A changing economy alongside enhanced competition from emerging legal business models mean well-established law firms need to step up to the plate when it comes to their brand strategy, writes Sue-Ella McDowall
As well-established "iconic" law firms reinvent themselves in order to remain competitive in a rapidly changing legal services sector, their brands also need to change to reflect the fundamental shifts in how they do business.
Brands that do not reflect the essence of their business and competitive advantage are destined to wallow in mediocrity - and, let's face it, this is not a great time to own a brand that doesn't stand out from the pack.
In addition to substantially reduced legal budgets from clients, emerging new business models are being pioneered by the likes of Advent Lawyers in Sydney and Balance Legal in Perth.
In addition to a new approach to practice, these brands have deliberately decided against the traditional nameplate approach and, as a result, are able to more effectively position themselves to clients as offering distinct, modern services.
The tremors in the legal industry are forcing many traditional firms into new ways of working and we are watching the whole industry reshape before our eyes.
As a result, if you manage a legal brand, you need to make sure that your brand values and presentation reflect your firm's changes and responses to the shift, so clients and staff don't end up confused by a split brand personality.
What you say and do internally - your culture and business model - MUST match what you are saying externally through your brand.
There are law firms that have re-engineered their brand particularly well in recent times. A great example is Blake Dawson, which has done a wonderful job at presenting a more approachable face to the business world, even using cartoons in branding materials. However, although the new brand treatment is far more approachable and flexible, it still has plenty of authority and credibility. This is a great example of an evolving icon brand.
Never has there been a more pressing time for firms - particularly the more well established firms - to re-engineer their brand to reflect their changing focus and business model.
Another good example of business model changes in the current environment is the predicament faced by firms with strong M&A practices, which, up until recently, were the big money-spinners.
These firms are necessarily shifting focus to emerging growth areas such as public private partnerships (PPP) and big infrastructure projects, corporate litigation and the like. However in almost all the cases we see, their brands are still firmly entrenched at the big end of town, in M&A territory.
To avoid brand disorder, when firms are changing business focus, they must evolve their branding to reflect that change. The days of tolerable inconsistency between brands and their offerings are well and truly over.
With a new model of communication and digital media delivering transparency for all, it is just too easy for clients to notice that a brand has missed the critical alignment between its culture, its practice and its brand projection. And when this happens, trust falls and brands begin to struggle.
A classic case of brand disorder from outside the legal field is the confusing messages sent to the world by General Motors as it simultaneously built large SUV car models while claiming to be holding a pioneering position in green vehicle technology. And, locally, the wine brand Rosemount decided to package its product into the icon of cheap wine - the cask - while simultaneously trying to appeal to customers as a premium brand.
People notice these inconsistencies, whether they are buying consumer goods, motor vehicles or legal services ... and brand disorder makes them think twice about doing business with you.
To make sure your legal brand shines as a beacon of consistency in these foggy times, you need to know what exactly your brand stands for and where your business is heading.
If you can align your culture, practice and brand, you will have a far greater chance of standing out from the pack and building your billings.
Sue-Ella McDowall is the founder and managing director of branding agency, McDowall
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