Writing about brands is like wrestling an oiled octopus; it seems to require a grounding simultaneously in psychology, economics, art and textual analysis.
Professional services brands are even more difficult to parse; how does a client differentiate between one set of people in suits and another? Is it about intellectual reputation or service delivery, or a combination of both? And on a practical level, how do law firms create a brand, sustain it and protect it? And if, as the old adage has it, no one ever got fired for using Slaughter and May, how come not all clients use the firm?
If a brand is a shorthand for a set of experiences connected to one organisation, these experiences can extend from client dining room to the lobby to outside the office walls. This explains why Eversheds has a feedback form to clients about the meet-and-greet services in the foyer and why Mishcon de Reya is a sponsor of Jazz FM; branding requires curating a whole set of cultural and organisational associations.
Furthermore, brand management has been complicated by social media. What was based on word-of-mouth recommendations morphed into more manageably spun directory submissions in the 1990s, but Twitter has made word-of-mouth powerful again.
But as far as the client relationship is concerned – why this general counsel is picking that law firm – it comes down to an emotional connection to a commercial proposition.
Private practitioners often forget that in-house lawyers, who almost always start in private practice and read the legal press, have a good grasp of the differences between law firm offerings. De La Rue legal director Douglas Denham puts it in a nutshell (see feature). He asks: “Why do we pay £5 for this cappuccino when we could go down the road and pay £2 for something that tastes the same? The answer is that we’re happy to pay more for the whole package – the service, the ambiance, the premium brand reassurance.”
In other words, much decision-making can be subconscious. This explains why procurement professionals’ approach to choosing legal services dismays so many in-house lawyers; there’s no room for the subconscious, the emotional or
the instinctive. The discipline of procurement is anti-brand; no wonder it makes so many law firms uncomfortable.