Law Firms and Branding – Too little, too late?

30 Sep 2015

For well over a decade market experts have debated the future of branding and its role in the market place. Many would argue that in an age where technology and social media is available at our fingertips, branding is facing its demise and the digital era has made traditional branding irrelevant.

Although firms have focused on developing brands to elevate themselves in a more competitive market, law firms and the legal sector are only just beginning to understand branding as a marketing mindset. But is it too little, too late?

Recent studies have shown a change in peoples perceptions and opinions of brands and their effectiveness.

Harvard Business Review collected data from over 6,000 mergers and acquisitions worldwide between 2003 and 2013. They found that the value given to branding had nearly halved (from 18% to 10% of total enterprise value) in stark contrast to the value attributed to repeat customers (which increased from 9% to18% of total enterprise value).

In the past, marketing strategies have focused on growing brands through management and internalisation but the new figures seem to suggest that in todays this is the wrong focus to have..

It is clear that there has been a significant shift in focus from businesses with strong brands to those that offer strong customer relationships and all the loyalty and cross selling benefits that come with it.

But does this mean that law firms should just abandon their branding strategies?

There are two schools of thought.

Focus on Branding

Some experts have suggested that, in fact, the introduction of digital technologies to the market place has only increased the importance of branding as a way of elevating the firms market standing in an era of information technology over kill.

DLA Pipers Global Board Chairman, Frank Burch, recently defined branding for law firms as “The place you occupy in the consciousness of your constituents” and since the introduction of Alternative Business Structures in 2007, the need to stand out from a market occupied by well known household names such as Tesco Law became all the more significant. 77% of professional service firms now place branding, marketing and sales at the top of their agenda as a means to tackle and achieve market positioning. Now many law firms are moving away from their decade old, classic mantra of technical expertise and sector knowledge and undergoing major re-branding, with significant success.

In an attempt to stand out from the crowd, law firm Taylor Vinters launched their new services website to the online community earlier last year, complete with their newly branded slogan “Lawyers who think like you”. The Firm underwent a complete re-brand, focusing on the firms 3 types of client and since its launch sales through the website have risen 75%, and in turn reducing sales for some firms occupying the same market space by as much as 25%. This only goes to show that where law firms and legal sector services are concerned, customers still have value for brands that are strong but what constitutes a strong brand is now more dependant on the customers direct experience with an offering and the firm that produces it.

The real art of brand management for law firms will be the integration of the concepts of customer relationship with strong branding and internal processes and systems to walk the talk that their brands promise. These strategies are also encouraged to encompass the world of digital tech and social media effectively so that law firms can counter act the biggest threat to branding demise and play a successful hand in the branding game.

Focus on Building Relationships

The problem with the branding route is that the structure of law firms, especially large firms, makes it very difficult for them to “walk the walk”. They struggle to live and deliver on the value and beliefs they espouse.
On the other hand it is very achievable for law firms of any size to focus on and succeed in building strong customer relationships and building recurring income streams. The HBR survey suggests that relationships are the way forward if you want to increase the value of your business.

By Jepson Holt Consultant,

Bethany Nixon