An amicus brief on branding for law firms

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You’re a partner at a law firm

You know the organization needs a stronger brand identity and a better marketing program to carry it forward. Relying strictly on referrals just isn’t cutting it.

But you have some problems. Nobody has time to focus on it because everyone’s taking care of clients. Maybe no one believes in it. And you don’t want to pay for an agency-led “branding process.”

The only thing tougher than getting attorneys to agree on anything is…well, actually, nothing is tougher than that. Not even getting cats to march in the Macy’s Day parade. But the individuality of lawyers doesn’t need to stand in the way of brand development for your firm.

If there are no objections, here’s a handful of 5 pointers

1. Don’t start with the logo. Evolving the firm’s logo may be long overdue, but it’s a patch, not a fix. Leave it alone until there’s consensus around the need for a clear brand, and what that identity really is. Then the logo will align.

2. Don’t get hung up on a slogan. Lawyers are very, very sensitive to language, and many will want to craft the firm’s message. We caution against it. There are some very strong law firm taglines out there but it’s important to know who you are before condensing it to marketing language. Insist on holding off on slogans until you know what attributes you want to represent.

3. Admit that every lawyer has his or her own “brand.” The widespread belief among lawyers is that clients hire an attorney, not a firm. So why build a brand around the entire practice? Answer: Because the well being of the whole is more important than the success of any single component – for recruitment, new business development, and industry reputation. To get over this hurdle, convince stakeholders that it’s possible to satisfy both objectives at once. Which brings us to…

4. Focus on content. In our experience, lawyers loathe fluff when it comes to marketing. So consider the following:

Start a blog. The content can be authored by different attorneys to showcase their expertise.

– Try a webinar. Build a presentation on trends, opinions, and fact-based legal experience. Record it and repurpose it as seminar content for businesses and B2B gatherings.

Do Q&A profiles with individual attorneys. A quick and easy way to create good content is to conduct interviews with attorneys and position the content on the firm’s website. This way, visitors can “hear” the attorney speak and get to know their style of communication and their way of thinking.

5. Think digital. A consumer survey done by FindLaw found that web-based searches for lawyers now outpace referrals from friends and colleagues, having increased from 7% to nearly 40% in the last 9 years. This is a recent development. A 2012 study still had direct referrals as the #1 way people searched for a lawyer or a law firm So consider:

Cultivate honest reviews from clients and request that they post them to primary lawyer review-and-rating sites such as avvo and martindale

Place geo-targeted banners on carefully selected websites rather than printing brochures and running ads in local papers.

Use LinkedIn. It’s a low-cost way of reaching people and without it you’ll seem small and irrelevant. So update your page and get clued in to best practices for law firms on LinkedIn.

In closing

Most law firms struggle with branding because they’re busy with clients (we get it), or there’s no one in charge of it, or there’s no decision-making tree. But you have to start somewhere. So contact us for a case study we think is a strong model for legal brand development.

Paging Dr. Brand

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Most doctors hate the idea of branding

It’s beneath them. It’s superficial. It’s unseemly. It’s “selling.” It’s for marketers who create false identities and promises around soda pop, potato chips, sneakers, and disposable razor blades.

You can’t tell physicians who think this way that they’re wrong, but they’re only partially right.

Branding is entering the health care arena faster than anyone might think, and doctors will not be immune to the market forces that influence consumer choice. So it’s a good idea for physicians to start managing their own brands like professionals.

Some building blocks of physician brand development

Define the source of new patients

Are you a referral-based practice, or will patients come from the general public? Knowing this will help shape the scope of your targeting, outreach, message, and content. A primary care physician will have a decidedly different brand identity than a specialist.

Identify your core value

Patients – like all consumers – want to believe that their choices are smart ones. So be clear about what you stand for, and try to pinpoint one central attribute. Maybe it’s speed. Or communication. The Mayo Clinic brand – although it’s an institution and not an individual – became powerful by a serious and relentless focus on the patient.

The value of NPR

NPR’s credibility among its listeners is pretty remarkable. That’s why it’s often a good place for doctors and physician group practices to begin marketing. The sponsorship announcement rules (no superlatives, no promotions, just information) suits doctors well, and the audience (upscale, educated, opinion-shapers) is valuable because they make educated buying decisions. And talk about them.

“Now accepting new patients”

It may sound like micro-copy, but this phrase can be very useful. It suggests that there may have been a waiting list before, but there are openings now. It keeps the prerogative in the doctor’s corner: He or she is doing the accepting, rather than the consumer making the choice.

The ratings game

A recent US News article said that 66% of Americans know about doctor-rating websites, such as Healthgrades.com and RateMDs.com, and act on the data they find there. Justly or unjustly, consumers rate doctors.

The issues for doctors: 1. A small number of patients contributing reviews will skew results. One or two bad reviews can look very bad – especially for doctors who practice in small communities. 2. Some doctors over-serve patients to earn positive ratings. 3. The inherent aversion to risk stops many doctors from putting content into online consumer channels.

How to play it

Regardless of these pitfalls, any physician serious about expanding their practice needs to participate in patient ratings.

A course of action: Have front-office staff encourage and enable patients to contribute reviews, so that there’s a healthy amount of opinion. Do it as part of the patient visit, so the experience is fresh. Direct patients away from Yelp and Angie’s List and steer them toward Healthgrades or, better yet, RateMDs.com, which has more than 1.3 million doctors reviewed. It’s a more credible environment than the consumer sites.

Yes, you need a website

It’s not enough to be on Linked In, Healthgrades, Yelp, and in the Yellow Pages. Get a site built. Keep it simple so it’s doable. Maybe it’s no more than a landing page with a well-crafted message, some basic information, and contact action. If your site is up, build it out with more patient-empowering content and functionality.

Get a quarterly marketing checkup

Don’t let marketing content grow old prematurely. Commit to refreshing profile information at least quarterly, more frequently if possible.

Stay tuned for more medical marketing advice from us. And if you need a consultation, contact us.

Think outside the mascot: 5 steps to better academic branding

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Back to school on academic branding

Private prep schools. Community colleges. Name-brand universities. International programs. Vocational and technical institutes. Academic organizations of all stripes are competing harder for business – and looking carefully at their branding practices.

Not just the logo or the ads. Not just the mascots and marching bands. Not the varsity team jerseys. More and more, schools are asking themselves a larger, more critical question: How do we brand the essence of who we are, i.e. our curriculum?

Recognizing the obstacles

Academic environments, generally, are not marketing environments. They are learning environments. So their marketing culture is usually not highly evolved – and is often handled by Admissions, an affiliated but separate discipline.

The other challenge is political. Academic organizations frequently must practice inclusion to secure buy-in at lots of levels and optimize the chances of success for any change in how the school operates. Big initiatives make big targets.

So it’s best to think long-term and include the correct stakeholders early and often.

5 baby steps toward curriculum brand development

Step #1: Step back. Waaaaay back. Look at your curriculum end to end and try to describe it in basic language. Example: A private school client wrestled with the task of how to describe its curriculum, which is evenly split between traditional liberal arts courses and highly creative electives. The course of action became about Balance. The Sorry-But-We- Can’t-Name-the-Client curriculum “strikes the perfect balance between classic studies and progressive, student-driven inquiry.”

Step 2. Consider culture as well as curricula. Sometimes it’s not what happens inside the classroom, but outside it. One private school client has an informal Peer to Peer counseling program that matches underclassmen with juniors and seniors, so there’s always a person to turn to for advice. This is not unique, but no one else has branded it, so an opportunity exists for a P2P initiative that underscores a supportive culture.

Step 3. Brand the faculty. No, we don’t mean that you should assign “superstar” status to any individual. Rather, think about the faculty as a team, which shares a common goal. Consider a faculty t-shirt day when every teacher wears the same shirt with the same message, like: I teach great students great things. It’s a small step toward creating the perception of a unified spirit and standard.

Step 4. Consider brand partners. The Learning Company is not a brick and mortar institution. But check out the alliances they’ve built with Smithsonian and National Geographic. Those associations command a lot of credibility for the courses offered. If you co-brand a course with a local university, 501C3, or other entity, you can begin to brand the curriculum from the inside out.

Step 5. For extra credit: Believe in the blog. The Darrow School, a private high school in New York, has a charismatic head of school who can blog.

We remind clients that blogging takes tradecraft and time and it shouldn’t be done by just anyone. But a blog program that features a rotating field of faculty experts, coaches, guests, alumnae, and other stakeholders can be interesting – and can feed social media channels and site content with fresh images and opinion.

Your turn. Give us a shout and we’ll be happy to buy you a beverage and talk in more detail about your school and its brand.