It is an understatement to say that the practice of law is a competitive profession. As increased numbers of attorneys enter the field during a slowed economy, there is fierce competition for market share. As such, there is a continued emphasis on the notion that methods of “traditional marketing” are no longer effective. Instead, legal marketing experts encourage practitioners to think outside the box, reasoning that one can be an extremely proficient and brilliant technical attorney, but these skills alone may not guarantee a successful career; you need clients that will hire you. Under the umbrella of new age marketing for attorneys is the concept of branding.
Personal branding for lawyers… say what? But I am just a little larva in the life cycle of an attorney, how can I develop a brand when I am just starting out? Personal branding is most likely a challenge for even the most seasoned attorneys. It is equally, if not more intimidating, to those just starting out with limited work experiences and no developed niche.
We’re not Prince who can get by with a symbol instead of a name, Madonna who people know by first name alone, or a Martha Stewart whose name sells products in Michaels, Macy’s, Home Depot and Petsmart. Branding for attorneys treads a fine line between maintaining professional integrity and effectiveness.
So where should new attorneys start to build their “brand”?
The first step is practicing self- awareness. What are you interested in? Where do you see yourself in five years? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What areas of yours need some work- both professionally and personally? Mastery of self-awareness promotes both humility and confidence. No one is good at everything, but everyone is good at something. Awareness of externalities is just as important as internalities. How we dress, speak and conduct ourselves around others builds our brand. Do you think you come across as how you intend? Once you have an understanding of yourself and how the world might perceive you, you can fine-tune these impressions to develop your brand.
The second step is to pay attention to how you react to our environment and to intentional branding. Think for a moment of people, products or iconography in our culture; companies spend millions of dollars on research to identify how branding their products will hinder or enhance sales. What kind of audiences do they seek when selecting certain colors, sounds or images to market their products?
The best example of this is the cereal aisle. There is Lucky Charms, sold in a colorful box with Lucky the leprechaun purporting that his cereal is magically delicious. The brand succeeds in conveying fun, youth and sweetness. Original Cheerios is packaged in a yellow box with a simple heart-shaped bowl filled with the product. (who knew there are now more than 10 kinds of Cheerios?) This brand conveys wholesome, healthy and simple. Wheaties, the breakfast of champions, features prominent athletes and essentially brands itself as the cereal for active people. Finally, we have my favorite example of branding, Raisin Bran, a hybrid between Cheerios and Lucky Charms. The box is covered by a big old smiling sun, holding not one but two scoops of raisins, that hovers over the bowl of bran. Eat me, I am healthy, happy and economical- there are two scoops! The point is that this is all cereal. It’s all made from some combination of grains and sugar, you pour it in a bowl and eat it with milk. Yet, the varying images on the boxes evoke different reactions to each product. This is branding.
The third step is to try and put steps one and two together: how we see ourselves and how we digest the world. Once you have a handle on these areas, continue to work towards building your brand by aligning yourself with your identified interests. Branding is a very individualized process, but it also helps to have a good friend who can give you honest feedback.