Many misunderstand what brand is. None more so perhaps than lawyers?

Here, Neil Quantick gives his view on how it is misunderstood, and the simplicity of good and effective brand communication.

Basics

Put simply, brand is the personality of a product or service. Every product, service, and business has one. It’s not something that marketing consultants create through logos and web sites. Brand exists already, long before the marketing consultants arrive.

Yes, you can do things to try to manipulate the view of the brand, but the truth will always out! And for me, good branding starts with the service we provide – that’s what it’s really about.  It’s about the team that make up a law firm understanding what the business stands for, and delivering it!

Shocking

If I had any doubt that (many) lawyers don’t understand brand, my suspicions were confirmed one Friday evening at a works drinks doo. I was at a large ‘regional firm’ (whatever that means). At the time, I was involved on the wrong side (depending on your point of view!) of an ongoing debate about where we should locate offices for private client services. My view was that unless the services on offer were specialist (and they weren’t on the whole), then we needed to sell those mainstream offerings at the hearts of the communities we wanted to serve. The partnership had been told that that young (I was in those days) fool in the private client department had it all wrong. They were told that having a high street presence would ‘damage brand’. Curious. For me, it was selling stuff where people wanted to consume it. It was selling ice creams in a park full of kids on a warm day!

So, the lukewarm Friday night drinks were flowing(ish), and the ongoing debate raged. I was advocating my point of view with an equity partner from the litigation team. I had it all wrong he told me. I needed to toe the line, and not doing so would do my career prospects no good (ooooooo!). And, I should come to terms with the fact that my proposed plan was nonsense anyway, and it would damage the firm’s brand.

Damage brand?! It was clear that my opponent for that evening didn’t have a clue what brand was. So, I dared to ask one simple question – “what is our brand, and how will it be damaged”? I feel sure my tale of that evening has become a bit of a fishing tale for me! But, this is how I recall the response. Firstly, there was silence, but with eyes that clearly knew the lie had been spotted. Next, fidgeting. After what seemed like a lifetime, and a crescendo of spluttering, something along the lines of “well it’s high net worth clients isn’t it” was the response! I didn’t get anything beyond that, and certainly not an explanation of why that firm’s brand would be damaged. Understanding the brand to be a target market shocked me.

Clothes

So let’s get back to the science of what brand is. Some seem to believe that brand is something that marketing consultants create for us with logos and stuff. No. That’s just the clothes that we dress the real personality in. And that’s where I think the most damaging misunderstanding of brand lays. Lawyers provide a service, and real brand is about that service. It’s about how every member of the team behaves every minute of every working day.

If you have team members that are rude, then part of your brand is that the business is rude. If you have team members sending out communications littered with errors, then part of your brand is that you are sloppy. Fail to deal with things in a timely fashion, and efficiently, and part of your personality is that you’re slow. Etc, etc, etc.

Manipulation

That’s not to say you can’t try to manipulate people’s perception of your personality, or brand. And that’s actually where the graphic designers and marketing consultants come in. But, I think all too often they give the firm’s a ‘set of clothes’ that really don’t represent the businesses’ true values. The key in my view is to understand that you are creating and reinforcing your brand every minute of every day. Understand your brand, and make sure it influences your working day. Are you really as different as you say you are on your website. Are you really ‘leading clients to success every step of the way’ (I question the value of straplines)?

Done well, brand communication plays a terribly important part in giving people a reason to choose a particular product over others. Trouble is, and edgy as I know this is, I reckon the reality underneath the sea of navy blue legal logos, lays a mediocre service that is just churning out things the way its always been done. I fear there is no connection between the apparent brand values presented by the clever designers and the fancy clothes they dress us in (logos/websites/straplines), and the real brand values that are communicated so much more powerfully in the working day by those that provide that real brand – us and our teammates.

The truth will out…

For years, Peugeot cars used a strapline as part of their branding – “Peugeot, the drive of your life”. The trouble was, it wasn’t. In contrast, firms like VW, BMW, and Mercedes reinforced through various means their true brand values of quality, dependability, and so on. Those genuine brand values were lived out in each and every part of the business every single minute of every day. Their marketing spin played a part, but only a part. Peugeot was never going to be the drive of your life, and the consumer knew that.

You can’t dress a wolf in sheep’s clothing right? Right, and wrong. You can, but underneath it’s always a wolf. At some point, we’ll see the wolf’s teeth, however well done the sheep’s outfit is…….