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The Big Law Firm Branding Problem (4 of them, actually)

The Big Law Firm Branding Problem (4 of them, actually) 4

Law firm branding has become a more important issue for law firms in a post-recession environment.  But according to one branding agency, law firm branding is in regression.

Why?

Because for some reason brand awareness and related issues are dropping along with the quality and quantity of law firm branding.

Greenfield Belser decided to poll law firm CEOs and CMOs, along with a number of accounting and consulting firms, to see what the problem was.  So what were the major four findings they found from their survey?

1. Brand Health. We asked how important is brand to the success of your firm, how helpful is your brand in achieving that success, and is your brand understood by key audiences?

  • 95% of CMOs and 92% of CEOs/managing partners believe their brand is moderately or extremely important to success
  • But only 26% find their brand “very helpful”
  • On understanding, only 21% replied that their brands were well or perfectly understood by prospects.

The takeaway? Yikes! How can something perceived to be so important yield such poor scores in helpfulness and understanding? In live presentations of these findings, some of our CMO friends suggest that the answer lies in the degree of difficulty of executing branding efforts properly in any professional services firm.

One respondent shared this comment, “These days if you wish to undertake any sort of brand exercise, it must be titled ‘Strategic Positioning Initiative’ to avoid the factious response that sometimes arrives as talk turns to brand.”

Whatever you call it, our view is that pioneering brand efforts among professional service firms have given way to safer, less expensive efforts that suffer from unoriginality and are easy to ignore. Conventional wisdom suggests that in times of recession it’s better to tighten the belt and cut marketing and branding expenditures to focus on sales. However, when firms stop investing in the brand and marketing, they have fewer opportunities to sell. Healthy firms require strong commitment to both brand/marketing and business development—they go hand in hand.

2. Brand Distinction. Is your brand promise—the value proposition—unique? Is your brand expression (look, feel and voice) unique? Do you consider your brand to be innovative?

  • Only 20%say their brands are “very” or “extremely innovative.”
  • 66% respond that their promise of value is “marginally” or “moderately unique.”
  • 54% say their brand identity or expression is “marginally” or “moderately unique.”

The takeaway? Unicorns and innovative brands are as rare as hens’ teeth. Again, responding CMOs and CEOs believe brands are important to success but say uniqueness is hard to come by in the professional services space. Perhaps this relates to the fact that lawyers and law firms typically follow precedent (and one another). Meanwhile, marketers toil in the business of  awareness building and differentiation.

That’s the rub. The most innovative firms and best marketers have the courage to take risks, break with convention, and inspire interest in the brand among their audience.

3. Brand Quality. How do you rate the quality of your firm’s brand communication tools (things like websites, advertising, content marketing, etc.)?

On a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) CEOs and CMOs graded their own efforts:

  • they gave websites a mean rating of 3.6 on the five point scale
  • core identity (logo and such) scored 3.5
  •  proposal and pitch materials were 3.5
  • videos, 3.1
  • thought leadership and content marketing, 2.8
  • advertising, 2.8
  • social media, 2.5

The takeaway?

On average, brand communications quality is, well, average. Given the Type-A personalities in leading professional services firms—those accustomed to performing at the head of their class and fields—the low scores might be hard to figure. But the effect of the economy sheds light on the tough grading.

During the great recession, we saw marketing attention focused heavily on business development. And why wouldn’t we? During that time, sales were hard to come by as firms hunkered down among bleak predictions. We saw marketing communication investment devalued and more do-it-yourself branding within firms. Yes, that led to savings, but at what cost to quality, awareness, memorability and preference for firms?

Previous research shows that professional services firm clients and prospects have preconceived and immediate feelings about the quality of a firm solely based on the quality of brand communications. This, in turn, can have a noticeable impact on opportunities and on revenue.

See: National Law Journal

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