Branding is as important for law firms (small firms and solo attorneys included) as it is for any other business. When it’s a hot summer day, and you’re thirsty, and you walk into a 7-Eleven (http://www.7-eleven.com/), with that prominent 7 intersecting Eleven logo (http://www.funenergyfoods.com/assets/images/7-11_Logo.jpg) on the sign, and you’re checking out the cooler, which soda are you most likely to buy? Chances are you’re reaching for the Coca-Cola (http://www.coca-cola.com/index.jsp) before you grasp after the Royal Crown Cola (http://www.rccolainternational.com/), or any of these (http://www.campussqueeze.com/post/Top-10-Worst-Sodas-Made-By-American-Companies.aspx). I know I am. There is nothing quite like a Coke. I still get excited when I am in the Midwest, and can find Coke in bottles (http://www.popandroll.com/coke-art/Coca-Cola-Art_Coke_Bottle4.jpg). I am guaranteed to overpay for them.
And the reason I buy a Coke is not that Coke necessarily tastes better than other soda; and neither is it because I necessarily prefer Coke to any other soda. No. It’s because Coke has become synonymous with soda, globally. In fact, in some parts of the South, the term “Coke” is used for soda, such that you could order a 7Up (http://www.7up.com/) Coke, if you wanted a 7Up (http://www.7up.com/). Sounds crazy, I know; but, it’s true.
And, although Coke has a checkered past (cocaine being prominently featured in the original recipe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coca-Cola#Use_of_stimulants_in_formula); helping to make sulry, ol’ misanthropic Ty Cobb rich (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ty_Cobb#Post_professional_career); New Coke (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Coke), the soft drink equivalent of the Edsel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edsel)), Coca-Cola has done a lot of things right, not the least of which is that bringing to our minds of the image of a bottle of Coca-Cola whenever we hear the word “soda”.
This is not all about Coke, I promise you; but, the example of Coca-Cola is instructive for attorneys: being the most recognizable brand in a field (in the world), is some kind of aspirational goal; and, through the strength of the example, it is an application that people can easily grasp and understand. If you practice family law, with a concentration in divorce, be the Coca-Cola of divorce attorneys, as crass as it sounds. You want to make as certain as possible that attorneys referring cases and clients thinking of divorce find their immediate way to a picture of you appearing in their minds. Although there is no substitute for a global enterprise, and for the truckloads of cash that come with it, that the Coca-Cola company has access to, you can still map the Coke pattern for success, while remembering that even Coca-Cola had to start somewhere. So, brand yourself the way Coke does: define your service; define the client perception of your service; produce a consistent message; use constant reinforcement to, um, reinforce, your message.
Now, a brand does not pop out of thin air. Neither the familiar Coke logo, with script letters and streaking flourish (http://belleviewbulldogs.com/dotnetnuke/Portals/0/lg_new_coke_logo.jpg), nor the Nike swish (http://ester.drole.googlepages.com/NIKE_logo2.jpg/NIKE_logo2-large.jpg), was dropped from the heavens, like manna (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manna). And, furthermore, the gaining of the additional heft those brands have taken on within the public imagination meant additional, and hard, work. So, there are some preliminaries here, even before you start marketing your brand. Before you create a brand, you have to know what you have/what you do/what you offer. You can’t intelligibly relay your services in a meaningful way to your potential clients, and the public at large, and referring attorneys, if you don’t yourself know what your services are. (Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why it is so important to create a thoughtful business-teamed-with-marketing-plan, and to craft and perfect a winning elevator speech (http://masslomap.blogspot.com/2009/05/love-in-elevator-convey-your-zeal.html). The exercise and application of these tools will create much of the background that you will require for determining your brand.) Figure out what it is that you are known for: What is the matter of your renown? Determine your services, determine how you will uniquely offer your services and determine to whom you will offer your services/who has interest in your services. The word “determination” is used intentionally, with a couple senses of its meaning intact: you must determine how your business will proceed, and you must be determined in applying your business decisions. Many attorneys starting out solo or starting out small may feel overwhelmed and under-qualified; but these attorneys must, at all costs, and nonetheless, avoid the appearance of a lack of confidence as this will permeate everything that they do, and will be apparent to observers, like clients, potential clients and referring attorneys. After about the first year of law school, you know the law, and you know how to write and talk like a lawyer. Don’t let your self-perceived lack of experience drag you down. You will grow in competency; your confidence should always be with you. And, part of that confident manner must attach to the selling of specific and unique services, if you have your own firm.
Once you have established your niche, and have become aware of the unique services that you provide, the next step is to create your brand, which will be, in essence, the public perception of what you do/what your firm is, as those considerations may meld, and become synonymous, over time. Branding is all about perception. So, to begin the process of creating your brand, you must determine what the public perception of your services is. Once you determine what the existing perception is, consider whether it is in line with what you think your services mean. If your perception of what your business is and the public’s perception of what your business is are out of wack, you have some work to do. If you are starting out, you are in a position to create a perception to relay to the public. This is a unique opportunity. It is much easier to spend the time and energy creating a brand before your client load becomes heavy enough that marketing and brand creation may appear as uniquely disquieting 800 pound gorillas sitting in your office chairs, necessary for your firm’s growth, yet near impossible for the finding of the appropriate amount of time for devotion.
Whichever scenario you find yourself presently attached to, your marketing efforts must be grounded in planning. Your brand creation, as part of your marketing plan, as part of your business plan, should be an intentional, logical strategy. Your brand creation process should begin, and should be grounded in, market research. Create some branding options (descriptions, logos, elevator speeches) and query friends, colleagues, more senior attorneys, current clients, potential clients. Survey your support system and your market (your market includes current clients (some of your best referrers), potential clients and colleagues (who will refer cases to you)) in order to determine which brand options create client perceptions that match what your own perceptions of your business are, or what your own perceptions are of what your business should be, and should offer. (For free and easy online survey creation and results aggregation, check Survey Monkey (http://www.surveymonkey.com/).) Once you have collected your survey results, use those, as well as a dose of your good common sense, to select the brand components that fit you best, and that will be your best relay for your public perception.
Once you’ve settled upon a brand, the fun part becomes the dropping of that brand upon the wider world. This is what you have been waiting for. By now, you’ll have your firm name, logo, tagline and marketing statements, including your elevator speech, in place. (If you are to art what Billy Carter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Beer) was to first brothers, you may want to stick to home brewing, and farm out your logo design. A great place to get a good logo on the cheap is through CrowdSpring.com (http://www.crowdspring.com/).) But, since you’ve done all this hard work, there’s no sense in wasting it, by misusing it; and, the trick to implementing and developing a successful brand is maintaining your consistent use of that brand teamed with repetition of your brand components. In the small words, you brand should be the same and your brand should be here, there and everywhere (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Any9IZqrog). So, place consistent and repetitive brand markings on your website, stationery, business cards, email signatures, voicemail recordings, etc. If your research was dead-on, your potential clients’ and referral sources’ perception of your services should be the same as your own. You’ve eliminated confusion, and replaced it with precision.
Having a brand is nice, and displaying that brand for the world to see is nice, too. But, you must not forget that the development of that brand is the integral part of gathering success. You must work to promote your brand, and put the time and effort necessary into the development and use of a continuing pitch. But, be patient, if your efforts do not pay off immediately. This is a growth business. Let your brand breathe, let it grow (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0wt4G1U0H4). Whenever and wherever you are marketing yourself, carry your brand with you. Wear it on your chest as a sheriff (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10qLYy6hiFQ)’s badge (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LluN8OTHLH4), as it can serve much the same function: people will understand that you mean business, that this is what you do, that this is how you do it and that you do it well. There should be the same immediacy and recognition emanating from both presentation scenarios. When you walk into a room, your potential clients and potential referral sources must know that the sheriff is near (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_RKPGS2vwM). And, on that score, of doing it well: your brand can only really be as successful as the service you provide behind it, the service with which you back it up. You must build your clients’ confidence in your service, such that your brand becomes synonymous with that confidence. It is essential, then, that you don’t overpromise, and that you follow through on what it is that you do promise. You must make your brand a true service mark, if you wish it to carry real meaning.
When you begin to consider the making of your, or your firm, brand, you need not reinvent the wheel, entirely; perhaps you’ll only need to place a new, shiny hubcap. To that end, there are a number of good examples of firms that have created successful brands, and that you may view as templates for creating your own brand. Some exemplars are as follows: Lubin & Meyer, P.C. (http://www.lubinandmeyer.com/), for medical malpractice; Joel H. Schwartz, P.C. (http://www.joelhschwartz.com/), for personal injury; Lando & Anastasi, LLP (http://www.ll-a.com/), for patent/intellectual property; Breakstone, White & Gluck, P.C. (http://www.bwglaw.com/), for personal injury/medical malpractice; and, Kelsey & Trask, P.C. (http://www.kelseytrask.com/), for family law/bankruptcy.
In addition to the sampling of sites above, there are also a number of general online resources available covering the topic of law firm branding. A Google search (http://www.google.com/search?q=law+firm+branding&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a) will likely reveal more than you can handle. And, if you don’t want to trouble yourself, check the following resources: this 2003 article (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/lpt/articles/mtk12031.html)from Dennis Kennedy (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/lpt/articles/mtk12031.html#author) contains a number of valuable links, many of which are still active, over five years later; Terry Isner (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/lpt/articles/mtk12034.html#author) provides a thoughtful take on brand creation (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/lpt/articles/mtk12034.html); Bob Weiss (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/lpt/articles/mmb04081.shtml#bio) covers the importance of the firm logo in a recent article (http://www.abanet.org/lpm/lpt/articles/mmb04081.shtml); this decade-old review of the effectiveness of law firm branding (http://www.altmanweil.com/dir_docs/resource/b55a03e9-08da-4018-8a00-33318727191a_document.pdf), from Altman Weil, Inc. (http://www.altmanweil.com/), is nonetheless still relevant; this article (http://www.interactmarketing.us/interact/freedata/brandingthelawfirm.pdf) presents a take on law firm branding from a marketing professional; here’s a modern take on law firm branding (http://www.ipfrontline.com/depts/article.asp?id=18353&deptid=4), including a bit on the intersection of law firm branding and the elevator speech; this transcript of a roundtable (http://www.llrx.com/extras/ir35.htm) on law firm branding is great, and includes a bunch of excellent web resources; the ABA (http://www.abanet.org/) ’s tome on “How to Build a Law Firm Brand” (http://www.abanet.org/abastore/index.cfm?section=main&fm=Product.AddToCart&pid=5150404PDF) is available as a PDF for a reasonable outlay at the ABA’s webstore; and, the Brand Channel (http://www.brandchannel.com/start.asp?fa_id=479) is a great, general resource, for lawyers, and everybody else, too.
Review of these resources has been instructive for me, as well, and the ideas expressed therein have contributed to the drafting of this article. Great thanks also goes to Massachusetts LOMAP (http://www.masslomap.org/) ’s summer intern, Michael Pirrello, who compiled research for just about every section of this article.