How to Use Branding to Build Your Practice
While most people know that branding is important in marketing, few people know much about branding other than it identifies a product or service. Beyond that, they have little understanding of how to use branding to improve marketing potential. Knowing how your brand is perceived, and how to use it to increase the likelihood that clients will choose your brand over your competitors is an important part of marketing a law practice.
The Origins of Branding
The modern word brand is derived from the word “Brandr,” a word from Ancient Norse meaning “to burn.” Around 950 A.D. a “brand” referred to a burning piece of wood. By the 1500’s, the meaning had changed to refer to a mark burned on cattle to show ownership, so if animals strayed or were stolen, they could be recovered. During the industrial revolution, manufacturers began to burn marks into their crates to identify them and distinguish them from other products when being shipped and unloaded. By the end of the 19th century, trademarks began to be registered to prevent competitors from confusing the public into buying similar products. In the 20th century, with the introduction of mass media, branding became an important part of marketing to differentiate products from one another in the marketplace. It went from strictly a way to identify a product to a way to make potential customers psychologically inclined to choose one product over another. Advertising developed into an industry of psychological manipulation, attempting to create emotional associations with brand names through the use of thematic images in print and television ads. Thus, modern branding has transcended its original use from a means of identification to a means of product differentiation and emotional attachment.
The Four Key Elements of Branding
There are four key elements that will make a brand a success. These elements are the same regardless of product or service category, but I will discuss them with a specific emphasis on marketing a brand in the area of law. The four elements of branding are:
- Brand Identity
- Brand Credibility
- Brand Differentiation
- Brand Loyalty
Brand identity is nothing more than an association a person makes between a brand name and a product or service category. It is important to understand that as a lawyer, your brand is your name. It is not your firm’s name (although the firm name can have its own brand identity that adds to your personal brand). You are selling you. You want prospective clients, or anyone who might be able to refer you clients, to instantly create a match between a need for your services and the perception that you can fulfill that need.
Many lawyers think they need a logo to have a brand. However, in a professional service business, logos are nothing more than embellishments. They really do little to change the probability of generating leads or landing clients. Logos are most important when the customer is attempting to find a brand in a visual field that has many brands present. For instance, if you are looking for your favorite brand of gasoline as you are driving, you will look for a familiar logo and pull into that station. Or if you are looking for a specific brand of cereal on a grocery shelf you will look for the logo of that brand. In visual marketing, color, design and presentation are critical. In law, clients do not make their selections that way. It is predominantly made by either a personal recommendation, or research done by the client. Thus, your approach to branding needs to be attentive to what motivates them during their search process to increase your brand’s attractiveness to clients as they are considering various brands.
To be more effective, you must understand the psychology of the brand search by the client. When a prospective client begins a search for a lawyer, invariably they have a specific need. They are not looking for just any lawyer, they are looking for a lawyer who can solve a specific kind of problem or deal with a specific kind of matter. So, your brand identity is not “attorney at law”. That type of general branding is insufficiently specific for a client to make a match. Since the client is looking to solve a specific kind of problem, you need to make your brand identity narrow enough that the client feels you can solve the problem. If he is thinking about getting divorced, he wants a family lawyer. If he is thinking about starting a business, he wants a corporate lawyer, and so forth. This is the reason I always advise attorneys to focus their practices in narrow concentrations. Clients are far more inclined to select professionals they consider to be specialists over those they consider to be generalists. Your brand identity should adapt to this psychological tendency.
You should be clear on your brand identity and be very specific in the ways you present it both verbally and in written materials, such as your website or online profiles like LinkedIn. Rather than listing yourself as “Attorney at the Jones Law Firm”, instead list yourself as, “Family Law Attorney at Jones Family Law” or similarly branded descriptions for your area of practice. Since word of mouth is so important in professional marketing, you must leave each person who is exposed to your brand with a clear and specific impression of the kinds of problems you solve. I have had so many clients tell me that their friends send them work, but it is not the type of matters they handle or prefer to handle. This is because they were never specific enough in positioning their brand among the many subspecialties of legal services.
Once you have properly positioned your brand in a specific market segment, you now need to make your brand attractive to potential clients and referral sources. Like most other businesses, law is a competitive field and people have numerous choices. The perception of credibility is an important selection criterion, because people believe that competent lawyers are likely to get better results. Credibility comes down to two key considerations: Leadership and reputation.
Leadership – People are inclined to favor market leaders. They believe that leaders became leaders for a reason. To be perceived as a leader, most people understand that a person must be competent and work hard to earn respect. When they perceive you to be a leader, they perceive that you will bring that competency and work ethic to their matters. Leadership falls into two main categories: Professional leadership and Industry leadership.
Professional leadership refers to leadership within the legal profession including lecturing, publishing, bar leadership in committees and sections, and becoming a director or an officer of a bar association. Industry leadership involves similar activities within an industry you are targeting for your clients, such as real estate organizations, advocacy groups, human resource organizations, healthcare organizations, etc. When those within an industry perceive you to be a leader within that industry, it gives your brand an advantage with them.
Reputation – Reputation is a broad-based perception of how your brand is regarded by others. Your brand gets its reputation by attracting attention. Obviously, that can work both ways, since it is possible to have either a good reputation or a bad reputation. The most important ways to build a positive brand reputation are through testimonials, accomplishments and accolades.
Testimonials are public statements, made by clients or other professionals, attesting to your excellence as a lawyer and service provider. The two primary ways this can be conveyed is through online reviews on various sites (like LinkedIn and Avvo), or through client testimonials you include on your website.
Accomplishments are actual results you have achieved. These can be delivered verbally in lunch conversations with potential contacts through “war stories”, which are nothing more than descriptions of matters you have worked on and the results achieved. Accomplishments can also be listed on a “Results” page on your website, using appropriate discretion. Certain types of practices lend themselves better to such descriptions. For instance, personal injury settlements and verdicts that refer to the settlement and amount without the name of the client can be very effective, as well as victories in other types of litigation practices. Practices like family law and estate planning are much more difficult to present in this way.
Accolades refer to various awards or distinctions that are conveyed by various third-party rating agencies like Martindale Hubbell, Best Lawyers in America, Super Lawyers, etc. These should be displayed prominently on your website with links to your profile on the rating site whenever possible.
Brand differentiation is how you are perceived as being different from and better than other lawyers under consideration during the search process. Generally, when clients or referral sources are searching for a lawyer, they will narrow it down to a short list of potential attorneys whom they perceive to be highly credible. There are two key factors that sway them to one credible lawyer over another.
The first factor is the strength of personal relationships. Law, like any professional service business, is highly dependent on endorsements by trusted advisors. If a potential client is taking advice from another professional, like another lawyer who practices in a different area of law, or an accountant, or consultant, these people’s recommendations will have enormous influence. This is also true if they get the endorsement from a former client. If the client felt he or she had an excellent relationship with you, your brand will be endorsed enthusiastically. It is therefore vital that you build strong continuing relationships with both your referral sources and your clients.
The second factor is positive brand experience. If the referral source has sent you clients in the past, or has been a client of yours, and you achieved a positive result and gave attentive service, this will increase the power and persuasiveness of the recommendation. Thus, client satisfaction is vital to future marketing success. One technique that most lawyers neglect is follow-up with referral sources to update them on the progress achieved in the matters of clients the referral sources have sent. This is an excellent way to reinforce the positive brand experience as well as demonstrate that you are conscientious and appreciate their referrals. It also keeps you top-of-mind with the referral source for future referral opportunities.
Brand loyalty is the pinnacle of branding success. Brand loyalty pre-empts the competitive selection process and proceeds directly to an exclusive recommendation of one brand. Once a person becomes brand loyal, that person uses and recommends only that brand to anyone who needs that service. Other credible brands are not considered. It is a direct conduit from the referral source to you. The most important consideration in brand loyalty is a series of positive brand experiences. This reinforces the perception that clients are highly likely to get good service and a good result.
Psychologically, people prefer to be brand loyal. If they find a brand they can trust, it takes the guesswork out of the selection process. Brand loyalty also saves time. Consider the time it takes you to make a good referral to a valuable client who needs an attorney who practices in an area where you don’t practice. You will search your mind and your database for possible recommendations. You might ask your partners or friends for other suggestions. If you haven’t had any brand experiences with any of them, you will probably check their websites. This might take you an hour or more to make a referral with which you feel comfortable. However, if you are brand loyal to one trusted attorney, the process takes less than five minutes. You connect the attorney to the client with an email or by giving the client a phone number, and you are done.
As before, it is important for me to re-emphasize how critical it is to follow-up with referral sources with updates as to the progress and results you achieve for clients they have sent you. Such feedback helps lock them into being brand loyal.
Branding is more than just a logo. Branding is an important tool in shaping the perceptions of others to put them in an emotional frame of mind to prefer your brand over your competitors’ brands. Marketing in law is highly dependent on word-of-mouth advertising and personal relationships. While media advertising will bring in clients, the best and least expensive method of getting clients is from a brand loyal referral source. To be effective, you must be clear on your brand identity, present it prominently both verbally and in written materials and work hard to build the perception of the credibility of your brand through leadership and prominence. Finally, and most importantly, you must develop strong relationships with referral sources and clients, and reinforce their perception of your excellence through positive brand experiences facilitated by feedback to your referral sources regarding the progress and results of matters they referred.
Copyright © Art Italo, 2018. All Rights Reserved
Other Articles by Art Italo:
Starting a Small Firm or Solo Practice
How to Set Your Retainers and Fees
Marketing for the Small Firm and Solo Practitioner
Art Italo is a consultant working exclusively with attorneys in the areas of legal marketing, strategic planning, law practice management and success coaching since 1992.
He has developed and refined the concept of Leveraged Networking after over 15,000 hours of individual consultations with attorneys. He has personally consulted with over 500 attorneys in Atlanta and across the U.S. with practices ranging from solo practitioners to partners with major firms. Art has more than 35 years of marketing and management experience and holds an A.B. from Brown University and an M.B.A. from Pace University.
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