Building a Brand: Everything You Need to Know About Law Firm Branding in 2022

16–19 minutes to read

This article was written by Alyssa Esker, VP of Marketing at Crisp. Alyssa has nearly 15 years of experience developing high-performing marketing campaigns and strategies for small business owners.

As marketing expert and best-selling author Seth Godin once stated:

“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

Sounds like a lot of fluff doesn’t it?

What is a brand anyway? Why does it matter to a law firm owner? Aren’t brands just for consumer goods and restaurants? Does a brand really have any true relationship to business success?

These might be the types of questions you’re asking yourself right now. Have no fear! We’re going to answer these questions and more on one of the most important tools in any good law firm owner’s marketing arsenal — brand awareness.

In this article, we’ll dig into:

  1. The True Definition of a Brand
  2. Components that Make up a Brand
  3. How Brand Awareness Impacts Leads
  4. How to Measure Brand Awareness
  5. What to Do if You Need to Rebrand

Let’s get to it!

The True Definition of a Brand

Let’s first make a clear distinction of what we’re talking about when it comes to brand. Our focus will be on brand awareness, not brand recognition.

These two concepts can often be confused for each other, which can cause quite a headache for law firm owners when determining how to measure the success of their branding efforts.

Brand awareness measures if the public can recall information, emotions, or impressions about a brand without any visual aids.

On the flip side, brand recognition measures the extent to which the public can identify a brand from visual elements such as a logo or jingle.

You can’t have brand recognition without brand awareness. So our first step is to focus on brand awareness. We’ll dig into brand recognition in a follow up once you’ve established your brand.

Brand awareness starts first by establishing the brand.

Webster’s Dictionary defines brand as “a business’s identity, recognizable as distinct by its values, experiences, and customers.”

To sum it up, a brand is about a distinct, recognizable experience that a client or potential client relates to a company. Sounds a little more relatable to a law firm and not just a pair of shoes, doesn’t it?

Now let’s take it a step further. Think about the brands that you admire the most — the ones you would consider the most iconic. Did brands like Apple, Nike, Disney come to mind? Why is that?

  1. They dominate their market. We call them Nikes, not sneakers.
  2. They’ve become more than just a logo. They’ve built an experience .
  3. They have a dedicated following. When’s the last time anyone camped out at a Best Buy waiting for the next big Google phone?

But those are consumer brands, right? Who’s going to camp out at a law firm? No law firm creates this kind of dedication. It’s a great outcome for a hit and run, not a pair of celebrity inspired sneakers, right…?

…or is it?

Firm owners like Alexander Shunnarah have truly embraced the concept of building a brand — so much so that there are even memes about his dominance in the Alabama market.

So how has he done it? Well, he and other successful law firm owners who are best known in their markets have discovered the secret to creating a brand like Apple and Nike. Ready for it?

Take a look at the definition of brand again. The word that should stand out is identity. What this traditional definition has left out that the best known law firm owners have been able to expand on is that the ideal client has to identify with that identity.

Creating that connection of identification is what differentiates mediocre brands from great brands. This is done exceptionally well by cults.

Yes, you read that right. Cults. Check out the definition of a cult compared to that of a brand:

Beliefs, values, experiences. All the same when you think about a brand like Apple or Alexander Shunnarah Trial Attorneys.

You can learn more about how the goal of a brand is to build a cult following and they are one in the same from the viral Game Changers Summit 3 Presentation on How to Build a Cult Following.

So to wrap it all up, a brand is about creating a recognizable identity based on values and experience that can generate a movement of loyalty with the ideal client.

To get this all right, the next step is to ensure your law firm has all the components that make a brand.

Components That Make Up a Brand

There are five main components of a brand (or cult — whatever your preference is now that we’ve converted you):

  1. Identity
  2. Purpose
  3. Messaging
  4. Differentiation
  5. Experience

Identity

The Identity of a brand is often what comes to mind when you think of a brand. It’s the externally facing images — the visuals that signify your brand.

This includes everything from your logo, to a tagline, to a jingle, to your website, etc. It’s the overall look and feel of your law firm. Identity is arguably the thing your ideal client remembers most (back to our old friend brand recognition), so it needs to stand out.

Purpose

The Purpose of your law firm’s brand really encompasses the mission and values of your firm. These should all work together to tell a larger story about who you are and what you do.

Overall, your purpose statement is what you promise to your ideal clients (but maybe mix it up from “I’ll fight for you”). Your mission is the larger goal you hope to achieve, while your values are what your brand represents.

Take Crisp as an example. The purpose of Crisp is to create transformational growth. That’s for our clients, for our teams, for our families — everyone.

Our mission is to help 1,000 law firms grow by over a million dollars in revenue each ($1B+ impact).

And the values that what we represent are:

  1. Vested in client success
  2. Team first
  3. Take ownership
  4. Solution focused
  5. Consistency
  6. Better than yesterday
  7. Results driven

Now, these can’t just be things that are stated on a website. They have to actually be lived throughout your company in your culture, messaging, social media, and so on — so make sure your purpose is truly something that your firm is passionate about and stands for.

Messaging

Messaging is the voice of the brand. This is the language used on your website, in marketing communications, in printed materials, on social media — everywhere your law firm communicates to your ideal client.

Your law firm’s messaging must be consistent everywhere. There can’t be a formal voice on one channel and then a super casual voice elsewhere. Your marketing needs to reflect this messaging, but so should anyone managing client intake or interacting with prospective clients in general.

There are a variety of different voices your brand can take, so choose the one that suits you best, contributes to what you want your firm to achieve, and aligns with your purpose.

Take our messaging. Crisp’s purpose is to create transformational growth, so we don’t talk about growth in just transactional terms. We talk about it passionately in terms of growth that impacts every aspect of the lives of our clients.

The passion behind our purpose also means our tone is a little tough — we don’t let our clients off easy, like a personal trainer doesn’t let their clients slack off. And we do it relentlessly (please check your inbox right now; you probably have at least a dozen emails from us in the last few days).

Remember to focus your messaging on your purpose and your own vision for your firm, and stick to it.

Differentiation

Differentiation is what makes you different from competitors. Law firms get a bad rap for looking very much alike in their messaging and marketing. Believe us, we know. But all law firm owners and firms are different. There is a unique reason you got into law. There is a unique reason you started your own firm. There is a unique way you approach your clients and your business. Embrace that.

And if you need help, be sure to check out The Law Firm’s Guide to Determining Your Unique Value Proposition.

Experience

We already hinted a little bit at Experience, but this is the way your clients connect or interact with you during their entire buyer’s journey. Remember when we said cults are a great example of building powerful brands? That all goes back to the same consistent shared experience every cult member gets.

To make experience even more compelling, 73% of your ideal clients love a brand because of its customer experience. So how consistent is your client experience right now? If you aren’t sure, then definitely get sure. And get a little help from the master of client experience, Joey Coleman.

If this seems overwhelming — don’t worry! The unique value proposition exercise will give you a great head start.

Another tool you can use is called a brand helix. In a brand helix, you answer these questions:

  1. What problems do you solve?
  2. What are you passionate about?
  3. What breaks your heart/makes you sad?
  4. What do you research/read?
  5. What do you have results in?

The brand helix will better focus your efforts since at the end of the day, your law firm is really an extension of you as the CEO and owner of the firm. So don’t be afraid to get personal.

How Brand Awareness Impacts Leads

Alright, now that you’ve got yourself thinking about how to strategize and communicate your law firm’s brand, let’s take a pause and look at the benefits having a solid brand can bring to your firm. Establishing and maintaining your brand will become a priority because of the outpouring of benefits that follow from having a solid brand.

Spending a lot of time on the brand of your firm can seem like an unnecessary step. At the end of the day, having a nice logo and consistent value-driven messaging doesn’t really bring you leads, does it?

Let’s dig into that further.

How often does a lead just fall into your lap directly after the first time seeing anything about you? Probably pretty rarely.

That’s because it takes 5-7 touchpoints for an ideal client to remember and act on a particular brand.

So that means your ideal client’s journey has gone from this:

To this:

If that’s the case, does brand awareness really influence this journey at all? Isn’t that why Google Ads and even organic search is so much more successful than any other channels in lead generation?

If you have looked at any of your website analytics, you probably see that a majority of your website traffic comes from two sources: direct and search. If you dig into that any deeper, you will see that the search traffic is predominantly driven by two things:

  1. Your brand term — paid for or through organic search
  2. Very specific expensive paid search terms (the legal industry has the highest cost per click in search out there)

Search plays a very important role in your marketing strategy for sure. But how does your ideal client even know to search for you specifically in the first place?

You guessed it — brand awareness! There are a lot of reasons certain channels get all the credit and your brand awareness channels (think social media) get left in the dust, but the main reason is because of the complex field of marketing attribution models.

There are six common attribution models:

  1. First interaction
  2. Last interaction
  3. Last non-direct click
  4. Linear
  5. Time-decay
  6. Position-based

We will dig into the two most commonly used for law firms: first and last interaction.

First Interaction Model

The first interaction model gives credit to the marketing tactic that the ideal client touched first.

So if your ideal client saw a social ad, did a search, and then got an email three weeks later and went directly to your website to submit a contact form and become a lead, then the social ad would get the credit for that lead.

This method is only helpful for those that have a short buying cycle — which is typically the legal space. An ideal client is probably only directly looking for your service the minute they need a lawyer.

Sounds great right? Unfortunately, this model really only helps with about 3% of your potential market because only 3% of your ideal clients are ready to use your service right now. So you’re missing a huge audience of people who six months ago didn’t need a lawyer but started becoming aware of your brand, and then came to you directly when they needed your services much further down the line.

Last Interaction Model

The last interaction model, otherwise known as “last-click,” gives 100% of the credit to the very last channel your ideal client interacted with before becoming a lead.

Here’s an example: an ideal client sees a video from your law firm on social media and becomes aware of who you are first. They continue to see your messaging online after being retargeted and clicking on a few of your posts to see more content on your website. They continue to build awareness of your brand and get to know you over time. A few months later, they are in need of a lawyer and they immediately think of you. Later that day, they go directly to your website and submit a contact form.

The channel that gets the credit then is direct traffic to your website. Last interaction is the default model for Google Analytics and website tracking. Makes sense, right? Direct is often the last touch an ideal client makes to go straight to your website, so it looks like your website is doing amazing.

What is great about this model is there is 100% certainty of what the last click was. That is hard with first interaction. However, this model 100% ignores everything else that happened before that last interaction — which means crucial factors like brand awareness are completely ignored.

So if you have ever wondered why a social campaign looks like it may not be working, think about the way that you are measuring that social campaign, particularly since social media is considered a heavy brand awareness channel.

So that begs the question: If you can’t look at direct leads — how do you measure brand awareness?

How to Measure Brand Awareness

Social media is the number one platform out there for building brand awareness. Today, it is definitely a pay to play space, as the reach of organic posts is nearly 0. This means that social ads are a crucial part of your marketing strategy here.

To get an idea of how aware your ideal client is of your law firm, you can look at a few common metrics:

  • Frequency
  • Social media following
  • Branded search traffic
  • Direct traffic
  • Video views
  • Brand survey responses

Frequency

Frequency is the number of times a marketing asset is seen by each viewer. Remember that your ideal client needs to see your message at least 5-7 times to even remember you. So pay attention to your Facebook campaigns — they easily report out the average frequency on a message.

The Crisp Social Stack program is a masterclass in maximizing frequency for social campaigns. You can get some of the secrets on maximizing frequency through this guide on Facebook advertising for law firms.

A healthy frequency is a healthy sign of building a strong brand awareness — but make sure the targeting is your ideal client.

Social Media Following

Outside of frequency, you can look at your social media following. How many fans do you have? How engaged are they? Is your audience growing? Track your channels each day and notice the trends. But also look and see who your fans are. While it’s great to have all your employees, their families, their dogs, and their exes as your fans, you want to make sure your audience is actually made up of your ideal clients.

Branded Search Traffic

To measure branded search traffic you will have to use Google’s most underrated search tool — Google Search Console. Google Search Console is a powerful tool that can be set up very similarly to Google Analytics and can even sync data into Google Analytics.

The secret magic behind Google Search Console is that you can actually see keyword data. Long ago, Google Analytics removed almost 90% of keyword data tracking due to privacy concerns. So what you will primarily see is a lot of what’s called “not provided” data.

Google Search Console, however, shows you all the keywords getting impressions and clicks for your site as well as their average position in search results. You can use this tool to track search volume from impressions and clicks to see how you are trending upwards over time. Increasing brand searches is a healthy sign of increasing brand awareness.

Direct Traffic

Increases in direct traffic are a sign of increasing brand awareness. Think about it — who knows to go directly to your site? Only those who know about you. And how do they know about you? Brand awareness! So pay attention to increasing direct traffic, especially from new visitors over returning visitors.

Video Views

Video views are a somewhat forgotten metric — particularly because they can be the hardest to track. Along with social media, video is a great brand awareness building tool.

Video tends to be the first content your ideal client will see about you, and 96% of your ideal client plans to increase their video consumption in 2022. To track video views, you can look at video views in your social media platforms such as Facebook and also use embedded video tools on your website such as YouTube and Wistia to track video views there. Increasing those views means increasing your brand awareness.

Brand Survey Responses

Finally, one of the most seemingly complicated ways to measure brand awareness is to start with a survey. Brand awareness surveys range from the very simple to the very complex in terms of their structure and distribution. Most of the time, brand surveys are managed through a third-party vendor to give you a sophisticated benchmark of where you are at on the brand awareness benchmark with your ideal client.

But you don’t have to invest a lot of dollars into a brand awareness survey. You can start out small by using an email list you have of non-clients or bringing surveys to any community events you are a part of. You may have to incentivize completing the survey with things like a gift card or a raffle in order to get them back, but it can still be an affordable process.

To structure your survey, you really only need to ask three questions:

  1. Have you ever used a lawyer?
  2. If you needed a lawyer, what factors would you consider?
  3. Have you heard of us and if so, how?

So you’ve got your brand built out, you understand how it can impact your law firm, and you know how to measure it. All is right in the world.

Now imagine your once broadly personal injury law firm finds a real passion for motorcycle accidents, and you want to solely focus on those types of cases. But you have no brand for that, and your current mission doesn’t really reflect this new passion.

What do you do?

Let’s talk about rebranding.

What to Do if You Need to Rebrand

Rebranding is not to be taken lightly. Embarking on a rebrand is a heavy commitment. Take Crisp for example. Notice anything different about us? We’ve got a new website, a new logo, and a new name — seemingly subtle changes, but changes nonetheless.

The rebrand has been two years in the making.

You should only consider a rebrand when there is a significant shift in your business, like a merger or disintegration or new purpose/mission.

In our case, we have evolved into much more than just a video company. We became a full service law firm growth company — a true partner to our clients’ growth. Being called Crisp Video just didn’t make sense anymore.

You will know it’s time to rebrand based on five major indicators:

  1. Your core audience has changed or is rapidly changing. You are focusing on a totally different practice and the types of people you are servicing are vastly different.
  2. Your business model, core offering, or overall strategy has changed. This was our reason.
  3. The industry you are in is rapidly changing. If you think you have a lot of time left until non-lawyer firm ownership starts to shake things up, think again.
  4. Your business name is overly literal or you have general identity problems.
  5. You’ve outgrown your own brand (this was Crisp too).

Let’s be clear — just changing your logo is not a rebrand. A look and feel refresh can be a nice way to keep up with modern trends, but it is not a rebrand.

If undertaking a rebrand, you will have to undergo the same exercises outlined in the components of a brand, redo your brand helix, and update your unique value proposition. There are also a lot of assets that need to be updated — everything from legal documents to payroll tools to printed materials to social media, and so on.

So if you’re going to rebrand, make sure there is a really solid reason for it first.

Final Thoughts

Take a deep breath — you’ve learned a lot. Overall, what you should take away is:

  1. Brand is a powerful tool when done correctly.
  2. Brand can be a law firm’s best kept secret to generating market share and becoming best known.
  3. It’s okay to think of your brand and firm as a cult — embrace it.
  4. Measuring brand based on leads leaves a lot of opportunity on the table.
  5. Brand measurement doesn’t have to be overly complicated and require branding agencies.
  6. Rebranding is an option if your brand isn’t resonating, but be responsible about it.

So go forth and use the tools in this article to build a strong brand that can take out your competition and make your law firm best known in your market.