Wednesday, July 23, 2008

‘Brand awareness’ of legal firms leads to poor client relations & rising complaints

No matter who you deal with in the legal profession, you never get told the truth.

Just because a legal firm has a ‘good name’ as it claims, it doesn’t mean clients are getting the best service, as many find out as time goes on …

More often than not these days, ‘brand awareness’ can lead the buyer to realise they have bought ‘a pig in a poke’ as the saying goes …

The Scotsman reports :

Brand awareness begins to make inroads in a very traditional sector

Change in markets is leading firms into new territory and altering the way they communicate, says Jennifer Veitch

IT IS bright pink, it is bold, and it is unashamedly trying to generate new business from female clients. Pagan Osborne's recent Beauty Secrets marketing campaign – which offers to "smooth out frown lines" and "reduce dark circles" by easing the stress of life's big decisions – is something of a departure for a law firm with 250 years of tradition.

But, according to Tania Hemming, Pagan Osborne's marketing and business development director, the campaign is just a taste of how law firms might look to promote themselves in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

As the UK economy slows and the regulations governing legal services look set to be relaxed, Hemming says that firms will have to look at their branding.

"Our market is changing and because of alternative business structures, we are going to have to change the way we communicate," she says. "People buy very differently these days, and I think the profession has, sometimes, a quite stuffy image.

"Our campaign was such a shock when it came out – it's bright pink, it's a very strong female image, and it's not what you would expect. But you have to talk to clients in the way they want to be talked to."

Hemming had the idea for the recent marketing campaign – which invites women to meet the firm over coffee at Edinburgh style bar Tigerlily – after recent reports suggested women were often the financial decision makers in the household.

She says Beauty Secrets is already bringing in new business and has inspired plans for future campaigns.

According to Nathan Fulwood, the business development manager of web design agency Realise, whose clients include Pagan Osborne, Drummond Miller, Dickson Minto and the Law Society, more firms in the sector are recognising the need to create a stronger brand, particularly online.

"We're seeing that there is a willingness from solicitors to think differently about their presence on the web," he says. "For instance, there is an openness to borrowing experiences from other sectors, particularly in terms of embracing concepts of customer journey and life scenarios to engage clients on a more emotive level, not just on a 'need' basis."

He continues: "The use of the web has changed from purely brand promotion. Some (firms] have successfully used websites to disseminate information and knowledge and so establish a leadership position which drives people to them.

"Others increasingly recognise that the website is more about the person visiting the website and less about the firm itself.

"The web is now the place where the customer searches for services, including legal services. Therefore any solicitor has to have a distinctive presence online if it is going to have a competitive edge."

Donald Shaw, managing partner of Dundas & Wilson, agrees that the changing legal market will require firms to reconsider how they communicate to prospective clients, rather than relying on tradition or quality.

"In a large, diverse market like legal services, a favourable perception of your reputation or brand leads to more opportunity," he says. "It's important to us that we build on our reputation as a market leader and so we're very careful to ensure the DNA of the great things our business stands for is reflected in everything we do.

"A changing legal services landscape means that law firms need to adapt to compete. Quality of service will continue to speak for itself, but it's more important than ever to ensure the market knows who you are and what you can offer.

"Smaller firms in particular may have to face up to the prospect of focused consolidation, especially if highly effective companies such as Tesco seriously enter their market."

But Shaw cautions that branding can only go so far: "Having a brand is a safeguard, but only if you can be seen as having a strong consistent and different proposition – the trade-off being that smaller independent practitioners, used to autonomy, will need to work in a much more consistently branded and organised way to maintain any kind of market presence."

Dianne Paterson, a partner with Edinburgh-based Russel + Aitken, says her firm has recently launched a new marketing campaign – "Bringing the Law to Life" – that focuses on the legal services clients will need throughout their lifetime.

"The campaign, through innovative products and events, simply enforces the message to our clients and the public that we are not only one of the market leaders in this field but that we are also delivering these services to our clients in an energetic and engaging way," she says.

"Not only are people coming in to our offices for such advice but we are going out to the people and are currently involved in a series of road shows to promote our services.

"However, we are strongly of the view that you cannot simply invent a brand. It must be built up over the years from a good solid foundation and have good products at the heart of it."

Traditionally, legal firms were restricted in how they advertised themselves, with practice rules preventing firms from comparing themselves with others on fees or services. The rules were relaxed by the Law Society in 2006, allowing firms to compare themselves with rivals for the first time.

The society itself has recently recognised the importance of marketing, and unveiled its own re-branding earlier this year. A spokeswoman for the Society says the new brand has created consistency and a "stronger and clearer image".

She adds: "A brand is a representation of an organisation and as the Society is currently going through a period of change and modernisation, creating a new brand helped reflect that."

But not everyone in the profession sees the need to change direction in relation to branding and marketing. Louise Kean, the head of communications at Turcan Connell, says the firm will be sticking to its existing marketing plans.

"Looking from the perspective of our clients, both existing and prospective, we need them to know that we are here for them, continuing to provide a service that they need in these uncertain times," she says.

"Now more than ever, they need professional advice which gives them a sense of confidence that their affairs are in good order. So it's the consistency of our message that is crucial at this time.

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