Build a Brand? No: Here Are Five Things To Do First
Well, it happened again yesterday.
I received a telephone call from a lawyer with a small but growing law firm. He just signed a contract with an “advertising company” to improve his brand.
He was calling to see if I would assist with some of the decisions his “branding consultant” wanted him to make. This was tough stuff. Color and style of the logo. Decor of the office to match it. Layout of the website. Font and formatting of the stationary. Size of the business cards. And of course, what style of pen to give away to everyone.
Now, this was not a struggling law firm. The guy who called was the owner and managing partner. He built the firm into a three lawyer, two paralegal, real estate practice. They did all kinds of transactions and some litigation. Their year-to-date billing exceeded $1.3 million. That’s not too shabby for a three year old firm.
I asked him what, exactly, his new “brand” was going to do for him.
After thinking for a full minute he said: “Help me make more money.”
“How?” I responded.
There was another long silence and finally he said: “They told me with a better brand I could charge more money.”
Of course the “they” in that sentence was the advertising agency he paid to help him with this project.
Think logically about that statement. Different colors on a website, better pens, and a new look for your business cards and clients will give you more money? Does that make sense?
Here’s the thing:
Branding is the position your business (law firm) holds in the mind of the client.
Example: You think of me as the GO TO guy for law firm strategy and business development advice. But that has nothing to do with my fancy logo and stylish business cards (I don’t have promotional pens). You think of me this way because I produce valuable information you can use to help with those areas of your practice.
Branding is a byproduct of the other marketing activity.
That last sentence is really important.
My “brand” developed because of the value my business provides. Not because of the color of the chairs in my office.
Advertising people and “branding experts” have it backwards. They try to create a “persona” or a “brand essence” and then have your business conform to it.
That’s when things really get confusing.
Somewhere along the way, every business began to think they were Apple and Coca-Cola.
Those are huge companies with infinite advertising budgets. They can show their logo hundreds of thousands of times and burn it into your brain. That’s why their logo is so important. They buy people’s attention and they need to give them something pretty to look at when they do.
You must earn the attention of everyone who visits your website or listens to you speak. And you’re only getting one shot at it. You better provide them with something more valuable than some pretty design and a basket full of kittens.
To help with this value-based approach to marketing, I’m going to provide you with a checklist of five things that you MUST focus on before you say the word “brand”.
Identify Your Ideal Client
You don’t want to attract “just any old client.” You want to attract people who have the potential to be your BEST client. This requires identifying the needs of the clients who come to your office and your ability to help him.
Determine the Value You Provide To Your Client
What do you do better than anyone else to help the ideal client? What is the impact you can have on his life or his business? What message can you deliver to help your ideal client understand how you can help him?
Figure Out What Your Ideal Client Reads, Watches and Where He Hangs Out
You need to know where you ideal client is at all times. Where does he live? What does he read? What groups/organizations does he belong to?
You need to know where to place your message to reach your ideal client.
Put Yourself in Your Client’s Path
Once you have the message and the market identified, you simply need to get into in front of the right people with the right message. Again this involves understanding who the client is, what’s important to him and how you can provide value in helping him relieve his pain or achieve his goals.
Make Your Client An Offer
Finally you should offer your ideal client an opportunity to engage you. This can be something as simple as delivering a free report or video. The key is to get the prospective client to take action.
Here is the point in all of this:
Branding is not bad. But irresponsible people have co-opted the term and are using it to distract you from the basics of action-oriented marketing.
You build a brand by helping people solve their problems and achieve their goals. For a law firm (or an entrepreneurial business) a brand is a byproduct of the value you deliver to your clients.
A brand is about the client outcome, not you or your firm. Keep your ego out of it and focus on what you can do for the client. If you do, your brand will naturally develop.
Here are some important resources you may have missed but need to check out right now:
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Thoughts On Legal Marketing and Intellectual Property Rights
If you were a carpenter and someone stole your only hammer what would you do?
Most likely, you would chase down the offending party and demand your hammer back. If he failed to give your hammer back, you would look for a legal remedy, in order to continue to make a living.
This is a simple concept to grasp.
Every couple of months (and with a troubling increase in frequency) someone violates my intellectual property rights. They copy text from my website or material, they use my trademark, or they blatantly deliver an identical presentation to one I have delivered in the past.
Many of these people are lawyers turned marketing gurus.
I go to great lengths to find these people. I pay for a service that monitors my intellectual property. I work with two attorneys who not only protect my intellectual property, they help me maintain and enforce my rights.
Why go to these lengths?
First: My business consists of two elements: 1) Goodwill – My relationships with clients, vendors and referral sources and 2) Intellectual property – Work products I create and sell to clients and license to others. I like my business and I want to keep growing it.
Second: Most people lack creativity. My intellectual property is a byproduct of my competitive advantage – my creativity. If you steal my intellectual property you are weakening my competitive advantage.
Third: If I do not enforce my rights to my intellectual property it weakens its value.
Finally: I have an intense dislike for people who compete with me. The best case for me would be for my competitors to go into other lines of business. Absent that happening, I’m always looking for ways to crush them. Late at night, when they sleep, I am on a plane traveling to meet with their best client. When they are sitting on the couch watching reruns of Hogan’s Heroes, I’m coming up with a new consulting methodology that will change the rules of the game.
So when I have an opportunity to legally smack down a competitor, I take it.
Intellectual property is central to my ability to make a living. It is, in essence my hammer. But it is more than that. It is as if the hammer had special and unique powers. Possession of that hammer gives me a competitive advantage. I have every right to keep that hammer for exclusive use in my business or license it to anyone I see fit. When someone takes it, I go after them.
What does this have to do with you?
Attorneys use forms, documents, visual identities and phrases in their practice and in their legal marketing. Often they think nothing of “borrowing” a form they have seen a competitor using. They do not hesitate to “adopt” a phrase from someone else or use a cute derivation from a successful competitor.
Many times this is done with a lack of concern for the rights of the creator of the intellectual property.
Don’t think this applies to you?
What music do you have on your telephone system when you put someone on hold?
How about the photos on your website?
Do you use a fictitious name for your law firm?
How about your tagline or logo on your website or business cards?
The bottom line: Be creative. Create your own forms. Do your own branding. Don’t tread on the intellectual property rights of others.
How Attorneys Differentiate a Law Firm with Marketing
Most attorneys think they are different when compared to their competitors. In reality, to the client, every attorney looks the same.
If you stopped the average person on the street and said: “What makes an attorney a great attorney?”
He would probably say: “He wins all his cases.”
The fact that most people would say this, makes it a point of entry into the market and not a differentiating factor. In other words, “winning” becomes the standard. It is the minimum expectation a client has when he hires you.
This is why the theory of “just be a good lawyer and the cases will fall in your lap” is so wrong.
Everyone says they are a good lawyer. Everyone has references and testimonials that will provide evidence to prove they are a good lawyer.
Attorneys marketing their services must dig deeper to differentiate themselves.
To make matters more complicated, there are only four ways to do this.
Here now, are the four ways to differentiate your law firm from all the others who do what you do:
This is the weakest form of differentiation. If you want to be the discount lawyer in town you will most likely only hold that title for a brief period of time.
Anytime you cut your price, someone will be able to offer an identical service for less money.
Since other attorneys marketing their firms will be hanging their hat on pricing as a differentiating factor, you should avoid that.
In fact, you would be better served by positioning your law firm as the most expensive law firm in town. At least in that case, people will come to you to see why you are able to charge so much. To the extent you can justify your expensive price point; you will retain some clients who believe they are receiving greater value for the higher fee.
Great service is a point of entry into just about any legal market. This means returning telephone calls promptly, strict adherence to appointment times and setting an observing to agreed-upon service standards, will not differentiate you from your competitors.
If you client is facing serious financial loss and/or the loss of his liberty, your retention as his lawyer does not hinge upon the greeting by your office receptionist.
Your client expects to be dealt with in a respectful manner. He expects you to appreciate the trust has placed in you. And he expects you to do your best to represent him.
Attorneys who don’t provide this service will not be able to build relationships with clients and referral sources.
Clients expect high quality work. You can write the best briefs, file amazing motions and create terrific contracts and still be lumped in with everyone else in your field.
Too often I see attorneys compare their work to the worst lawyers in town. They frame the discussion around “How much better they are than that guy.” This is wrong-headed.
The discussion should center on the standard you set for excellence in your profession. It should center on the lengths you go to in making certain you have prepared for representing your clients.
Creating an outstanding experience for your clients is the only way to truly differentiate your law firm from everyone else who does what you do.
What makes an outstanding experience?
That’s up to your clients. But it starts with combining all of the elements listed above into one compelling value-filled offering. This means successful attorneys marketing their law firms will understand what the client needs and will find a way to help him want what he needs.
This is no small task because it involves creating realistic expectations and meeting them.
If you want to truly differentiate your law firm from the others, you must provide an exceptional experience to your clients. All of the tangible aspects of running a successful business apply but the intangible aspects of your practice will truly make the difference.
Marketing For Attorneys: Your Body of Work Matters
Want to land the next big case?
After the client leaves your office send him a box of testimonial letters written by your former clients. Also include copies of the books you have written and a CD of an audio interview with a news anchor. Don’t forget to add in some past copies of your newsletter and articles written about you by various publications.
While he is waiting for that package to arrive send him an email with a link to some of the videos you have posted online (and maybe also a link to your past podcast episodes). You might as well include links to some of the articles you’ve written and posted on your website as well.
All of these things matter in marketing for attorneys.
They make up your “body of work”. They enhance your credibility. They demonstrate the value you provide to clients.
You have spent the better part of your career amassing accomplishments. You should confidently share your successes with people who can hire you.
What if you don’t have any of the things I listed above?
Begin to assemble a body of work. With technology today it is easier than ever to write and post articles, shoot and upload video and create high quality educational content for a podcast.
The more educational material you publish, the greater your body of work, the more likely you are to be perceived as an expert.
In Marketing For Law Firms Thought Leadership Makes a Difference
In any business there are certain people who get the really difficult assignments. These folks are the people who are known as the experts in their field.
When a client has a particularly difficult issue, there is one person who is known as the “go to” guy/gal for solving this specific problem.
Some lawyers are geniuses at drafting agreements. Some are fantastic at mergers and acquisitions. Others are great trial lawyers. The list is as expansive as there are nuances in the law.
If you want to be perceived as someone with mastery of a specific area of law, you must seize the mantle of thought leadership.
When it comes to marketing for law firms, thought leadership is the key to becoming the “go to” person.
Thought leadership means publishing ground-breaking work on the subject.
It means speaking on your area of expertise at leading industry events.
It means being quoted in industry trade publications often as “THE expert.”
This seems like a lot of work because it is.
That’s why there are so few thought leaders.
If you want to command high fees, if you want to be the only person on the list when clients are listing the people who can help them solve their problem, you must be a thought leader.
Think broadly about marketing for law firms for a moment. So much of it is similar.
Stand out from the crowd and leverage your expertise. Become a thought leader and begin to attract high quality clients.
It is worth the effort.