At its simplest, a brand is a perception that other people — clients, prospective clients, peers, vendors, potential hires — have about a company or business. Because your business is a law firm, much of your brand is built around the way you communicate and interact with clients and other professionals. The big question is, did you work to define and support the way you want to be perceived, or is your brand happening by default?
Last time, we discussed your firm’s mission, vision and values — the “why” for your firm. (See “What Is Your Law Firm’s Marketing Strategy?”) That exercise is the foundation for defining a brand that communicates the right values to the right people. Now, let’s use that “why” to begin building your firm’s brand platform.
What Is a Law Firm Brand?
A brand is much more than your logo design and firm colors. It is a feeling people have about who you are. Your firm’s culture, the way you run your office and treat your staff, the way you represent your firm in person or on the phone, the way people in your firm conduct themselves are all pieces of your law firm’s brand. Your website’s content, and the visual elements you use in marketing materials — including your logo and photos — are part of your brand, too.
Think about brands you interacted with recently. Maybe it was a national chain store, a local coffeehouse, or dental practice. If you had a positive feeling and want to visit them again, what about their brand triggered that feeling? Now, think about the companies that have lost your business. What do they do differently to make you feel that way?
Let’s do a few exercises to zero in on your brand.
Beyond the “Why”
Now that you are warmed up and thinking about branding you can begin to work through the questions that will help you begin sketching out your law firm brand.
Be sure to involve others in your firm when answering these questions. If you haven’t worked to define your brand in the past, you may be surprised the different views of people in your office. Everyone in your office contributes to your brand elements and communication, so their input is important.
Questionnaire: Defining Your Law Firm Brand
|1. Provide a history of your firm.|
|When was the firm founded and by whom?|
|What drove the founder(s) to start his or her own firm?|
|Has your firm been involved in any well-known cases locally or nationally?|
|Why should people be interested in your firm’s history?|
|2. Describe your services.|
|What types of cases do you handle in your office most frequently?|
|What types of cases would you like to target specifically?|
|Why these types of cases?|
|Do you see litigation as a last resort or a viable option from the start?|
|3. Describe the firm’s values|
|What drew you to the legal profession?|
|What part of the legal process are you most passionate about? Why?|
|What traits do you value in yourself?|
|What traits do you value in your colleagues/employees?|
|4. Describe the firm’s beliefs.|
|What does your firm stand for?|
|What does your firm stand against?|
|What type of individual, case, or cause are you most excited to support?|
|5. Define the culture of the office.|
|Do you form friendlier or strictly professional relationships with clients?|
|Do your clients refer to you by your first name or formal name?|
|How is your office designed and organized? Do you see your firm reflected in your office décor/setup?|
|What traits do you look for in new hires|
|What types of community organizations or local events is your firm involved with?|
|Outside of the office, what are you passionate about or involved in (e.g., nonprofits, children’s programs, education, sporting leagues)?|
|6. Outline the typical client process.|
|How do your clients contact you?|
|Do clients have 24/7 access to your firm? Can they reach you outside of office hours?|
|Who manages all incoming calls/inquiries?|
|Who is the first person a client meets when he or she comes to your office?|
|After the initial contact, do you usually meet with clients in person or over the phone?|
|How do you conclude a case?|
|How do you encourage lasting relationships with your clients?|
|Do you get many referrals from other firms? What firm(s)?|
|7. Describe the client’s perspective.|
|Who typically contacts your firm (e.g., a family member or the person directly involved)?|
|In your experience, what factors influence potential clients when choosing an attorney?|
|What emotions does a client typically experience before meeting with you?|
|How does your firm address those emotions?|
|How does a client feel after meeting with you?|
USP: Your Unique Selling Proposition
The USP is a cornerstone of your brand platform. Many law firm owners struggle to define one thing that makes them unique compared to their local competitors. So don’t think of your USP as one thing. Instead, I like to think of USP as two to four brand characteristics that, when combined, capture what makes your law firm unique in your market or practice area to your target client.
Once you’ve answered the questions above, some elements should stand out. Perhaps it’s related to how you work with clients, your specific experience, your approach to cases, or the specific type of cases you take.
You probably won’t come up with your USP in one short sitting, and it is OK if it changes over time.
Tip: If your USP is that you are “experienced” or that you “care,” you need to dig a little bit deeper.
A conversation between our agency and a law firm typically goes like this:
Why does experience differentiate your firm?
We know a lot about personal injury law in this state, we know what to expect from certain cases.
How does knowing what to expect differentiate your firm?
We know what might come up in a case, so we can be better prepared. We know what it’s like to work with different insurance companies, so we can set our clients’ expectations from the start of a case.
How is this different than what your competitors do?
We have more experience than our competitors. We are the oldest personal injury firm in the city and have been practicing since 1969.
Now we’re getting somewhere: Being the oldest firm in the city and having that history is a good candidate for a brand characteristic in your USP.
Tip: Brainstorm a big list of all the different characteristics you think consumers should care about your firm versus your competitors. Then revisit that list after a week or so and begin combining the common ones and get rid of the weak differentiators. Push yourself to get to the three or four characteristics that, when combined, are truly a differentiator that no one else can claim.
Who Is Your Ideal Client?
A basic principle of any type of marketing is identifying your ideal client or target market.
This question has led to some interesting conversations with many law firm owners over the years. I’ve seen people react strongly to the question, saying, “I don’t want to alienate anyone,” or “We wouldn’t turn down a good case just because they didn’t fit this demographic.”
My reply is always: “Of course not!”
Narrowing your audience doesn’t mean cutting down on the number of cases you take. Time and time again, once law firms narrow the focus of their target market, they end up gaining more cases. This is because narrowing makes it easier for the clients you really want to find you — and be more likely to sign with you — because your brand will speak directly to them.
Think About These Questions to Help You Narrow Down Your Ideal Client
Do one pass through these questions defining your CURRENT clients and another pass defining your IDEAL client. Comparing the two lists can be useful in identifying where you need to adjust your marketing strategy. Or, perhaps your current clients are closer to your ideal than you thought. If a firm has multiple practice areas or serves more than one distinct community, we often have them complete this questionnaire for each practice area or group.
Questionnaire: Defining Your Ideal Client
|Rent or own their home?|
|What does this person look for in an attorney?|
|What is it like to work with them?|
|What do they value?|
|What type of car do they drive?|
|Where do they shop?|
|Which brands do you associate with this client?|
|What types of social media do they use?|
|For current clients: What about this person makes them different than your ideal client?|
|For ideal clients: What about this person makes them a valuable client?|
Once you feel you really understand your ideal client(s), the next step is to turn the answers into a persona for each type of ideal client. A persona is a fictional representation of your ideal client — a person you can clearly picture when you think about your firm’s messaging, processes, visual identity, and even how and who you hire.
Establishing Your Ideal Client Persona
For each ideal client create a persona with this information:
- Fictional Name
- Income level
- Favorite brands
- Why they need an attorney
- What they are looking for in an attorney
Your Brand Platform: Pulling It All Together
Once you have completed your questionnaires, figured out your USPs, defined your ideal client and created personas you can pull all of this together into your brand platform.
The brand platform can be as simple as a Word document that contains:
- A brief history of your firm
- Anything unique about you, your partners, and staff
- A brief discussion about your Unique Selling Proposition
- Your ideal target client
- Client personas
Use this document as your “brand bible.” The goal is for someone to have a thorough understanding of your brand after reading. You can share it with anyone you work with — marketing companies, outsourced assistants, software vendors, consultants — to help streamline your internal operations. For example, the brand platform can be used to drive the designer who will create your logo and visual identity. Whether you work with a marketing agency or a designer you found on UpWork, providing this direction will be appreciated and result in a visual brand that matches better to your firm.
Once you have your visual identity (logos, font, colors), you can add that information, along with proper use instructions, to your brand platform.
Your brand platform is a “living” document that you should revisit at your yearly strategy meeting. Make sure it still matches the message, process and people your target client interacts with every day.
Your brand platform should be used as a gut check for your future efforts. If you’re considering adding a new marketing tactic, outsourcing a piece of your operations, changing your intake technology or billing platform, implementing new software, or hiring someone new, it’s a good time to review the brand platform to see if your brand could be impacted.
Your brand will evolve over time, whether that’s because you’re targeting a different practice area, or you’ve added new staff members. What was important four years ago may not be today. When you find something has changed revisit this article and update your brand platform.