Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Market “Positioning” and What it Means For Branding Your Firm

Last week in this blog, we spoke about law firm branding and its relevancy in the information age.

But exactly what is the firm brand? What does it really mean?

We’ve always looked at law firm branding as the outward manifestation of the firm positioning. By this I mean that the brand and all the logos, web sites, ads, blogs, articles and slogans that go with it are, or at least should be, a reflection of the essence of the firm. And by essence, I am referring to what the firm stands for, its point of difference versus competitors, its reason for being.

To ascertain all of this can be a difficult challenge when different personalities, egos, and practice groups all have disparate needs for how they want to be presented to their target markets.

For example, consider the firm with multiple practice groups that seeks to establish a new or revised identity. The folks in the family law group suggest that the “positioning” of the firm should revolve around a history of showing care and compassion. “Not so,” says the head of the corporate litigation practice group. “We need to convey that this firm is powerful and has a ‘take no prisoners’ approach to its services.” “Wait a minute,” says the guy from IP. “This firm should promote the fact that we are cutting edge and utilize the latest technological resources.” Finally, the most senior partner in the room, smiles and attempts to put closure on the debate by stating, “This law practice has been around for over 100 years. We are well known by just about everyone and the smartest approach is to simply tout our longevity.”

Who is right? And where do you think this debate will ultimately lead? Chances are that one of two things will happen. Either the “strongest” member (be it the Managing Partner, the Senior Partner, etc.) will dictate the positioning or, more likely, nothing will happen at all. In the latter case, the firm will just proceed as it always has and will continue to communicate the same disparate messages to its target markets.

How might this scenario be altered?

The key here lies in finding the underlying qualities that tie the various individuals and practice groups together. What is it common throughout the firm? There’s a reason why attorneys in these departments work at this firm at this given point in time. Is it the culture of the firm? Is there a similar approach to the practice of law or to the servicing of clients?  For example, we worked with one law firm that after intense discussions, realized that each individual in the firm took immense pride in finding “innovative” solutions to their clients’ problems. Thus “innovativeness” became the positioning from which the brand was created. In another case, the firm leveraged its knowledge and experience in working with governmental agencies as a means for underscoring its ability to help individuals and businesses.

In discovering the firm positioning, it is critical to uncover that which sets the firm apart (what is it about the firm that one would be hard-pressed to say the same thing about a competitor). Too often, firms make the mistake of developing a “me too” positioning that does little to enhance the firm’s standing.  For example, “Big City Know-How, but with Lower Fees” is an all too familiar positioning employed by so many firms that work outside the city.  

In short, smart law firms know who they are and then develop the brand from that. The hard part is knowing who you are, but once that is accomplished, the developed brand (and hence the firm) is that much stronger for it.

This is the fourth in a 5-part series on the business development concerns we have heard most often by managing partners and legal marketers.

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