I was recently asked by a law firm to advise on a new legal service for small businesses.
One point for discussion was branding. Should it be something new, different and catchy? A brand-new brand dedicated to its target audience?
There can be good reasons to create a new service under a distinct brand. Reasons might include wiping the slate clean in order to hide an old brand’s poor reputation. Or, perhaps the main brand is relatively unknown and has no cachet. In the probate sector, ITC / Chorus rebranded recently to Simplify.
However, I think law firms and other legal service providers are often too quick to give new services a whole new brand. Here are six reasons.
1. The value of the existing brand is lost.
It’s thought that 8 out of 10 businesses fail in the first 18 months. There are many reasons, and they’re different for each business. But the fact is – it’s incredibly hard to establish a new brand.
Legal365, founded by Ajaz Ahmed, in conjunction with Leeds-based firm Last Cawthra Feather (LCF), was a new brand that tried, amid great fanfare. It never took off. Would it have been better to leverage the reputation of LCF, an established Yorkshire law firm?
The ‘solicitor brand’ is still very strong. There’s a consumer reflex towards solicitors that should yet last for some time. Plenty of law firms have been around for dozens or years, many over 100, and have built a name for themselves. Yet many are quick to ignore the established brand and jump to something new.
2. Consistent brand values are harder to achieve (and that means the lawyers will have to be on board).
Consistency is paramount for any brand: from the website, through to emails, phone calls and personal service.
With two of more brands (say, an existing law firm and a new brand from the same law firm targeted on a particular niche), it is hard to achieve consistency. Most likely, services from both brands will be fulfilled by the same lawyers — they will need to juggle two ‘hats’, two sets of brand guidelines and, in short, two distinct approaches.
The lawyers will therefore need to be totally committed to the project, and that means training. If the new service is focusing on cheaper, commoditised services, the lawyers must know when and how it should be promoted, and not be tempted to push it so far behind bespoke services that nothing ever gets sold.
3. Web traffic.
Many new brands established by law firms are web-based, but it is terrifically difficult to create an Internet brand from scratch. It’s a myth that Google favours old, established websites, but it is certainly true that websites need a decent bank of regular, relevant, quality content to do well – or a high pay-per-click ad budget, possibly into the thousands of pounds per month, and perhaps an SEO agency to manage, write and promote.
To start a web-based brand from scratch, time, content, perseverance and money are required.
4. It’s hard to come up with a great brand.
In the probate sector, a relatively new brand appears to have been thought up on the back of a napkin on a wet Monday afternoon (sorry, no names).
I’ve never been a fan of the name ‘Quality Solicitors’, and the group admits it has made mistakes with its TV campaigns.
Coming up with a new, relevant brand is tough.
5. Can law firms predict the future?
The aim of a new service is to be cutting edge, presumably. But, with experimental services, how confident is the law firm that it has a handle on the medium-term direction of the new enterprise? And if the initial assumptions prove to be incorrect (see Brilliant Law and Legal 365), is that fancy new brand that was launched two years before still relevant?
A brand can become out of date quickly. For a new service, law firms should consider incubating it under the current, established name – if it proves successful, and the model is clear, perhaps then it is time to spin it out into something different.
A simple, yet important point, is that, if a law firm is going to invest in a new brand lock-stock-and-barrel, it will need to stump up the cash for a website, logo and other brand assets, brand guidelines, stationary, business cards, letter-heads, web content, marketing material, etc etc. It’s cheaper to stick with the current brand!
7. The will to persevere?
A new brand’s only chance for success is to persevere for long haul. Is there the will within the law firm to see it through the tough times?
I don’t suggest that law firms should never create a new brand. Access-Legal from Shoosmiths is one service spun out from a law firm that does appear to have achieved what it set out to achieve, perhaps in small part because is it presented very much as part of Shoosmiths and shares the firm’s brand guidelines.
However, creating a new service is tough, and law firms can be too quick to disregard the value of their well-established brands.