If you are not into marketing then the notion of rebranding can seem like a vacuous and pointless expense. As the old (adapted) joke goes: ?How do you make a small fortune from rebranding??
?Start with a big one.?
But if you admire the immediate recognition and values associated with names such as Nike or Microsoft or Ferrari, then maybe you believe investment in creating a great brand (and therefore rebranding) is an essential wealth creating opportunity.
The argument has always polarised opinion with some consumers adamant that they are not influenced by advertising, while others are brand junkies, buying almost anything if it has the right label.
In a different context and on a different scale opinion is also polarised in the legal services market. Detractors argue that rebranding is about little more than vanity. They say that the silver-backed gorillas of the legal profession have made enough money now – that was relatively easy; now these big hitters want to define their legacy. They want to define the identity of their businesses, then memorialise it. Seduced by the power of brand they pursue the corporate world?s elixir ? a product and values that speaks for itself.
The advocates for rebranding however preach that rebranding is the essential evolutionary step for legal services businesses. It will become a pre-requisite for establishing quality and awareness among clients and potential clients in an ultra competitive world. We don’t chose between Burger King and MacDonalds because of our forensic analysis of their product?s ingredients but because (usually) our children are attracted to what the brand tells them about the experience of going to each place.
Establishing a good quality brand will also help price maintenance by association with values that define an ethical basis for quality, creativity and value for money. Not a pointless, vanity driven waste of money, therefore, but critical strategic insight by true leaders.
So where does this debate take us?
It is obvious to anyone who takes a look at the state of things today that legal services operate in a market where the pace of change is quickening all the time and which is driven by the following factors:
? The continuous introduction of technology that has not only made the world a quicker, more transparent place to live and work, but which has also shortened timelines in transactions, in litigation etc and commoditised quite complex corporate and commercial matters.
? The rise and rise of procurement style purchasing of legal services with its emphasis on cost reduction, defined and measurable service performance indicators and routine, systematic review.
? Niche players finding that excellence is not dependent on size, thus creating a market for legal services away from the globalised monoliths.
? Mid-sized firms realising that merger or significant internal structural change are their main routes to surviving the next five years.
? An in-house legal community that is more self-confident, of a significantly higher quality and much more demanding than it has ever been. In-house lawyers therefore act as gate-keepers to their businesses, filtering inefficient outsourcing and holding the legal spend budgets for their companies.
There are other factors as well, but in these five points it is clear that change is rapid and real and that perhaps above everything else there are fewer and fewer of the old certainties in legal services.
When the world is in such a state of flux, what is needed is great leadership, a confident proposition and a genuine understanding of how to adapt and exploit old and new markets.
Hence the push for a brand identity that supports these values and helps to establish the credentials of one player against another.
In the days when the choice was between Bloggs, Higgins and Bloggs at one end of the town and Herbert, Humphrey and Harris at the other, brand did not matter at all. Now however we could expect ?BHB legal? or ?3H? (as they would surely now be known) to have marketing teams, business development teams, brochures, websites, seminar programmes, on-line tools, PR professionals, focus groups etc; and all geared to help develop, define and live up to the brand that each firm believes will help secure its future.
We can all scoff a little at the fortunes spent on fine (even imperceptible) nuances of shade and typeface that caricature some efforts, but what everyone is seeking is that edge that makes their firm more memorable.
In my judgment we are still at the start of the change cycle. It is very difficult to predict what will happen and when, but even a casual observer would think that there was much more to follow.
The advent of external investment which, in the UK at least, is close to becoming a reality and the increasing pressure on both buyers and suppliers to articulate value, are just two of the pressure points.
While the end game however is some way off, we know now what has to be done to survive and thrive in the new environment:
? Firms cannot simply proclaim excellence in legal expertise as a point of differentiation.
? The values a firm holds dear may be a factor that resonates but it will be the consistency with which a firm lives up to those values that tests their credibility the most.
? Articulating value and innovation in both pricing and risk sharing will be keep factors as well. Not just a great service but an incentivised and targeted service that business people will see has made a genuine contribution to the bottom line.
? Value-added services that are not ?given-away? but which are part of the service proposition, leveraged and thought through, meeting the real needs of the client.
? Soft skills (relationship management, presentation, communication etc) that are so well trained and so finely honed that nothing is left to chance.
So is rebranding about vanity, well for a few misguided souls it might be. It is however far more important than that.
For most firms their brand will become a key part of their client proposition. For most firms investing in the brand, in identifying the values that define the essence of service and integrity, will become an essential exercise in the months and years to come.