This article first appeared in the January 2012 edition of Law Journal Newsletters: Marketing the Law Firm

Most, if not all, law firms have a professional presence online these days, so that is no longer a key differentiator — but what they do with these websites is. Smart firms are moving away from static text-only websites that look just like their competitors’ websites and are rarely, if ever, updated with fresh content. And they’re doing something else, too: focusing on branding.

Even the most marketing-adverse partner will find it hard to deny that having (or not having) a professional visual identity matters. And, if your law firm functions in the technology or IP space and it isn’t taking its own brand equity seriously, what message is that sending potential clients?

Your logo is essential to this effort. If your logo is not changing with the times, your clients will notice, if they haven’t already. And, when they do, your law firm’s claims of providing ‘innovative’ representation will be met with disbelief.

"How innovative can this law firm’s representation of my company be," clients will wonder, "if they aren’t innovating for their own firm?" Further: "And, if this law firm doesn’t ‘get’ the online landscape, it cannot possibly understand my Web-based concerns, nor do I have faith in their ability to look ahead and help me strategize for my company’s future."

These assumptions about your firm may not be true, but perception is reality. Today, we are bombarded with the fresh, the new, the shiny, the three-dimensional, the interactive — let’s call it the "Internet effect." We’re all challenged every day with so much visual noise, it’s important to make a statement that breaks through the clutter. And, remember, attempting to manage or minimize the negative impression an outdated logo will make ultimately takes more time than updating it would.

Are You Overdue?

  • So, how do you know if your firm is due (or overdue!) for branding? Watch for the following telltale signs that it’s time to rethink the face of your law firm:
  • Your logo lists too many names. It should be short and easy to remember.
  • Your logo doesn’t fit within the changing world around it. An outdated logo says you are behind the times.
  • You need to explain what the logo means. A logo is the firm’s main point of reference; be sure it speaks for the firm and its services as simply and directly as possible.
  • The logo doesn’t hold up compared with those of your clients. Think of your clients and the industries your firm supports — does your logo speak to them?
  • Your firm has recently undergone significant change (merger, growth, reorganization, shift in focus). You’re likely in need of a corresponding rebrand.

Creating a Presence
Constructing images and messages that will not only resonate with your clients and prospects, but will also set you apart in the marketplace, is key to conquering the "Internet effect," but it’s only step one. Many firms are not only rebranding — they’re also creating a dynamic and interactive presence online to communicate their brands to potential clients. And here’s how they’re doing it:

Blogging
When covering interesting and relevant topics and using search engine optimization keywords, blogs have the potential to attract lots of online traffic. Leveraging blog posts in your social media accounts further establishes your standing as a thought leader by literally showing what you know. Best blogging practices include:

  • Determining what your specific niche will be and staying true to it. Create posts that link to reputable sources that can either support or expand upon your opinion. Do not use more than two links per post or it becomes cumbersome and feels like homework.
  • Figuring out a consistent posting schedule and sticking to it. Readers like to know when to come back, so choose a day (and preferably a time of day as well) to post your blog.

Video
News outlets love the new video media because they turn every person who has a video device into a roving reporter, allowing them to capture everything from fun, quirky, behind-the-scenes news stories to video blogs (vlogs) from senior leaders. And, if you’re in public relations, well, the fun is just beginning because the benefits there are even greater! The new videos are extremely cost-effective, a snap to produce and distribute, and highly "leverageable." Here are a few possible uses to get you started:

  • Bypass the media and take your news directly to your audiences.
  • Post news items that can easily be distributed and downloaded by bloggers and/or mainstream reporters (further driving traffic back to your website).
  • Distribute images and videos quickly and for free … and around the world.
  • Practice on-screen interviews and play them back for quick critiques.
  • Create screen tests for senior leaders to select and train your best spokespeople.
  • Post video quotes in your online newsroom or your press releases.
  • Be prepared to capture breaking news, making sure that all employees have the hardware necessary to always be ready to "film."
  • Send video clips along with press releases and pitches, to increase chances of securing coverage.
  • Develop relationships with grateful editors and reporters functioning in thinly staffed newsrooms and eager for video-rich content.
  • Leverage your attorney video content across numerous and growing social media sites.
  • Post video quotes to your online newsroom and in other appropriate spots on your website.
  • Post video case studies or testimonials from satisfied clients on your website.
  • Create educational and training pieces.
  • Post internal announcements that people will actually pay attention to.
  • Increase and improve your recruiting outreach.

Social Media
Participating on social media platforms, like LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter, makes sense from an "I want folks to find me" standpoint. With everyone having less free time to find/schedule appointments or buy/sell anything, participation in social networks continues to increase. The target audience of tomorrow will eventually find/interact with you and, most importantly, retain you thanks to social networking. It is word-of-mouth, evolved and amplified.

Having a strong brand is essential, and marketing it to your target audience matters more than ever right now. Your clients have more competitive choices and are more discriminating about their selections. You can’t afford not to be seen and heard. And, when you are seen and heard, when your target audience is directed back to your website for more information, you have to stand out because there are just too many firms offering exactly the same services.

Other firms are cutting back on their marketing efforts, but the smart, marketing-savvy firms are using this opportunity to become more aggressive. Getting your law firm’s branding in place and leveraging it not only in your print pieces, but online, will help your firm snatch market share from your rivals.

And, finally, remember that your brand should be consistent regardless of the medium. Put the thinking behind your brand in writing, creating a policy that speaks to your firm’s positioning statement and how to leverage "who you are" in all pieces — from online engagement to print pieces, ads and press releases. Consistency and long-term thinking is the key. Those who don’t continue to promote their brand during this rough patch may find that their brand and services are worth a lot less when the environment improves. So, plan it out and pay for it now, or you may really pay for it in the future!