Branding and marketing usually aren't a lawyer's favorite tasks. But to succeed in a legal market where almost 40 percent of newly graduated lawyers are without a job requiring a J.D., you'll need to get smart about brand marketing to stay competitive. Why are branding and marketing so important today, and what does it take to implement a successful brand marketing strategy? These are the questions we'll answer in today's guide.
Why You Need a Brand
Twenty years ago, it was possible for attorneys to compete in the market without using much branding and marketing strategy. This is because at that time, the American Bar Association exercised much more control over the number of law school graduates entering the market each year. Now, more law schools are open than ever before and huge numbers of new firms are starting up.
Clients today don't just find their lawyers based on an ad in the Yellow Pages. Today, clients do research. Over 90 percent of legal clients now do at least some online research while looking for an attorney. With so much competition, the most successful law firms are those that show a consistent brand image. If clients already feel like they can relate to your firm based on branding and marketing, they're less likely to keep looking and find another firm that suits them better.
The next four sections of this guide are about the fundamental questions you can use to shape the brand of your law firm. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, and different firms will answer them quite differently. However, these answers will make it much easier for you to understand the right way to implement a brand marketing strategy.
Who Are You?
This is a very critical question for your firm to think about for brand marketing. Whether you're a solo practitioner or have dozens of attorneys, what's at the core of your identity for branding and marketing? What are the principles you refuse to compromise? This question can set the tone for your other brand marketing answers, or, if you're not yet confident about who your firm is, you can come back to this question after answering a couple of the other questions posed here.
When you implement branding and marketing strategies, you need to make sure that you never compromise this part of your brand in exchange for a quick uptick to web traffic or new sales. When people perceive a firm as going back on fundamental parts of their identity, they're less likely to see them as trustworthy advocates.
What Do You Want?
This question is critical for understanding the purpose of your branding and marketing goals. Brand marketing will be different for a firm that wants to show continuous hiring growth versus a firm that wants to hold steady with a small number of attorneys. Your clients will be different if you're an IP firm than if you're a tax firm, and different still if you're doing criminal defense cases. That means your goals in terms of reaching clients and growing your firm should be different, and you should be realistic within the framework of the current legal market not just nationally but in your local area.
Law firms that don't know the answer to this question often present confused branding and marketing strategies. Their brand marketing shows them trying to be all things to all people, having no goal more specific than getting more clients. In 2012, you're more likely to have success with branding and marketing by focusing on a particular niche practice than by trying to represent clients with any and all legal concerns. Once you make your goals realistic, you can narrow your niche so that you're getting more clients who are advancing your brand marketing goals.
Why Are You Here?
This question is one that every law firm has to answer eventually. Are you just here to make money? Or are you in business to genuinely help your clients? You may find that by having the latter as your answer for branding and marketing purposes, you're actually helping yourself make more money as well. Thinking about why you're here and what your purpose is in having a law firm is important for brand marketing. But remember, it can't just be your branding and marketing slogan—you need to live your answer. This means making it right if you make a mistake (which can be a great opportunity for brand marketing if you handle it well).
Where Are You Going?
Whenever you implement a new brand marketing strategy, you should ask whether it's compatible with the long term future you envision for your brand. Branding and marketing that works only for the short term and isn't keeping long term goals in mind can distract your brand and make you do work that actually hurts your work on your overall brand image.
Many law firms think only about the immediate future, but consider making a 5, 10, and 20 year plan for your firm. If everything goes realistically but well, where do you hope to be at each of these points? Track your progress toward the goals, and change them as you need to, but always keep some long-term goals in mind.
Implementing Branding and Marketing Strategies
Once you have the four questions answered, it's time to think about creating a brand marketing strategy that uses your answers. Make sure that your brand image is consistent across all platforms—you don't want your Facebook tone to be so different from your website's tone that it looks like two totally different brands.
If you can answer the questions with confidence and carry the answers into all of your branding and marketing materials, you'll be much less likely to make a misstep in your brand marketing. Confidence in who you are shines through, and will help you differentiate your firm from those on shakier ground.