Ultimate Guide: Law Firm Differentiation and Branding
So, you want to stand out from the competition? Then you’ll need some “differentiators” that clearly state those qualities that set you apart from the law firm down the street. Differentiators are authentic and crisp promises to potential clients that tip the scales in your favor and cause them to choose your firm. Notice we said “authentic,” which means that they need to be unique, and you have to perform to them. Also, you want to make sure that they are not cliche – those terms that everybody throws around to describe their firm.
Of course, the BIGGEST differentiator any law firm can have is winning big cases that generate millions of dollars for clients. This is often the single biggest factor that will attract new clients, build your brand and can be touted as a differentiator. So, first and foremost you should highlight on your website and in any marketing communications the large dollar amounts of your successful cases.
But what do you do in addition to that? What if you’re a smaller law firm that cannot credibly make the sweeping claims that very large law firms can (i.e., “global market leader,” “more than 200 lawyers to serve our clients,” etc.)? And what if you’re a relatively new law firm that hasn’t yet posted a lot of big dollar wins? Well, that’s where we start drilling down to find other key elements that really set you apart from the competition. Let’s find your “differentiators.”
Cliches Are “Undifferentiators”
First, let’s start with what not to choose as a differentiator. Let’s call these “undifferentiators,” a concept used by Daniel DiGriz, a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist ® at MadPipe. These are the terms that everybody uses to describe their law firm – so much so that the terms become watered down and meaningless. That’s what a cliché is. Some typical law firm branding messages that are cliché include:
- “Exceptional Customer Service”
- “Tough and Aggressive Lawyers”
- “Winning Record of Success”
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with these messages – it’s just that everyone is saying them.
If you want to use messages that highlight your skill in these areas, then create differentiators that are more specific, unique and narrow in scope. For example, you might create differentiators that read something like this:
- Client calls are answered 24/7 by a live person, even on weekends. (Client service)
- Our attorneys litigate 38% of our cases in the courtroom, which means we’re not afraid to take cases to trial. (Tough and aggressive lawyers)
- We win compensation for clients in 95% of our personal injury cases (record of success)
See the difference? The specificity of differentiators, backed up by data, make much more powerful brand promises. And how many other firms in the region can make these same claims? Does every local law firm have an answering service that takes calls on nights and weekends? Does every small firm litigate nearly 40% of their cases? Does every small firm win large dollars in 95% of their cases? The answer to all of these is likely “no.” Hence, your firm is unique and offers something that others don’t.
Daniel DiGriz articulates in an exceptional way the types of branding claims that are “undifferentiators.” In addition to using clichés, DiGriz cautions against making claims that promise clients what they already expect. It’s not really a differentiator or bonus if you’re giving a client what he expects or what he’s already paid for.
Additionally, DiGriz warns companies not to create brand messages that are about you, what you have, and what you think. Differentiators need to be about the clients, whether it’s their positive experience, winning outcome or other factor that a client would place a high value on.
Client Testimonials Can Highlight Differentiators
Who better to help you identify and highlight your firm’s differentiators than satisfied clients? Most law firms already post client testimonials on their websites that articulate the reasons they think the firm is great. Start there!
What do they say about you? What characteristics do they really appreciate? The things past clients say matter and they are votes of confidence. These past clients are part of the very demographic that you want to attract.
For a more extensive discussion of client testimonials and tips on how to ask for them, check out our upcoming Gladiator blog: Testimonials Can Convert Site Visitors Into Leads.
How Can a Law Firm Differentiate Itself?
As we’ve said, differentiators are those qualities that set you apart from the competition. The more specific, unique and local, the better, especially if you are a smaller or boutique firm. It’s also wise if your differentiators leverage E.A.T. – those brand promises that emphasize your firm’s Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness. (Want to learn more about E.A.T.? In this blog, we dig in and provide examples). Google has stated clearly that E.A.T. elements are essential to achieve credibility and excellence in your online content. It’s also likely that E.A.T. affects Google’s assessment of your website’s quality which impacts your firm’s Google ranking.
Differentiators are not meant to be broad and vague, nor are they meant to be aspirational (something that you’d like to believe about your firm or are working toward). Differentiators need to be concrete, accurate, already in place, and specific. Better to focus on something narrow and powerful that can be reinforced through client testimonials and consistent performance. This kind of differentiator is credible.
Also, you don’t want candy-coated or Pollyanna-like differentiators. Warm and fluffy works for the Hallmark Channel, but platitudes that are warm and fuzzy are not effective differentiators for law firms.
As a smaller law firm, stay away from broad, sweeping claims as differentiators. Amazon can credibly say that it is the market leader in, well, just about everything. But a small law firm may wander into cliché if it makes a “market leader” claim. Similarly, most law firms are going to say their staff is committed to client service, which is a phrase that becomes cliché. If, on the other hand, you provide a specific and unique aspect of client service, then that could be a good differentiator. For example, let’s say you give every client your personal cell phone number and you will call them back within five minutes, even if it’s after business hours. Now, not every attorney wants to offer that, but if you do then that’s a powerful differentiator.
Want other examples? DiGriz provides an excellent list of good differentiators, with corporate examples, that push the bar. He offers other pointers for determining your differentiators and explains the research and brainstorming that can reveal these. The goal is to get you thinking beyond the typical catch phrases used by your competitors.
Always remember that you know your law firm better than anyone else. Your in-house team and clients likely already understand what you provide that others don’t. Your team recognizes what prospective clients would appreciate most about your firm. In the brainstorming process, these can be revealed by asking open-ended questions — rather than yes-or-no questions.
When you and your team are brainstorming about your differentiators, throw open the barn doors and shoot for the moon. Be outrageous, even silly sometimes. This wide-open approach will reveal some gems, even if there is also debris in the mix. You can edit your list of ideas later. It’s just a matter of clearly identifying these gems, distilling them down into a few concrete sentences, and then consistently backing them up with performance.
Law Firm Differentiation Can Also Build Your Brand
By creating credible differentiators that you use in all your law firm online content, marketing materials and professional directory listings, you can build a strong brand over time that sets you apart from other law firms in your region.
Consistent and repetitive use of the powerful differentiators that are unique to your firm starts to build a buzz in the marketplace and increases your firm’s visibility. Suddenly, when potential clients and the public hear these unique differentiators, they will think of your firm’s name. We’ve all seen it happen, whether with large multinational companies (read: Nike’s “Just do it.”) or with smaller in-town and regional companies. We all know the firms that have a branding phrase and differentiators that roll off our tongues. That’s what a strong brand does. It can also cause a firm to appear larger than it actually is. This attribute can drive growth.
Here’s the Takeaway
Don’t be afraid to brainstorm wildly to come up with authentic, verifiable characteristics of your law firm that can be used as differentiators. Involve your staff in your brainstorming sessions, and even include a few trusted clients, if you like. If you’re unsure how to structure a brainstorming session, our Gladiator professionals can help kickstart the process – just give us a call.
When creating differentiators, stay away from clichés and vague aspirational claims because they wind up being “undifferentiators.” Instead focus on succinct, unique, credible and concrete attributes that you can back up with consistent performance. Also, remember to leverage E.A.T. – attributes that speak to the Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness of your firm. If you do all these things, you will begin to build a law firm brand that rises head and shoulders above your competition.
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