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We talk all the time on FindLaw's Strategist blog about branding and how it's important to you as a lawyer. Truthfully it is -- and you can, and should, use branding to differentiate yourself from other law firms.
Tossing around the word "brand" can be a little bit inside baseball, though. You all out there reading this in Internet Land are lawyers, not advertising executives. So just what is a brand, anyway?
Home on the Range
At its simplest, a "brand" identifies a particular product as different from other products of its type. As you might expect, the term comes from Ye Olde Times when a cattle rancher used hot iron brands to stamp an indelible mark on his cattle in order to distinguish his cattle from other ranchers' cattle. Every farmer had a unique design, so that when a cow inevitably wandered away (or if it were stolen), everyone would know whose cow it was.
Branding today is all about identifying yourself -- and your values. The sensory elements of your brand, like your logo, are shortcuts to the emotional or cognitive elements of your brand, which is really what gets clients in the door. When people see "The John Doe Law Firm" sign, they should think, "I've seen that sign. I've seen their commercials. I can trust them."
For example, the Apple brand not involves the identifying physical features of Apple products (the ubiquitous Apple logo, the glass-and-steel construction), but also their emotional features. What does an Apple product stand for?
Brands Make an Argument
Brands are most important in monopolistically competitive markets, where there are a large number of competitors selling differentiated products. You guessed it: The legal market is such a place, as are most markets where consumer services are being sold. These markets force you to make an argument to consumers about why they should purchase your product and not someone else's.
Your brand, therefore, has to make a convincing case why a potential client should pick your firm instead of, say, the firm down the street. Logos, letterhead, and business cards are great, but distinguishing your identity from everyone else's isn't the destination: It's a signpost that points to what your firm stands for, which is conveyed through your website, advertisements, testimonials, and so on. Successful branding requires making a list of everything good that you stand for, then conveying that list of good things to potential clients.
We're long past the days of Ye Olde Times, where "branding" just meant "identifying." Now, it's about attaching something meaningful to that identity so that the question "why should I hire you instead of someone else?" is self-explanatory.
If crafting your brand seems daunting, don't worry: That's why the folks at Lawyer Marketing are there. You do the lawyering. Let them handle the marketing.