Industry Interview with Accesspoint: Brandmaster

This article was also featured as an industry interview in the December 2017 issue of Briefing. To read the issue in full, download Briefing.

"Awareness, plus delivery, equals reputation (A+D=R)” is one of Gary Shaw’s favourite marketing maxims. “I always say that you can create all the awareness in the world, but if you fail to deliver the service, reputation suffers. On the other hand, you can do the best possible job – but if you don’t let people know, that’s just as bad. You have to create awareness, and you have to deliver.” That’s a law firm’s 2017 brand challenge in a nutshell – what a firm says about itself needs to match the experience (and any service, of course) the client receives. “A brand isn’t just a logo,” says Shaw. “It’s a culture, covering personality and approach as much as what is promised.”

Speech for the stars

Law firms are perhaps too inclined to believe their brands begin and end with the work they can do – whereas ‘how’ they work may be just as important to a lasting positive perception.

“Even something like tone of voice is key – how people answer the phone, for example,” says Shaw. “How does the firm talk? If you pride yourself on a highly professional image your choices may be different to an instance where a firm is putting itself out there as offering something more ‘quirky’, or otherwise different.”

Language needs to be a fit for the needs and preferences of the client base in question. “I’ve been in situations where lawyers are talking, and clients think they’re speaking in riddles.” Even worse may be a culture where the provider overly dominates the client, or appears ‘stand-offish’. “There may already be a certain fear factor when people visit their lawyer. Firms sometimes don’t appreciate that, or don’t match their language to the client’s situation,” says Shaw.

The result is a communication and conversation that doesn’t quite gel, which – of course – is bad news for brand.

“Junior employees may intuitively adopt attitudes and styles of others they see in action – especially if there’s no central vision for how they should communicate instead.”

Silo no more

Clearly, what a firm really needs to endorse are behavioural attitudes and actions that align with the brand. Here, however, there’s another challenge to overcome.

“Everyone must buy in, from the cleaner to the head of corporate – for that a joined-up team effort is essential,” says Shaw. However, firms’ propensity to get stuck in organisational silos can frustrate this goal.

“Management may not communicate well with colleagues about goals in any case. But in order to really get people on board, you need to explain not only what you’re doing, but why. What tends to happen more often is that everyone has individual financial goals, and they immediately start working – in their silos – to achieve them. They work toward their own goals, not common ones.”

Fixing that isn’t easy, he says, but it needs to be “top down and face to face – while inviting others’ input and views, so brand values don’t feel imposed.

“Brand marketing gains power through shared knowledge and understanding.”

What’s the measure of it?

Of course, sometimes the central vision itself may need to change before getting everyone on board with delivering the resulting brand promise.

Shaw says: “Sometimes a business can be doing quite well, and it just needs some revitalisation to get everyone singing the same song. In that case, you can retune and refine things more on track with brand values and goals. However, if sales and margins are declining, or the external environment is causing a problem – albeit your customer base hasn’t changed – you might need a complete strategic review of where the business is going.

“How big is the gap, how are you going to get there, and who’ll be the driver of the change?”

That review process will inform not only brand values (perhaps even some new ones), but also specific marketing activities. As with customer service, says Shaw, firms might have lessons to learn from retail-sector organisations he has worked for in the past.

Take web traffic goals, for example. “You could have 50,000 visits to a web page – but are you converting the clients you most want? Are you targeting the right demographics with the right techniques? You could even have lots of sales coming through, but are those costing you in lower margins? Stay focused on the bottom line numbers.

“Most important of all is to monitor and measure, and then realign marketing depending on what you find.”

Another potential weakness is consistency across customer touchpoints. “There are small things such as consistent email signatures and logos across platforms – but also attention to detail in responsiveness. Clients and prospects ideally want immediate contact, not a phone call five days later. It’s an area where service can easily slip.”

Firms should even proactively seek out reviews from happy clients, he says – one of the best forms of marketing being the fact others have been impressed before you. This word-of-mouth factor is as important for legal as it is in the world of hospitality or entertainment.

“Ambassadors can speak volumes. But firms sometimes forget to keep in touch when a case is closed – simply moving on again to where they can make some more money,” says Shaw.

Then they’re missing the all-important ‘A factors’ in Shaw’s handy equation for reputation. “And when you’re selling a service, you’re only ever as good as the performance you last delivered.”

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