Law firms must build a solid brand to compete. But it shouldn’t be too gimmicky or over-familiar, writes Chris Rodgers.

In today’s consumer-driven world, what better way to demonstrate who you are, what you do, and how good you are than through a brand?

Brands are, of course, everywhere; the food you eat, the drinks you choose, even the newspapers you read are determined by your trust in that brand. Your first experience with any of the above could be because the packaging looked appealing, a friend made a recommendation, or perhaps a recent advertisement connected with you.

If the people behind the brand are doing it right, then no matter how you were introduced, you will have developed a relationship with that brand, which in turn caused you to make a decision in their favour, by buying their product.

Services are not much different than goods. If I mentioned meerkats or opera singers, you’ll more than likely know I’m talking about insurance comparison websites Compare the Market and GoCompare respectively. You may not have used these services yet but it’s a fair bet that when it comes to renew your car, home or contents insurance, you’ll think of going to either of those comparison sites.

For many people, as with insurance, legal services tend to sit there, ready and waiting for when they are needed. So when the day dawns, how do we ensure that we are the first in mind when they need a PI lawyer?

A clever catchphrase (who can forget ‘Where there’s blame, there’s a claim’?), well-known representative or gimmick (toy meerkats, anyone?) can all be part of building a brand that helps keep you at the forefront of people’s minds, just in case they should ever need you. But how you use them must be considered carefully.

A brand that suggests you understand what your customers need, what they’re going through and that you’re approachable goes a long way to removing any barriers they may have about giving you a call, but you don’t want to go too far. People still want to trust that people handling their matter are professionals.

Yes, you must be able to show you’re human enough to guide them through the legal process sympathetically but a balance needs to be found. Too far into the gimmick side of branding and you risk damaging your reputation as excellent lawyers, too far the other way and you may end up alienating a large group of people who don’t feel like you’re a firm that will understand their troubles.

Trust is the most important factor with branding and undoubtedly, given the ‘ambulance-chasers’ hammering the sector has taken in recent years, claims management companies and law firms have to consider how best to win this.

Primarily we need to build trust that we are working in clients’ best interests, that we are their champion. Of course, what you actually do needs to back that message up, or it can go horribly wrong.

A brand should should evolve over the years, and in the post-LASPO world should change from a focus on the right to compensation to the bigger picture of what is being achieved. This accentuates the positive of what PI lawyers and CMCs do – it’s not just about the money, but the satisfaction of righting a wrong.

It’s a powerful message and it is interesting to see adverts from other big players in the market increasingly focusing on other elements of the case, most notably rehabilitation, rather than the money.

Our own model has allowed us to use former tennis player and now TV presenter Andrew Castle to front our advertising. This has undoubtedly helped. It is, if you like, one brand endorsing another and reassures potential clients that they are dealing with a respectable organisation, something that is reinforced immediately upon their contact with us.

Branding will become ever more important as the long-term effects of the Jackson reforms become apparent. All PI law firms must start to develop branding that will promote their services to the clients who were beforehand simply handed over to them. Law firms need to identify what makes their firm different from their competitors and then deliver that message internally and to future and current clients consistently.

This isn’t easy in such a crowded market, but we think we have shown that it can be done.

Your brand must influence the way you promote your firm and dictate your ongoing client care and employee behaviour. Your firm will in turn become your brand, saturating everything you do. Feed your brand, by maintaining the excellent service your clients are used to, and your brand will return the favour delivering clients to you with a ready-made relationship.

Chris Rodgers is head of business development at First4Lawyers