How to Make a Good Impression
This is the second in a three-part series that explores the drivers of a law firm’s brand lifecycle. The first part explored how to raise visibility of your brand, and this second part explores how to drive favorability toward your brand based on findings from the Acritas U.S. Brand Index.
Very often, how a law firm views itself and its competitors differs from external perceptions. For an honest review of a firm's external market position, it's important to examine the reasons why clients choose one firm over another as their most favored. This also tells you the qualities clients value the most — the most favored firms are those whose proposition is perceived to align with clients’ needs and preferences.
Our research shows the most common brand drivers can be categorized into eight main categories:
- Expertise is the most dominant factor, including quality, specialist expertise and strength of individuals.
- Service comes next and includes responsiveness, general good “customer” service and accessibility.
- For relationships, clients talk about longevity, rapport and having client focus.
- Value for money also includes competitive costs, efficiency and AFAs.
- Business savvy includes business and sector understanding, along with commercial awareness.
- Geography is global capabilities, local knowledge and national reach.
- Style encompasses professionalism, practicality and innovation.
- Reputation — very rarely does a client articulate their attraction to a firm on the basis of reputation alone.
Though most firms are favored primarily for their expertise, the greatest opportunities for differentiation are with drivers that are greatly valued by clients but more difficult to find. These are value, business savvy, geographic reach and a distinctive style of delivery.
These factors have become increasingly important to clients as market forces like globalization, economic pressure and the evolution of the general counsel role are transforming the industry.
Horses for Courses
Favorability drivers differ by market and buyer type. It is important to understand why your firm is favored in the context of your target markets as well as compared to your competitors.
Our research shows that when comparing clients by age group, the younger generations (under 50 years old) are more attracted to firms on the basis of commercial factors, such as alternative billing arrangements, a practical approach to delivering legal advice and a firm’s international reach. On the other hand, those aged 50-plus are significantly more likely to favor firms on the basis of technical factors, such as specialist expertise; ability to handle complex work; and hardworking, committed lawyers.
Age group is just one characteristic and, of course, not every client follows the same pattern. There are significant differences to be found when comparing buyers in different sectors and company types, and gender plays a role too. Our data show that female buyers are more attracted to firms for their practical approach and competitive costs, whereas male buyers place more emphasis on relationships.
In Short: Create Affinity
It is hard to differentiate in a crowded market. By understanding the more common buying traits and client services needs of different buyers and segmenting them, you can start to create a more tailored approach. A brand promise that is informed by an up-to-date understanding of the target market will speak more powerfully to clients and will be easier for the firm to bring to life.
The annual Acritas U.S. Brand Index tracks brand data for more than 600 law firms across six metrics in the U.S. market, including: top of mind brand awareness, most favored, most considered for top-level litigation and M&A, and most used by U.S. and non-U.S. clients.
Elizabeth ("Lizzy") Duffy, vice president of Acritas U.S. Inc., works closely with law firms and legal departments globally and across North America. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.