“I don’t need brand building…I need more advertising.” I heard this comment recently from an attorney who we will call Steve for now, who at least was honest about what he thinks – and doesn’t know when it comes to marketing and advertising. Sadly, brand building is still one of the least understood aspects of attorney marketing – even though we see powerful brands every day controlling our lives because…
BRANDING IS EVERYWHERE WHETHER YOU KNOW IT OR NOT
Every wonder why Starbucks is able to overcharge millions of people each day for a simple cup of coffee? Or how about Apple’s iPhone and computers that are consistently priced way above alternative options? Or how about that Chanel bag that women so covet that is hard to distinguish from a quality knock-off at a fraction of the price? And what would Tiffany’s jewelry really be worth without the name Tiffany next to it?
All of these are the result of powerful brands which consumers will pay more for because they are aware of them, can easily recall them, and can assign value to them. In the end, branding is not complicated and really comes down to this simple truth! For example: If you were to walk into a meeting with a top client prospect, would you rather be carrying a coffee cup with a McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, or Starbucks logo on the cup? Nobody cares or knows what is inside the cup but they can easily assign value to the logo on it. This is why Starbucks has grown into a $25 Billion dollar a year company by largely selling something as innocuous as coffee.
WHAT ATTORNEYS CAN LEARN FROM BRANDS LIKE STARBUCKS
If you were to tell somebody back in 1970 that you wanted to build a new $25 billion business selling coffee to consumers you would have been laughed out of the room. Back then, most coffee was as fungible as a barrel of oil and could be bought for a small fraction of what people pay for it today at Starbucks. Prior to Starbucks, a major brand in the coffee market was Folgers – which most people were aware of and could easily recall.
So why then was Starbucks able to create such a dominant position? Because they provided higher competitive value…and their now famous logo (Brand) conveys this higher value everywhere it is seen. But it didn’t happen overnight and took decades worth of investment in their brand building to make this all happen since their founding in 1971.
What Starbucks did was help transform a largely commoditized product (coffee) with relatively indistinguishable brands like Folders, Maxwell House, Hills Bros. and the like into a high value “brand” that commanded higher prices and greater loyalty. In short, Starbucks built a brand in an industry full of commodities and as we know, people will “pay” more for a brand and “negotiate” the lowest price for commodities. What Starbucks also illustrated is there are only two types of businesses in any industry: brands (that command the highest prices) and commodities (that are bought based on the lowest cost).
Now ask yourself a simple question: with 1.2 million attorneys in the United States today, are you recognized as the Folgers or Starbucks of law to your ideal prospective clients? If they cannot tell you apart, then you have a brand problem and if you plan to still be in business five years from now, you can easily identify this problem by asking yourself the following three questions:
- Are your target clients already aware of you?
- Can your target clients recall your brand when they need your services?
- Can your target clients assign a higher competitive value to the services you provide?
If you answered “no” to any or all of these questions, you need more brand building because…
BRAND BUILDING IS INVESTING IN THE FUTURE OF YOUR BUSINESS
Many attorney’s like Steve would answer “no” to each of these questions because they are still stuck in the old-world of direct response advertising when consumer information was limited and the customer journey often began and ended with one simple ad in the phone book or on TV. Today, thanks to mobile devices and a constant bombardment of information that is too much for any one person to fully process, consumers no longer trust everything they see and more importantly, cannot distinguish one attorney (or brand) from another.
Attorneys like Steve want to continue to increase their “advertising” but all they are really doing is largely creating more noise in an already noisy consumer decision making process which leads to diminishing returns. If you are spending more advertising money like Steve and getting fewer results for each additional dollar spent, you too are likely suffering from the same problem. And the answer in better brand building.
The Challenge for attorneys like Steve is that the benefits of brand building are not immediately felt like direct response advertising – but rather an investment in more business, higher conversions, and higher asset value in the years ahead. Looking at an investment in brand building any other way is simply confusing apples for oranges. Remember, when you own a law firm, you only have two primary income streams: the income you gain from running your practice (operating income) and the income you could receive from selling your practice when you are done (asset value). Law firms with little/no brand value are commonly shut down while firms with strong brand value are maintained after the founder retires and/or are sold for a profit. Which position do you want to be in when you are ready to retire? Or better yet, care to guess what the senior partners at firms like Kirkland & Ellis, DLA Piper, The Cochran Firm, Jacoby & Meyers, and Baker McKenzie would have to say about this?
HOW TO GET STARTED WITH BRAND BUILDING
Most small businesses in the United States today spend around 10% of their annual gross revenues on marketing. If you are a transactional attorney, this percentage may be lower and for contingency attorneys, this number is commonly higher so for the sake of a starting point, 10% of your DESIRED revenues for this year ahead should be allocated to marketing and advertising. For example, let’s say your goal is to generate $500K in revenues this year which would mean that your marketing budget should be $50K ($500K x 10%) for this year. Now, how do you properly allocate this marketing spend?
When discussing marketing with clients, I will typically start with my marketing pyramid which shows marketing allocation based on four key levels: Visibility, Branding, Conversion, and Results. In the perfect world, most spending tends to be proportionate to the relative size of each level of the pyramid. Much like your marketing budget (10% of revenues), the best place to start when allocating that spend to branding is 30% of your overall marketing spend. In the example above, this would be $15K ($50K x 30%) and can be adjusted up or down relative to your goals and current brand equity position (if any). So, to make this easy, you can weigh each branding question based on the following percentages of spend:
10% – Are your target clients already aware of you?
10% – Can your target clients recall your brand when they need your product or services?
10% – Can your target clients assign a higher competitive value to the services you provide?
If you answered “No” to all of the questions above, then you would need to allocate 30% of your marketing budget to brand building, or $15K per year in this example. Now you need to know…
HOW AND WHERE TO BEST BUILD YOUR BRAND
There are a number of great and now affordable places to help build your brand as an attorney – thanks largely to digital and social. In order to best determine where and how to allocate your brand building, it is important to first ask yourself the following questions about your ideal clients in order to build a profile of who they are:
- Who are they (age, gender, income, vocation, interests, etc.)?
- Where are they located (states, cities, communities, zip codes, etc.)?
- Where do they spend most of their time (driving, social media, TV, radio, YouTube, etc.)?
- What are their interests and passions (sports, hobbies, etc.)?
- What other businesses (if any) currently advertise to and/or work closely with these same people and how do they successfully do it?
- Visual branding (logos, website, unique URL address, content / collateral, etc.). If you plan to build a transferable asset for your practice, make sure your website address (URL), name, and messaging are transferable as well.
- Your unique messaging. Create a brief story about the “why” of your brand that conveys a “promise” and is compelling to your ideal clients along with a mission statement and tag-line. Remember that cliché taglines such as “fighting hard for you” and “we care” are used on the legal version of Folgers cans and not Starbucks cups.
- Consistency. Make sure your brand and all its supporting elements are consistent in ALL customer-facing areas of your practice. What is heard, seen, and received once should be heard, seen, and received everywhere – over and over again. McDonalds has not sold over 300 Billion hamburgers because they are the best hamburger you can buy – they clearly aren’t. They sold this many because consumers “consistently” know what hamburgers to expect (i.e. the brand promise) when they visit any of McDonald’s 14,000 stores throughout the country.
- Trust. Brands that consumers find to be “authentic” and “trust” are also the brands that dominate their industries and command the highest prices. Brands like Amazon.com, Apple, Google, etc. command trust and loyalty and when it comes to legal, the best way to start generating trust is by providing the highest levels of customer service – starting from the first ring of your phone to your relationship with your clients after you work with them. Trust is built by keeping true to your brand promise, being honest with your clients, and good at what you do.
Finally, you now need to allocate your brand building budget to best match these questions and considerations above for your ideal clients. The most common channels and mediums for brand building today include:
- Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
- Attorney ratings and review companies (Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Yelp!, AVVO, etc.)
- Content Marketing: Video Marketing (Facebook & YouTube), Blogging (Text and Video)
- TV Advertising
- Radio Advertising
- Outdoor Advertising (Billboards, benches, buses, trains, etc.)
- Public Speaking / CLE’s
- Email Marketing
- Paid Search (by brand name)
- SEO – Fully and consistently optimize your NAP (Name, Address, Phone) across the web
- Online Reviews Solicitation & Management
NEED MORE HELP IN PUTTING THIS ALL TOGETHER FOR YOUR LAW FIRM?
If you need more help or direction, please contact me today to setup a time to discuss your needs and get your brand building off to a successful start!