been successfully branded stands out as the best choice in a cluttered market because the company is offering something distinct from the competition. Branding is quintessential to most industries, yet law firms have been reluctant to incorporate brand building into their business model.
So how does branding translate to the law firm? Branding is important in the overcrowded legal community in which firms are quick to market what they do yet pay little attention to marketing who they are. The goal is to create client loyalty and not convey the message that your advocacy is interchangeable with that of the attorney in the office next door.
Branding is not merely an ad placed in the Yellow Pages, nor is it just a logo adorning the top of your letterhead. While both may be an expression of your brand, neither can create client loyalty or grow your referral base. Your brand is the personality of your law firm. A firm's packaging of services, that is, what you are known for, are just as important to client retention as the individual attorney's reputation.
Brand Narrowly, Reach Widely
Your brand must focus on your strengths. Being all things to all people does not give your firm an identity or brand. Rather, your brand should give you a front and center seat in the minds of the very type of clients you are seeking. If a bankruptcy practice is what you do best, then promote just that part of your practice. Regardless if you dabble in other areas of law, you do not need to market that which is only a small percentage of your core business. In other words, brand your niche.
Do you still not buy into the niche practice concept? Yankee Candle sells hundreds of types of candle scents and if you have ever been to the Yankee Candle flagship store, you know they sell many other products; however, Yankee Candle markets itself exclusively as a candle company. Yankee Candle sells one item, yet enjoys strong market share and profitability. It makes you wonder if they would have been as wildly successful if they were Yankee Candle, Florist, and Jewelry Design.
While getting found online is half the battle, once that task is accomplished, what a potential client finds within your website matters immensely. Do not tell a client you are diligent and knowledgeable but rather show your clients that you are diligent and knowledgeable. Have you been quoted in articles? Do you speak at conferences? This is all information that should be splashed across your website to show, not tell, a potential client, that you have a command of your niche and there is no better attorney to go to then you for their specific legal matter.
Put yourself in the shoes of a potential client seeking a criminal attorney to handle his larceny case. He searches online to find an attorney. He peruses two different attorney websites. One attorney lists his practice areas as personal injury, workers' compensation, family law, bankruptcy and of course, criminal law. The other attorney promotes his practice narrowly as a criminal law firm. The latter attorney already has more credibility than the former just by the way in which he has conveyed his firm's brand, personality, and expertise without saying he is an expert or specialist. The message is loud, clear and strong. The attorney who has branded himself has a criminal attorney and that alone, will give more value to a client needing that specific service.
Perception Is Powerful
Operating procedures may seem like big business policies but they are essential to your solo or small firm brand because it conveys to the client that you are efficient and in control. Once the potential client decides your services align with their specific need and they set up a consultation, your brand needs to carry through from the moment that individual calls your office to schedule an appointment.
What experience do they encounter when they meet with you? Do you appear organized, credible, efficient, and confident in your ability to provide them services for their particular problem? Does your office give the appearance of operating smoothly confirming this individual's initial impression that you can provide a solution to their issue? Was scheduling easy? Did they then receive a questionnaire via email to bring with them to the consultation? Was their time respected in that they were seen on-time? If retained, are they quickly emailed a welcome letter?
All of these small details express your firm's brand. Each client having a similar experience builds your reputation and further enhances your brand
Create an Experience
A client's decision to retain counsel is often rational and emotional. Clients' expectations are not always that they will win. If you are honest about potential outcomes, then the client is aware of what may befall their path on their legal journey.
A less-than-stellar outcome does not necessarily mean a dissatisfied client. Rather a client's expectations are often more about what they expect from their attorney during the legal process and whether those expectations are delivered. Being informed is essential to creating an experience for the client in which they feel like they are part of the decision-making process rather than having the process just happen to them. For example, receiving copies of all communications, having phone calls and emails promptly returned, scheduling client meetings to check in and discuss case strategy are all measures that involve the client. Regardless of the outcome, the client can feel like they were heard and had at least one person in their corner.
When a case is resolved, that should not be the end of the relationship with the client (unless of course, you want it to be). Former clients can and should be future client referrals and repeat business. Your best referrals are that from previously satisfied clients. Your firm should be able to repeat the same client experience from one case to the next regardless of the outcome.
A Final Thought
Brands do not appear magically. It takes time, consistency, and persistence to plant the seed and watch your firm grow.
Renee C. Bauer is founder and principal of Bauer Law and Mediation Group in Hamden. She has authored the book "The Ultimate Guide to Solo and Small Firm Success," LawFirst Publishing 2009.