Branding - ignore it at your peril
“Branding is ... so bloody obvious to me. When one has an “inspiring” “identity” ... life gets a whole lot simpler.” Tom Peter, Re-Imagine
Branding is a key differentiator for law firms. It delivers on so many levels and yet ... is something that is often neglected or done poorly. But your brand should define your firm even if it is no more than a few letters, a particular font or a colour.
Think of the most inspiring brands in the world. They are instantly recognisable? Is your firm’s?
Marketing budgets are slender in the legal sector. If the average spend is less than 2%, is it any wonder that branding gets squeezed out by all the other competing priorities? It would be wrong to say that all firms neglect the importance of branding – there are some great examples of thoughtful design – but you only have to look on-line to recognise the dire state of the market.
Most lawyers will be familiar with the notion of a House Style for documents, but I wonder how many understand or have been exposed to the firm’s brand guidelines (if they exist!)?
Jerry Kuyper, one of the acknowledged experts in the field of corporate branding, has a number of guidelines that have universal application:
➢ Strategic. Firms should focus on what they are trying to achieve and not just how to do it.
➢ Visual. Demonstrations are often more effective than lengthy text.
➢ Easy to understand. Develop content that is engaging and avoid unnecessary jargon.
➢ Short. 20 pages of useful information may be more effective than 50 pages.
➢ Respectful. Understand who will be using the standards and don't insult their intelligence.
➢ Balanced. Indentify the appropriate balance between structure and flexibility.
➢ Digital. For interim standards, create pdf files that can be viewed online, emailed or downloaded and printed.
➢ Scalable. Digital files that can be expanded or revised help to establish that identity management isn’t a static or one time event.
How do these measure up to your own Guidelines?
Any re-brand exposes the partnership to a detailed consideration of firm’s DNA. For many partners it can be quite uncomfortable in trying to answer some of the fundamental questions:
“Why are we in business.”
“How do we differentiate our practice.”
“What do we do better than anyone else.”
Branding done well should do more than buff up the website, create fresh looking documents or a new logo. It should be something that engages with your audience, breathes life into the brand and gives you an edge in the market. It is not something that should be left to the last moment and given a cursory inspection. Often the logistics of change can be quite overwhelming, but with the changes afoot in the market, branding will take on increased importance as one firm tries to compete even harder with another. Ignore it at your peril.