Stand out from the crowd

Differentiating your 'product' in a homogeneous market is a tricky business. Consistent branding helps, says Chris Pullen

In 1988, Rowe & Maw took the step of commissioning photo-collage artist, Noel Myles, to produce massive collages to illustrate the firm's new corporate brochure. Lloyd Northover Citigate was employed to produce the brochure itself and establish design guidelines for future publicity.

Initially, the idea received a luke-warm reception from the organisation, but gradually the acclaim of clients and contacts won over the doubters.

A key feature of the whole programme was a public exhibition to show the work and launch the brochure. In this way, the potential for marketing communications was maximised and the image of the firm further promoted.

Now, six years later, a new brochure is required to reflect the developments within the firm and to celebrate its centenary in 1995.

Working again with Citigate, we considered a number of options, but eventually agreed to commission Noel Myles to produce another series of photo-collages to form the basis of the new brochure.

The decision was based on the belief that corporate literature can only deliver a powerful message if it is consistent. It is easy to change for the sake of it. The arrival of a new marketing head is often heralded by a visible change of house style, as the new incumbent seeks to impose their personality on the design process.

The three golden rules of corporate literature production should be: consistency of design, especially in terms of layout, colours and typeface; consistency of image; and consistency of message. And this should be enforced internally.

Prior to commissioning the new brochure, we gathered together brochures from the top 30 law firms. Although the designs varied, the copy they contained was very similar.

This is not surprising given the fact that each firm is transmitting a similar message to its clients: commitment to quality; client-driven; partner-led; commercially aware – these are recurring themes. It is only when you talk about individuals or industry groups that you begin to differentiate your product.

So if you cannot differentiate through services offered, you have to opt for the classic marketing option of differentiation by strong branding. This is the approach adopted by many companies operating in highly competitive markets where the product is broadly similar.

Baked beans are a good example. Heinz sells more baked beans and at a higher price because the strong branding differentiates it from other cans of haricot beans in tomato sauce and guarantees a consistent quality product.

What is the connection between baked beans and corporate literature for law firms? Quite a lot, if you accept that in the legal profession, the name and the visual representation of the firm are the key elements in 'branding'. To promote brand loyalty with our customers, we obviously need to provide a quality product. However, we must also promote this with consistent images and messages in all of our corporate literature.

There have been many cases of companies changing well-established brand images, only to find customers confused by the new image, causing loyalty to waver. This has often precipitated a return to the original brand image.

If you do not have consistency in your corporate literature you must get it, and keep it. If you already have a consistent approach, do not change it unless you are sure it is not working or if you want to reposition the firm. Re-inventing the wheel can be a risky business.

Chris Pullen is head of marketing at Rowe & Maw.