Big changes bring big challenges for marketing. The current generation of legal marketer is experienced in serving clients who want more. Now we have to create a service that provides more with less. What can we rely on to help us do this? Our brand.

Weschler Ross & Partners, a New York-based marketing and communications firm, surveyed 25 of the world’s largest law firms to get an idea of whether the legal profession is doing well when it comes to branding. Dan Ross, president of Weschler Ross, says, "While most law firms have overcome their aversion to marketing and started thinking of themselves as brands, not all of them define the content and character of their brands equally well."

The survey results are in and the news is good. More than half of the brands were rated as having a memorable or distinctive personality. However, it was discovered that the quality of branding improved as the size of the firm decreased.

So what does that mean? Ross notes that "relatively smaller and midsized firms seem to focus more energy and time on branding. Therefore, they will likely be more successful at differentiating their services or articulating a competitive advantage."

Midsized firms can benefit

We know that "big is beautiful" is sometimes prohibitive. It doesn’t always allow for flexibility in areas such as pricing, staffing and even branding. Midsized law firms stand to benefit from this position. They can clearly differentiate themselves and leverage their brands. From partnerships with law firm networks and the use of Web 2.0 technology, these firms can stay connected to clients and leverage their "private label" brands.

In the retail world, private label brands tend to be an improved product and provide a better overall quality. In law firms, this translates to highly educated, trained, experienced and client service-oriented lawyers. Midsized law firms are continuing to boost their private label brands while larger firms are trying to cash in on the brand awareness they established during more stable times. With clients unable to afford "more of more," change is encouraging clients to sample services that they had likely passed over before.

More than just a tagline

To build a brand is to build awareness of your firm, differentiate your service from a competitor’s and communicate effectively to the client so that they feel confident in the relationship and your professional talent. It is not simply a tagline or media spend; however, these are essential supporting elements that help create awareness of your brand.

Consider putting some soft metrics in place to measure your brand success. Don’t just tie your brand to one ad campaign, rather, measure your brand success through client relationships, client service teams and even the personal client interview. While the economy is tempting many firms to sell on price remember that your brand holds a value stronger than a discounted service.

Uncertainty in the marketplace

In a recent article in The New York Times Magazine , "Goalkeeper Science," a paper published by a team of Israeli scientists in the Journal of Economic Psychology , was highlighted. The academics analyzed 286 penalty kicks and found that 94 percent of the time goalkeepers dived to either the right or left even though the chances of stopping the ball were highest when the goalie stayed in the center.

So why dive when you know you have a better chance of fending off the opposing team by standing still? Well, it makes the goalies appear to be decisive and helps them avoid looking like they aren’t doing anything. The study goes on to say that this behavior is the opposite of the "norm theory," which states that when people are faced with tough problems, they often choose inaction because a bad outcome causes regret and it is better to do nothing and hope the problem goes away.

This information got me to think about how to proceed with branding. It is inevitable for the law firm business to respond and transform as we listen and adapt to the changes occurring within our clients’ businesses. Evolving a brand today has challenges and considerations we likely didn’t have even five years ago, including translation across countries, cultures and disparate offices.

It seems to me that the trick is not to let the pressure sway you to move just for movement’s sake. Instead, I encourage you to thoughtfully consider your points of differentiation. Whether it is a particular practice, business philosophy or market niche, strengthen those points to build your brand upon.

To brand or not to brand

The demand for legal services will never go away. However, the demand may look very different in another five years.

There is no better time than the present for midsized law firms to maintain and further invest in their brands. It’s up to you to preserve, protect and grow your brand. •

Jennifer Smuts is the director of marketing at Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz and president of the Legal Marketing Association’s Metropolitan Philadelphia Chapter.