How Service Industries and Law Firms Can Fix Their Brand
Service Industry Branding
By Tom Dougherty
Consultants come in all forms. They are lawyers, architects, government agencies, associations and even brand firms, just to name a few. Even if they aren’t a brand firm like Stealing Share, they often make recommendations on public perception that is related to brand.
Lawyers advise clients on an appropriate legal tactic to affect a legal outcome in a positive way, but they also consider how it might be perceived publically. Government agencies are often acutely aware of perceptions just by being political animals, and associations often exist for the sole purpose of raising the public profile of their members. Even an architectural firm is focused on public perception just by the nature of its design work.
Therefore, it would stand to reason that those kinds of service industry firms and agencies are better than most when it comes to the branding of themselves.
Unfortunately for them, that reasoning doesn’t hold up. In most cases, these service companies – or, to use a broad term, consultants – don’t have brands at all. They simply have a list of product benefits, like they were a collection of hammers.
Branding the Private Sector
Many of these firms have names with no meaning. In the private sector, the firm’s name is a listing of partners. (Has anybody asked if there was something better?) They have messages so benign that they blur, almost word for word, right alongside the messages of the competition. No wonder new business is often generated by referrals. Certainly, the brands don’t create preference.
Then there’s the two other factors companies like this must consider: Who really is the competition and what does the decision tree for the prospect look like?
Evaluating the competition is a major hurdle for most consultants.The problem is they often think of the competitive set as only including companies just like themselves. That is, lawyers consider their only competition to be other lawyers.
Look at the competitive category
That is not the case, and all companies and brands should be aware of that. When we at Stealing Share conduct a competitive analysis, we look at anything the potential customer may do to fulfill the need promised by the brand. That’s because it truly represents the choices the prospect considers.
For example, if you are the U.S. Post Office, your competitive set includes email (which has basically replaced the post office as the mail carrier of choice); fax machines, Facebook, texting and even a cell phone call. They all are ways to communicate, even more effectively than what the post office provides.
The U.S. Post Office once considered its only competition to be FedEx and UPS – direct competitors – and that’s one reason why this government agency is in its current, slumping situation.
Other types of service entities make the same shortsighted analysis and react accordingly, which usually results in messages that mimic their direct counterparts.
However, in order to develop a brand vision, you must look at anything the target audience does to fulfill the need your service does in order to have a brand positioned against it (and provide true choice).
In fact, included in that competitive set, is the possibility of target audiences doing nothing.
Law Firm Branding
If you’re a law firm, for example, a prospect may decide it doesn’t need a lawyer or even pursue a legal action. If you’re an architect, a prospect may decide to not build or renovate after considering other options.
Yet, even those companies who have considered that option (doing nothing) find themselves in a worse trap: Convincing audiences they need this type of service, which may or may not help you. It just may help the category, which usually leads to the market leader being the default choice. It’s as if a soda brand convinced audiences they need to drink more soda. That would only help Coke.
Therefore, brands – in and out of the service industry – tend to find themselves in a messaging dilemma: Having to create a desire for the category (because doing nothing is an option) and become the preferred choice.
Brand reconciles those issues because it plays earlier in the prospect’s decision tree, well before audiences ask themselves if they need the service and who to choose if they do. To do that, service brands must be an emotional self-reflection of the audience so that they, in effect, choose themselves. Your brand becomes part of what represents them.
When that self-reflection exists, preference is created. In turn, any time that prospect is in need of services like yours, they know who to call. This is especially important in industries that rely on referrals to generate new business.
Brand Positioning Matters
Being positioned earlier in the prospect’s decision tree with a meaningful brand ensures you against all the reasons – sometimes, seemingly irrational reasons like “I don’t want to be seen walking into that office” – why a prospect may opt out of the process altogether. You have captured them before they have asked themselves the questions that will eventually dismiss you.
At this point, you might be asking if the consultancy authoring this article has taken our own advice. The answer is yes, although marketing and branding firms are often their own worst clients. (Which is also true of most service firms.)
The name of Stealing Share, combined with the brand theme line “Beyond Theory,” is a direct reflection of our target audience: Fighters.
These are the companies looking to win, without all the nonsense and flawed analysis and research that the competition, which may include the prospect’s own marketing department, provides.
We are not for the market leader, we are for the fighter wanting to steal market share from the market leader. The term “Stealing” suggests all that, as well as an aggressiveness and urgency.
Finding a meaningful brand is a strategy that too many service providers, across a whole scope of industries, fail to enact. Because of that, they are in danger of having share stolen from them.