A brand is not simply a name, nor is it just a logo, although that’s an important part of it. A brand is the culmination of the organisation’s values and aspirations. Sounds rather lofty, but to understand how to create and use a brand properly for your set, you need to appreciate what a brand actually is and how it works.
Branding is becoming increasingly important within the legal services sector. You might not want to hear this but branding is not an overnight fix, instead it’s a long-term process that’s worth the effort because the benefits of a strong brand identity are wide-reaching. The advantages range from encouraging client loyalty, shortening decision making processes, enabling the positioning of higher pricing, the ability to cross-sell additional services to increasing the value of your business.
Clients who know and recognise a brand (by this we mean they understand exactly what they will get should they choose that brand in terms of client service, value and sometimes even kudos) do not have to go through a lengthy decision making process. They are more likely to purchase services with this perceived trusted brand rather than risk using a lesser known alternative. This is particularly the case when the stakes for the client are high.
Where client loyalty is concerned, obviously the client-experience must have been exceptional. Repeat clients are also more likely to instruct your set on areas of law that they haven’t done previously because they trust the ‘core’ brand. As we know, the best way to increase profits is to leverage from existing clients, so where we can build a strong a trusted brand we can retain clients and cross-sell additional services at a fraction of the cost of acquiring new ones.
A strong, trusted brand also permits us to charge more for services, as clients perceive brands as deserving a higher value than homogenous services. This is particularly useful for direct access sets where they are having to compete against many other law firms and chambers offering similar services
for the same clients. However, to reach this level of brand awareness takes an awful lot of time and investment.
Finally, a brand can have a financial value and can be viewed as an asset. This is particularly useful when looking for external investment in the organisation.
Many of the Magic Circle sets are putting significant amounts of money into branding campaigns designed to build awareness, trust and customer loyalty, as well as to communicate the values of their chambers. However, if you’ve
not got their budget, there are many brand building activities you can do to benefit your organisation. They begin with developing a brand strategy.
Brand strategy There are three main types of brand strategy. You will probably be best served by combining all three.
Corporate branding: This is where the organisation uses its own name for all products and services. Examples include IBM, Nike and Marks & Spencer. Using a top level brand in this way is a cost-effective way to build brand recognition and a ‘global’ image. It uses less design expense as it tends to be logo driven. However, for it to be successful the brand values must be communicated clearly. The potential danger of relying on just corporate branding is that one failure in terms of service can severely damage the brand reputation.
Such branding has historically run counterintuitive for the self-employed Bar where members pride themselves on their independence. However, in an increasingly commercial world, having a strong core brand identity gives members a platform for differentiation from other sets before then adding on their own unique characteristics. It’s worth noting that ‘Chambers of XYZ’ is not a good idea for brand building. Brands, ideally, need to be tied to fixed components where the values of the brand can be associated with a firm foundation. The rotating nature of head of chambers does not lend itself to the much needed brand security, in the same way a global brand is not tied to its CEO. The ‘head of’ scenario can also be perceived as an ego exercise that by its nature is not consistent with strong brand values.
Examples of successful corporate branding in the Bar include sets such as Fountain Court, Keating and 39 Essex where, over time, the sets have positioned themselves as market leaders in specific practice areas by providing first-class clerking services alongside excellent advocacy. The results are two-fold; first, clients know what they will receive in terms of service when instructing members from those sets; and, second, the sets can command a premium while retaining loyalty. Furthermore, the strong core brand enables sets to expand their marketshare by either offering services for additional practice areas or by expanding their practices overseas, or indeed, in the case of the Magic Circle, it enables them to do both.
Family branding: For sets this would be the practice areas. It involves using a secondary brand image and name for the specific practice areas. It leverages from the main corporate brand but then applies that to the relevant sectors. It enables those sectors to carry specific messages that will resonate with potential clients, and so it needs to be applied with care, particularly if you are considering cross-selling additional services at a later date. In short, it
enables sets to leverage their core brand to promote lesser-known
services or practice areas, building awareness of those practice areas
and enabling the cross-selling of services.
It’s important, when using family brands long term, to maintain a balanced portfolio. This is difficult given the impact that socio-economic drivers may have on a set and on their ability to provide relevant services to the desired standard. Often one practice area suffers at the expense of another. It’s therefore key to be aware of the potential for imbalance and to formulate a rebalancing strategy for when normal market conditions resume.
This is also true when expanding overseas. When planning your strategy you’ll need to take into account what the short-term market needs are and how you will meet them as well as anticipating the medium and long-term market requirements so you can offer complementary services as a means to introducing your complete portfolio. Entering an overseas market with an established dominant brand will get you a foot in the door, but it will be the balanced portfolio of family brands that enable you to stay there.
Individual branding: in the consumer market this is the level of branding we are most familiar with; Kit Kat, Coca-Cola etc. In law, it relates to the individual barrister who has excelled in a particular field of expertise. This is one of the reasons that directory rankings are hugely important as they provide an independent view of who is the best in any given area. Thus utilising a strong set brand and adding to that a strong individual brand will yield better results (and more instructions) than not combining the two.
Using a mixture of the three branding approaches enables you to promote your set’s services to individuals and companies simultaneously to best effect.
Understanding your brand Identifying what your brand stands for can be a complex business. What are the set’s values? What kind of image is best associated with those words? What colours will provide an accurate reflection of your strengths and markets (for example, blue represents calm, green environmental, orange communication)? It’s no wonder that companies often turn to brand agencies to help them with this. However, if you don’t have that kind of money, you can do it yourself, just be warned it takes a lot of time
You’ll need to understand what your brand position is at the moment. You’ll need to do this by surveying the market – what do your current, former and prospective clients think about your business? Why do they instruct you and how do you compare with the competition? What key words do they associate with their experiences? From here you should be able to pull common threads and develop those into a more cohesive branding value statement. From that you can look at symbols and colours associated with those words and phrases, as well as any logo you may already have – there’s no point in throwing everything away just to be trendy.
It’s vital for merging organisations to truly evaluate their respective brands with a view to highlighting the strongest elements and also any weak or ailing brands. Sometimes you need to act with brutal calculation to dispense with toxic brands in favour of building a brighter future. If a brand is truly toxic speed is of the essence; the faster you can dispense with a failed brand, the faster you can rebuild and move on. These decisions, while correct, rarely sit well with members who built the original brand. Thus diplomacy is required alongside a multi-step process for diminishing the ailing brand in favour of the stronger one.
Once you have your brand statements, your logo and your colour board (be aware that logos will need to be printed in many formats – therefore you
will need full colour, black and white and reduced colour or single pallet variants capable of being reproduced in all sizes) you’re ready to start communicating your brand. You may be tempted into a ‘strap line’ such as ‘Good with…’ in the case of the Co-op. However, you must consider all the scenarios in which this line may be used. Clearly they were on to something with food and banking but it all went a bit pear-shaped when it came to the funeral services. You also need to consider translating any strap lines into other languages for international markets or clients. Again, you really need to be careful here. The Pepsi slogan ‘Come alive with the Pepsi Generation’ suffered somewhat in translation in Taiwan as it became ‘Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead’.
Communicating a brand
Now you have your brand and image propositions sorted, you will need to communicate your brand. You will need to issue everyone with brand guidelines, so they know exactly what is expected of them and the messages they need to communicate. Brand communications include website, social media, email, documentation, presentation materials, and telephone messages to name but a few.
There is no underestimating the power of brands and the damage that people can inadvertently do to them. The whole set must understand the brand and the reasoning behind it as well as understanding the values and buy into them fully. They must understand that the business is built on the brand and the benefits the brand will deliver for them. If they don’t it will fail.