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Back to basics: How healthy is your law firm brand?

brandBranding is a commonly maligned concept in the legal world, too often associated with low-quality advertising and a move away from focusing on client service. But branding and practice are not mutually exclusive; they can and should work to support each other.

No, a snazzy logo alone will not bring in more business. But your brand is much more than just a logo or a tagline; branding and marketing are not the same thing. Your brand is the sum of everything you do. It is the overall image that comes to mind when others think of your firm. Your brand must convey a sense of your firm's culture and personality while also reinforcing the benefit you provide to your ideal client. Your brand is a promise. And it must set you apart in a meaningful way from other attorneys in your area.

What is the state of your firm's brand? Could it use a little TLC? Here are some things to consider when evaluating your efforts and building a stronger brand:

Your brand exists. You may not have planed it or made a focused effort to shape people's ideas about your firm, but your brand is out there nonetheless. When people think of your firm, an idea comes to mind. They associate you with something – maybe even several different things (not ideal). This portrait may be in line with your firm's character and the advantage you offer clients, or it may not. If you relinquish control of your brand to the market, you give your competitors the chance to define you. You can choose between building your own value proposition and allowing others to create that characterization for you.

Taking control of your brand starts with research. Guessing what the market wants is a waste of time and money. You should already have some type of feedback system in place that you can tap into, and if you do not, now is a good time to set something up.

Get feedback from clients: Do informal surveys of your clients. How did they hear about you? What was important to them when they were searching for an attorney?

Study your competitors: A good brand will communicate an obvious choice between you and your competitors. It will help prospects understand how you are different and why that is advantageous to them. This requires knowledge of what the competition is doing, what other firms are doing well and what they may be doing poorly. Go beyond trying to do the same thing better; do something authentic.

Perform surveys or focus groups from your community: Survey as many non-clients as you can, asking pointed questions about what they look for when hiring an attorney. In addition, ask about their perception of your firm (without identifying yourself) and about their perception of your competitors.

Brands must resonate with clients. Your firm's brand should appeal to the type of client you most want to attract. It is not about you in the strictest sense – your experience, your resume, your firm's features. Instead, your brand must focus on the benefits you offer. Put some real thought into your ideal client. Why would such a person want to hire your firm? What is in it for them? Building a loyal base of high-value clients can become a self-fulfilling brand reinforcement mechanism. It is likely these clients associate with others who also fit into your target market. They can provide irreplaceable, on-target word of mouth brand reinforcement that actually sends new prospects to your doors.

Your brand must permeate the whole firm. People will say they hire the lawyer not the firm, but that is not entirely true. A firm's reputation makes hiring an individual attorney less risky. A client may have a relationship with one attorney, but that client knows, perhaps subconsciously, that the firm provides a backup – a network and infrastructure that helps the attorney perform at his or her best. When you have distilled your message to direct, simple brand expression, give that statement to everyone in the firm. Explain how you developed it, why it works and why it is important for the whole firm to support it. Everyone has to be on board, not just attorneys. Everyone has to be conveying the same message.

Brands must be consistent. Changing your strategy frequently will impede results. Do not suffer from Perpetual Brand Updating Syndrome. Give your message time to sink in and your plan time to work. Consistency also saves money. When you have a brand statement and design process to back it up, you do not have to reinvent yourself every time you advertise, be it online, on the radio or in print. You will have a process and visuals in place from which to pull, making your efforts more efficient and effective.