Law Firm Marketing Directors: Gain a competitive advantage through the power of ‘why’
Law firms looking to gain a competitive advantage in a market saturated with identical messaging, need to look beyond ‘what’ they do and begin with the ‘why’.
Over the years we’ve provided marketing and branding services to 38 law firms, eighteen of which are in the top 100. Including Allen & Overy, Slater & Gordon, Clyde & Co, Ashfords, and Browne Jacobson. That’s why we’re no strangers to the challenges of the legal sector.
Challenges like: clients being more loyal to your fee earners than your brand; clients using other legal firms for services you also offer; being pigeon-holed into only one kind of service; difficulty attracting new talent; and struggling to control the perception of your brand.
Ian Hunter is a Business Director here at krow Central with over 25 years’ experience working with law firms.
The solution to these problems and more, Ian believes, is ‘purpose’ marketing and branding. A purpose that starts at the top of your organisation and flows down, aligning every decision you make as a business and defining your brand. A brand that makes potential clients feel more than think. For Ian, this is where so many legal businesses fall flat.
Here Ian shares his knowledge on how law firms can stand out by having more purpose:
Branding is becoming increasingly crucial for law firms in 2023. Are you seeing a shift in thinking in how law firms approach it?
“Yes I am. We work with a talented new group of marketeers in the legal sector who are opening the eyes of their senior partners to what I call ‘purpose’ marketing.
“Three of them are at top 100 law firms, two of which are going through a rebrand and another who is talking to us about taking that step – in order to drive profitable growth through other areas of their legal business.
“Of course, there are different strategies driving their decision to rebrand, or contemplate a rebrand, but the models I’m seeing employed and the narratives developed are very much orientated towards the ‘why’.”
How are law firms approaching branding, and what mistakes are they making?”
Law firms are certainly waking up to the importance of a strong brand and good marketing, but my own view is that for many, it’s still too much about the ‘what we do’ and not the ‘why we do it’.
“Focusing on the ‘why’ shows your customers that you are more than your products or services. You have a purpose—and it’s bigger than just turning a profit. It’s a more emotional relationship between a brand and its consumer, and it helps differentiate you.
“To quote Simon Sinek: people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”
Branding is a crucial component in creating a competitive advantage and higher revenue. How can law firms capitalise on this?
“Anyone who works in branding and marketing understands the benefits a strong brand delivers. Outstanding businesses, like Apple and Coca Cola, view brand not just as an outward facing identity, but as a set of principles guiding the entire business.
“Principles built on culture, consistency, and market advantage. For Apple, that’s ‘to make the best products that enrich peoples’ lives’; for Coca Cola, it’s ‘to refresh the world and make a difference’.
“This works because customers make decisions on what they feel rather than think about a brand. A brand purpose gives them something to connect with emotionally.
“Marketing leaders who get this right will see their firms rewarded with: Increased awareness and recognition in the market; more chances to pitch; Improved loyalty and retention (crucial in the current market); A greater attraction to new talent; More partners who want to work with you; And better returns, from creating a competitive advantage and profitable growth.”
If ‘purpose’ marketing is the answer, how does a law firm go about shifting their way of thinking towards it?
“You definitely need everyone on board front the start, especially when the brand focus is purpose driven. Let’s not forget that a firm’s brand strategy and business strategy are inseparable – so it’s a big decision.
“Often, it’s about supporting the marketing director – another voice saying the same thing, in order to help the senior partners and wider teams understand the ‘why’ behind the ‘why if you like. So they feel valued and an integral part of the journey.
“This isn’t a marketing tactic, neither is it a short fix. A purpose-driven brand approach needs investment to be embedded within the framework of a firm. Clients need to see brands committing to their purpose, not just carrying out a one-off stunt.
“It’s about getting under the skin of the brand and putting your clients first. Digging deep into your clients’ needs and wants; your firms’ values, beliefs, culture, and history. What sets you apart in the market, and what’s missing? What opportunity is there to fulfil a need in that market?
“All of this will help define how the brand needs to be positioned in order to deliver on its business goals. And it has to be authentic – a firm can’t pretend to be something it’s not. Clients will soon see through this.”
How do law firms tackle the challenge of offering so many legal services and products – often to both the B2C and B2B markets?
“Your goal should be to tightly define your audience so that you can capture a large chunk of their business. Why shouldn’t a high net worth client use a law firm for personal legal services when they already use them for company commercial or vice-versa?
“This is where a purpose built brand comes into its own. The focus is on ‘why you exist’ and creates a value beyond the legal service itself. It represents everything about a brand, and communicates an ethos that goes deeper than just a service offering. From a client’s perspective, your ability to do the work brilliantly should be a given.
“I know of many law firms who see clients using other firms for different legal services. And when they ask them why, it comes down to a perception that someone else does it better.
“Whether that’s true or not, when the decision is based on perception and not reality, it can certainly be influenced by how a brand positions itself and communicates.
“As part of Krow Group, we have extensive experience in both the B2B and B2C sectors, and many of our clients deal with both. Clients like Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Aviva buses, and Boehringer Ingelheim.
“Often we find that the servicing of one helps inform the other, and having a deep understanding of both puts us on the front foot for truly understanding our clients.”
Can you give us a specific example of a firm that is known for a particular service, and how you might help them diversify?
“The majority of law firms are known for one particular service or another; the problem is that when their brand perception becomes tied to that service, it can be hard to break away.
“We were talking with a firm recently who has a strong reputation for one type of delivery –they are very well known for working in the personal injury marketplaces. Their focus, and probably over half their revenue, comes from high-value personal injury.
“The problem they face, is that when trying to break into larger corporate marketplaces, or work with high net-worth individuals, they lose out to more specialist firms who are known for working in those areas.
“It all comes down to that perception – their brand has become tied to a particular service. By helping them move away from service-led marketing, to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of what they do, they can start to build multiple portfolios with multiple services, all under that one brand purpose.”
What are the benefits of ‘purpose’ marketing over a brand built around a law firm’s fee earners?
“Law firms have traditionally never been seen as one brand, but a series of individual brands made up of fee earners. This creates a ‘me’ mindset – meaning emotional equity is built around the individual and not the brand. The knock-on effect of this is that when the fee earner leaves, so do clients.
“By delivering a proposition that revolves around the brand and not the fee earner, clients are far more likely to buy into the firm and not just the individual or teams servicing their account.
“It also encourages cross-selling from fee earner to fee earner, and helps clients buy into other legal services more easily, as there is consistency in the proposition across the board.”
How does a purpose-driven brand attract the best talent? And what are the benefits of this for the firm?
“It’s important that good brands recruit people that fit the mindset of the organisation. A strong brand will not just recruit based on talent – they’ll only recruit individuals who fit the brand.
“It’s a vital cog to building a consistent and credible product for clients, and a workplace that attracts and retains the best talent. After all that, if new hires do eventually leave, their clients will be more inclined to stay.”
Do you wish you could control of the perception of your firm? Is your brand too tied to a particular service, or individual fee earners who work for you?
Get in touch with Ian, we’d be delighted to help.