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MAY 2014 - Sharon Berman
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Brand Equity and Marketing: What You Need To Know

by Sharon J. Berman

All savvy attorneys understand the central importance of marketing. Marketing provides a way to heighten visibility and establish credibility, capturing the attention of fellow attorneys as well as qualified prospects. In short, marketing is an essential component of any successful law career. But there is more to marketing than simply “getting the word out.”

One of the most important concepts in professional services marketing is known as “brand equity.” Brand equity involves the use of marketing tactics to create a strong and instantly identifiable professional brand that, once established, translates to greater revenue. Clients are more than willing to pay higher fees to work with “brand name” attorneys, and building equity allows you to “pre-sell” you and your firm. Not only do you want your prospects to think of you as the clear choice in your practice area, you also want them to understand – and accept – why you warrant a higher fee (or at least encounter less fee resistance) than other attorneys.

Branding is a hot topic among both lawyers and the marketing firms that serve them, with most understanding how beneficial it is to carve out a clear-cut identity or target a particular demographic. Yet all that is easier said than done, and in reality there are a limited number of firms that actually have the resources and the wherewithal to become household names. Many lawyers who were formerly with big firms have recently struck out on their own, forming boutique firms that offer clients a large-firm pedigree at small-firm rates; yet despite their experience, they are left with the uphill task of persuading prospective corporate clients that they are a smart, and safe, choice, able to handle the demands of larger institutional accounts. While the task may be daunting, there are indeed a number of small firms that have won over such clients, and the opportunity to do so will continue to grow.

Even as the economy improves, however, clients remain wary of unnecessary expenditure, and will balk at paying the brand equity price for work that does not seem to warrant it. This is why creating a strong foundation of marketing equity is so important: It allows you to differentiate yourself and your firm from the considerable competition, and encourages clients to engage you because you have already demonstrated your expertise – and your worth. Your marketing task is simple, albeit not necessarily easy: Determine what you want to be recognized for, create a body of work that supports it, and make sure your target markets know about it.

The first step, then, in effectively building your brand equity through marketing is to decide what your identity as a lawyer will be. Getting focused is an integral part of the process because, while you may be confident in your abilities as, for example, a litigator or a practitioner of family law, there is unfortunately limited marketing equity in these general practice areas. In contrast, there is a great deal of marketing mileage in being known as a family lawyer who specializes in international child custody cases. Specialization helps build equity.

It can be daunting to take this first leap into specialization. Many lawyers fear that specializing will limit their professional opportunities, that prospective clients whose needs differ from their primary practice area will hesitate to approach them. In reality, however, the opposite often holds true: By specializing, you actually set yourself apart from your competition, making yourself more memorable. Because you’re easy to remember, you’re far more likely to be asked if you can take on a case even if it doesn’t fall within the realm of your specialty, or if you can refer another lawyer – which, again, gives you the chance to present your services. Have faith in the approach and be patient. The rewards of building brand equity aren’t always immediate, but they will come, and if properly fortified and maintained they are likely to last the duration of a professional career.

So what area should you specialize in? Even if you feel like you’re at a complete loss, you probably already have a great deal of information that can point you in the right direction. Begin by reviewing your list of former and current clients. Most likely, you have several clients in at least one or two industries. Do you feel that these industries with the potential to grow? Are they of particular interest to you? Perhaps you have a particular avocation, and you would like to develop clientele in that area. Or you could simply focus on a subspecialty within your existing practice area. All of these methods can help you decide where to focus your attention in order to position yourself as a lawyer with a unique perspective and specific industry expertise.

The next step in creating brand equity, after deciding on what your brand will be, is to create a body of work that supports that brand through marketing tactics. In essence, you want to package your knowledge and experience in a way that establishes you as an expert. First, take a look at your website and social media profiles. Imagine that you are looking at your information through the eyes of a stranger who has no idea who you are or what you’ve accomplished. Does your bio highlight the appropriate credentials? Is it immediately clear that you have expertise in your areas of specialty? You may need to revise or modify your homepage or firm overview copy, add specialty pages in addition to your practice areas, or rejuvenate your LinkedIn profile to reflect your new brand identity.

Declaring yourself an expert is of little use without the validation of a third party – and the most effective way to substantiate your own expertise through third-party credibility is through use of the media. Brand equity is built on the back of such credibility, which results from published bylined articles authored by you, as well as being quoted in any medium, including print, broadcast and online outlets. Speaking engagements are another way to enhance credibility, since an invitation to speak is tantamount to an organization stamp of approval on your professional authority. A regularly updated professional blog is another effective way to position yourself as an expert, although it’s worth noting that blogs require a sustained commitment to regularly write and market relevant posts. No blog at all is better than a woefully neglected blog, but if done well, they can be excellent tools for building equity.

With this body of work strengthening your chosen brand identity in place, you are now ready for the final step in the process: Letting your target markets know about your expertise by providing greater exposure for that body of work that you’re building. Speaking engagements, media quotes, bylined articles – all will fall by the wayside with astonishing (and dismaying) speed if you fail to breathe life into them right away by posting them on your website, sending them out in your e-newsletter, and linking to them on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Remember that marketing equity is what tips the scales in your favor when a prospect is deciding between you and another professional. And, though it includes your name recognition and top-of-mind awareness among potential clients, marketing equity can be quantified. It is the price differential clients will pay to choose you over a competitor because they believe that even though you and/or your firm may charge more, you are someone who fully understands a practice area and needs.  As you develop your marketing plan and evaluate your tactics, keep your goal of building marketing equity in mind and you can build a brand identity that effectively communicates to your prospects that you, above all other attorneys in your practice area, are the unparalleled choice for success.

Sharon Berman is principal of Berbay Corp. Marketing and Public Relations. The website is www.berbay.com. She can be reached at berman@berbay.com.

 

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