To Brand or Not To Brand (Branding for Law Firms)

“Old fashions please me best; I am not so nice to change true rules for odd inventions.”

—William Shakespeare

What is branding for law firms?

The legal industry seems to be coming around and doing a little more than dipping its collective toe into the online marketing waters and even the social media sea. As late adopters go, some firms seem to be adapting pretty well.

To Brand or Not To Brand, Branding for Law Firms

An article on June 15th in the Wall Street Journal by Nathan Koppel noted that “Law firms, particularly those that represent plaintiffs, are increasingly devoting resources to developing a presence online, where consumers—and potential clients—congregate.” The article mentions Sokolove Law, a Massachusetts-based firm that’s spending $12 million annually on digital outreach (up from 1/4th of that in 2006). OK, this really isn’t chump change.

The article describes a New York-based plaintiffs’ firm that set up a collection of websites like bigspill.com and oilspillclaims.com in the wake of the PB Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, all of which provide news related to the disaster and invite visitors to give their contact information. This has yielded a dozen new cases from people affected by the disaster. This same firm, we are told, has twenty technology specialists writing copy and performing other tasks to support its roughly 300 websites. They are clearly engaged in the online marketing game.

In another instance, a Florida law firm has launched a social media campaign specifically to find interviewees that they need for a litigation they are in with a college.

The article goes on to say that even defense law firms are doing things like sending automated alerts to Twitter and Facebook every time one of their employees writes an article for one of the company’s blogs.

The spoils are likely to go to those who adapt most readily to the new business reality of an ever stronger connection between online activity and the bottom line.

It remains to be seen if law firms in general will begin to devote significantly more resources and attention toward marketing themselves in the online world, but as the business environment continues to change, with the role of online modes of communication continuing to expand, I expect they will come around. The spoils are likely to go to those who adapt most readily to the new business reality of an ever stronger connection between online activity and the bottom line.

According to Nielsen Online‘s January 2010 data, social networks and blogs are the most popular online category when ranked by average time spent with usage up 82% year over year. Twitter continued to be the fastest growing social networking site in terms of unique visitors, increasing 579% year over year, from 2.8 million unique visitors in December 2008 to 18.1 million in December 2009. Social networks and blogs now account for one in every four and a half minutes online*. Twitter is very interesting because it is being used primarily during work and by older users, the vast majority of whom are between 35 and 49*. Nearly everyone is being affected by this new online communications reality. These new modes of research and communication are winning converts, we think, because they represent greater efficiency and are becoming available in forms and formats that are ever easier to use.

What bolsters and maintains a relationship—or establishes one in the first place—continues to evolve.

In this online environment, professional service businesses in general, and law firms in particular, need to understand the role of branding. The thinking goes that because services like legal services are sold based on expertise, and often individual expertise, that the firm does not actually need a brand. We often hear variations of “We do not get business from the website or from having a brand. We get business from relationships.” This position is becoming less and less coherent as the business world’s reliance on online communications continues to grow. Relationships are still at the heart of it, but what’s different is how these relationships are being conducted and maintained.

What bolsters and maintains a relationship—or establishes one in the first place—continues to evolve. Relationships don’t just mean face-to-face contacts. And so, as face time in relationships declines, the role of a company’s brand becomes increasingly important. No longer can it just be a matter of an individual talking to other individuals in person, on the phone or via email. Increasingly, some aspect of the relationship is migrating online and, as it does this, the brand has to line up and support this, lest the relationship be inadvertently undermined.

Regardless of whether you or your firm spent any money or time creating a brand, you most certainly DO have a brand.

What is a brand?

The idea that a law firm or any professional services business does not get business from having a brand reveals a misunderstanding of what a brand actually is. Regardless of whether you or your firm spent any money or time creating a brand, you most certainly DO have a brand. And whatever your brand is, it definitely affects the quality and quantity of the business you get. Your brand is really just what your clients think of you. Thus in a world of exclusively offline personal relationships you have near-perfect control over your brand, but as these personal relationships migrate online and into more public spaces, even if only in part, inevitably your clients and prospects will begin to hear other voices in the conversation about you and your brand. If you choose not to take charge of your brand, others end up doing this for you. In this way you abdicate control. The reality is that you are already no longer the exclusive author of your own brand message and delivery, but what you need to be is the primary author of it, and if you shirk this responsibility, you are guaranteed some business trouble down the road.

It has become a brand or be branded world and this applies to service businesses as much as anybody else. So we keep telling all of our clients: It’s a whole new world, and it’s no longer good enough just to be good. You have to proactively project your brand so that others know and are reminded of exactly how good you really are. You have to accept “odd inventions” for they are now the way of business life.

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Do you need an affordable way to improve your brand today?

Because we know that not everyone needs or can afford our full process, we created a guided tutorial for our foundational brand strategy tool: the Brand Pyramid. Watch the video for a preview.

For more information on this branding tutorial video series, visit here where you will find a fuller explanation and a link to a free download of the first video.

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