In today’s highly competitive legal landscape, where maintaining professionalism and credibility is paramount, the significance of visual design often takes a backseat. However, by embracing design and strategically harnessing visual elements, law firms can distinguish themselves, enhance brand perception, and elevate the client experience. This article aims to shed light on the importance of clear objectives, the most common approaches to modernizing a firm’s brand, and effective methods for law firms to leverage design to leave a lasting impact.
Recently, I encountered a thought-provoking argument by Paul Worthington, a strategist, and writer, who criticized ongoing “rebranding” efforts in today’s business climate, likening them to disguised advertising campaigns. He posits when we discuss “rebranding” every few years, we are essentially referring to marketing or advertising endeavors. In business, where the term “branding” is often thrown around casually, examining the practice more closely seems appropriate.
Within the legal industry, rebranding efforts encompass a range of approaches, varying from the most dramatic to the most common. These approaches include:
Full Name-Change Rebrand: This type of rebranding is relatively uncommon and typically occurs during a merger, where the firms adopt a combined name. Conversely, firms may add or subtract named partners.
Logo Redesign/Rebrand: A logo redesign/rebrand entails a significant change to the logo and is often accompanied by a comprehensive overhaul of the entire identity system.
Identity System Rebrand: This form of rebranding occurs when a firm feels its communication is not accurately representing the image they wish to project. This effort encompasses colors, typography, graphics, and imagery. However, the name and logo remain unchanged, although subtle tweaks may be made to the logo.
Now, let’s dive deeper into each approach:
Full Name-Change Rebrand
When a law firm experiences a merger or a similar event that necessitates a new name to reflect a fresh start or a newly combined value proposition, a name change accompanied by a completely new identity system is appropriate. Managing this type of rebranding can be challenging, as it often requires time for the new name to gain recognition and establish itself in the market. Achieving internal alignment and acceptance among partners will require substantial efforts from the brand, marketing, and communications teams, both in terms of time and budget. This form of rebranding is the most intense and expensive of the three.
Logo Redesign Rebrand
A logo redesign rebrand involves a significant alteration to the logo and is often accompanied by a comprehensive overhaul of the entire visual identity system. While frequent logo redesigns or updates are more commonly seen in commercial goods and services, many law firms have realized the importance of refreshing their logos and graphics to remain relevant and resonate with their target audience.
In the legal industry, the decision to undertake a logo rebrand often depends on partner sentiment and the firm’s specific goals. While it may be true that clients rarely hire or reject a law firm solely based on its logo, a well-designed and modernized visual identity can contribute to an overall positive brand perception and help align its image with evolving market trends.
It is crucial to note that the legal profession is deeply rooted in precedent and tradition. Some established firms with older logos have maintained their reputation and appeal, particularly when their history and connections align well with their target audience. However, there are also law firms that can benefit from modernization, especially those catering to clients in technology or other industries. When considering a logo rebrand, law firms must navigate business strategy with partner preferences carefully, ensuring alignment and consensus on the new direction. This can take a considerable amount of time and budget.
While the logo is a critical element, equal attention should be given to the overall visual identity system, including colors, typography, imagery, and graphic elements. These elements should harmonize with the firm’s positioning, strategy, values, and target audience. By investing in a well-designed logo and visual identity design, law firms can convey expertise, and professionalism, thereby enhancing brand perception and making a memorable impression on clients.
System or Campaign Rebrand
A system or campaign rebrand focuses on updating and refreshing the firm’s communication materials and touchpoints while preserving the core elements of the existing brand identity. This approach is suitable when the firm undergoes changes in its business model, value proposition, or target customer segments and aims to communicate these transformations effectively.
Although this type of rebranding may not involve drastic changes like a complete name change or logo redesign, it still requires careful consideration. Law firms embarking on significant transformations can benefit from this type of rebranding to align their brand perception with the evolved business and signal change to clients and stakeholders without the headaches and cost associated with a logo redesign.
During a system or campaign rebrand, it is essential to identify the distinctive and differentiated elements within the existing brand identity. These elements could include visual components such as colors, typography, or graphic elements that have successfully represented the firm’s unique characteristics and values. By updating and enhancing these distinctive elements instead of discarding them unknowingly, law firms can maintain continuity while refreshing their brand presence.
Moreover, having a comprehensive understanding of the competitive landscape is crucial. This enables law firms to identify common tropes to avoid and ensures that their brand stands out among competitors. By differentiating themselves through a thoughtfully crafted visual identity system and compelling communication materials, law firms can position themselves as leaders in their respective markets.
While a system or campaign rebrand may serve as a signal of change, it is essential to remember that altering perceptions is a long-term endeavor. It requires discipline, consistency, and a comprehensive approach that goes beyond visual updates. Law firms must align their brand transformation efforts with their overall business strategy, ensuring that the narrative surrounding the rebrand directly connects to market changes and the value proposition.
Practically speaking, the most effective way to achieve this is through a continual process of incremental improvement, akin to applying small adjustments instead of resorting to major surgery every few years. By considering the complex factors specific to your firm and strategically utilizing design, law firms can enhance brand perception, differentiate themselves from competitors, and create a consistent and memorable client experience that fosters trust and loyalty.
This post was originally published on Lynda’s LinkedIn newsletter, Marketing without Jargon. Lynda leads a team at Decker Design that focuses on helping law firms build differentiated brands.