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Brand Aid (part one)

One of my favorite brand names is Kodak — probably because the story behind the brand is almost as good as the name itself. Visiting the Eastman house in Rochester a couple of years ago, I was mesmerized by George Eastman’s foresight in creating a brand that not only sounds right (like a camera snapping), but is a completely made-up name (so much easier to protect as a trademark).

According to the story, he wanted a simple name that was easy to pronounce and that would not be associated with anything but itself. He succeeded.

It’s a little different for professional service firms. Over the past decade, law firms have taken shape through branding efforts. Traditionally, these firms are named for their original founders and partners, but the trend seems to be using truncated versions of traditional names or the use of initials.

Perhaps because legal tech’s market is often law firms or corporate law departments, some companies have tended to be more conservative in their branding. Others have branded their services in alignment with the tech side, rather than the legal side and have moved away from traditional branding.

One thing we know for sure. The legal industry, whether law firm or legal tech, has fully embraced the fact that branding and identity are important components of communications and marketing.

Some law firms have retained heavy-hitting branding and identity companies for the work. Some have tasked this effort to their internal marketers. Unless your internal creative team is having a very good day, this might not be the best choice.

Generally, it takes a great deal of thought and research to create a great brand. Not only does the initial branding effort require a commitment of time and resources, it also requires some components that are not so evident at first glance.

Branding initiatives are a positive step for most businesses. But there also are several aspects to the branding process that may not be obvious.

In the next few weeks, I will be posting on the exercise of branding which does not end once you have chosen your logo or created a tag line. Brand management is also a critical follow-up component to integrated communications and reputation management. Branding efforts do not end with the selection of your name, logo or colors. That is just the beginning.

Identify or Hire the Right Expertise

An important first step in the branding process is to determine whether using internal expertise or hiring outside expertise is the best approach. If you have this expertise internally (in marketing communications or elsewhere in your organization), this also is where branding ownership should probably reside once you have gone through the branding process.

If you do not have this expertise internally (and even if you do), consider hiring a branding or identity expert even for a part of the process. This does not have to break the bank. Retaining branding expertise from outside your business can help ensure objectivity that might be more difficult from an internal position.

If you decide to go forward with branding initiatives with your internal expertise, be cautious. Great branding needs objectivity.

A recent example is a law firm that created a logo internally with colors, look and feel that are, to be blunt, outdated. The firm wants to be viewed as having a great tradition, but is also moving towards cutting edge work. The logo created internally does not project this image at all. But because the firm leadership directed the effort and “liked” it — as did some of the firm’s clients — it was selected.

The logo was not tested with objective audiences. An objective test with a broader audience could have some surprising results for this firm.

This is an example of a very subtle process problem with internal branding. It is a wise move to step back and open up your branding process to your markets, not selectively, but broadly to ensure that you are making the best decision about your branding.

Everything that goes into the branding mix needs to speak to your firm or business identity and aspirations. Hiring the right expertise should make it more likely that you will end up with an identity that actually reflects your business or firm. And if your business does not have the resources to hire a branding and identity firm for the entire project, consider getting limited support for key benchmarks in the process.