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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Is Law Firm Branding Still Relevant in the Information Age?

Of all the things we do at our marketing agency – everything from creating plans to executing PR campaigns, online initiatives, special events, etc., by far the activity I’ve always enjoyed the most has been “branding” organizations.  There is something special about taking an entity (be it a law firm, a service or a product) and concepting how to make it relevant to a target audience – or in some cases, to several diverse target groups.

Yet today, as with everything else, the whole concept of branding has changed dramatically.  Much of this is due to the emergence of all kinds of on-line media options. Whereas before, marketing messages competed for your attention by jumping out at you (whether you wanted them to or not), today it is we, the consumer of legal services, who seek out the message.

This alters the ways in which law firms can and should brand themselves. Unless they are blessed with the financial resources to stay the course with traditional media alternatives, they must find a way to get an integrated, single-themed message out to their prospects through multiple channels and by multiple sources.

The difficulty in this is that most of those sources are the individual attorneys themselves who now have the ability to a) create their own individual web site and b) post to numerous professional and personal social media outlets. While there are many, many positives to being able to publish without any third party (i.e. editors, producers, etc.) vetting, it also means that firm management and legal marketers no longer have control over the “cumulative” message that is being disseminated. I’m not talking here about the misguided attorney who may post disparaging or unethical content about the firm, a client, a judge, etc.  Rather, I am talking about how the style and language (and even the content) used by an individual may run counter to the manner in which the firm wishes to be portrayed.   In short, the question is how can the law firm speak with one voice?

The answer, I believe, is three-fold. 

First, now more than ever, the firm’s staff (all of whom are ambassadors for the firm) must be made aware of and buy into the firm brand. This, of course assumes that the firm has, in fact, determined what its core message in and the positioning it wishes to have in the market.

Second, these same firm ambassadors must be encouraged to utilize all of the many media options that are now at their disposal – and to do so in a way that underscores and reinforces the firm brand.

And finally, given that it is, in fact, the accumulation of all messages (online and off) that ultimately reflects the firm brand, it is more important than ever that individual posts, tweets, and other types of contents be tied to an identifiable element of the overall firm – be that a logo, a tagline etc. Consumers of legal services are bombarded by information from so many sources that most become just “noise.”  In a world where disseminating quantity of messages seems to be more important than the quality of a message, it is the wise law practice that can brand itself through the sum of the content stemming from its own hallways.

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

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why Won’t Those ‘Darn’ Associates Make More Rain?

In my last post, I discussed the fear many managing partners hold, that the firm may be leaving money on the table by not effectively cross-promoting the full range of legal services and not encouraging internal referrals.

Today, I would like to discuss a little bit about a second concern that law firm management often express to us.  It is much less a fear than it is a frustration that associates in the firm do not generate the requisite new business activity necessary to move the firm forward.

This creates a conundrum that firms often find difficult to resolve. On the one hand, lower level attorneys offer the possibilities of greater profitability because they command lower rates of compensation.  Yet, in spending time on providing such legal services to the firm’s clients (i.e., billable hours), they are, by definition not rustling up new business.

To resolve this dilemma, smart law firms must ask themselves exactly what they see as the role of their associates.  Typically, most would say that the function of the firm’s lower level attorney’s requires a hybrid of both client-related work and new business initiatives. We have seen instances however, where firm management has determined that associates should focus on clients while management itself should be responsible for generating new revenues.  That is not necessarily a bad approach because, at the very least, it is clearly defined. Less positive are those situations in which firm management chastises attorneys for the lack of billable time while also lamenting the lack of energies towards acquiring new clients.  Hence, most important is developing a clear definition of roles and an articulate conveyance of them to the firm’s staff.

But it cannot really stop there. Generating business is a skill.  And as a skill, it requires proper training. Most young attorneys do not learn how to do bring in business in law school and depending on the firm in which they practice, they may not acquire such training at work either. Firm management must understand that generating new business (whether it be through social media, referrals, internal cross-promotion, more revenue from existing clients, etc.) all requires an investment – not just in marketing and business development activities, but in the people being counted on to build the practice as well.

And even there it cannot stop.  It is foolish to think that each individual possesses the same set of skills of every other. Some attorneys are particularly good at getting out and meeting the world; others at writing engaging legal articles. Similarly, some attorneys may be innately limited in their ability to create new revenue, but contribute to the firm through their legal brilliance and capacity to solve their clients’ problems. Identifying the specific talents and the deficiencies of each associate is a far better way to leverage the collective manpower of the firm than is to make general assumptions about associates as a whole. Much of this evaluation can be made qualitatively. Yet, believe it or not, there is a software application (RainGauge) which allows management to quantitatively assess the degree to which associates (and senior attorneys as well) contribute to the firm through different marketing and business development activities and even offers the potential to compare such versus their working on strictly client-related business.

The bottom line is that getting the most out of associates requires removing the label “associate” from the equation and instead, harnessing the talents of each individual towards the greater good of the firm.

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