For decades, law firms went to market with stale messages that did little to create compelling impressions in the minds of their audiences, let alone lasting ones. To a large extent, they got away with it — relying on the strength of their bench, their personal relationships, and the knowledge that big companies had big budgets…
In professional services, people are the brand. If consultants, accountants and attorneys don’t walk, talk and think their firm’s brand, the brand may never amount to more than a catchy tagline or an attractive logo. But professionals are a tough audience to convert to brand ambassadors. They work long hours, often billing for their time, so every minute spent on brand building is a minute not spent on billable work. Many professionals believe that they are the brand — their relationships and reputation are more important than anything the firm may promote in its brand.
Given these challenges, how can a company ensure that the brand does its job in a professional services firm?
Our recent assignment for a large law firm illustrates how to make this happen. Lathrop Gage is a firm of more than 320 attorneys with a storied history and a growing national reputation. A series of mergers had propelled its growth into new regions and practice areas. As it continued to expand, it needed a brand to bring its people together and present a compelling and differentiated value proposition to clients.
Interviews with clients revealed that while they greatly appreciated the expert legal advice they received from Lathrop Gage, what they truly valued was how the firm’s attorneys looked beyond strictly legal issues to understand their industry, their competitive landscape, and their long-term goals and personal aspirations. Lathrop Gage attorneys are seen as unafraid to “roll up their sleeves” and really discover what makes their clients tick, and how the law can be a catalyst for growth, not a barrier to progress. This finding led to a brand based on the concept of “See Beyond” — beyond narrowly defined legal issues, beyond conventional wisdom, beyond the expected. A new visual brand, including a new identity, supported the brand strategy.
A national rollout plan ensured that everyone in the firm was introduced to the brand in a coordinated effort. Promotional items, brand templates and other brand tools were distributed to employees. Externally, personalized communications and print and digital ads connected clients and prospects to the new brand.
But the launch was really the beginning, not the end. Early in the brand development process, we recommended creating a brand council composed of senior partners and staff. The council was charged with overseeing brand development and implementation. As the launch date approached, the council nominated key partners and staff in each office and/or practice to serve as brand ambassadors who were charged with “evangelizing” the brand to their colleagues. We conducted “train-the-trainer” sessions with the brand ambassadors to show them how to help their fellow attorneys and staff understand how they can infuse the brand into their work.
The heart of the ongoing brand engagement program is storytelling. At the launch itself, four senior partners narrated cases studies about a client success that illustrated the “beyond” brand. This enabled everyone in the firm to understand that the brand wasn’t just an idea on a slide; it was a new way of thinking and communicating. Brand ambassadors conducted similar storytelling sessions in their offices and practices, challenging their colleagues to show how their work — with clients as well as with each other — exemplifies “beyond.”
Today, “beyond” storytelling has been infused into the firm’s culture. Internal meetings begin with attorneys and staff informally presenting case studies that illustrate how they “went beyond” for their clients to deliver an unexpected solution. Case studies are written with a standardized “beyond” rubric. Quarterly “Beyond Awards” are given to attorneys and staff across the firm who lived the brand in their work with clients and each other.
The brand engagement work continues — as it should. Every brand needs to grow and adapt with the evolution of the organization it represents. But the results to date have gone “beyond” expectations as the entire firm rallies behind an exciting new concept for inspiring performance and communicating its points of difference.