Why a Down Market is the Right Time to Brand

Any time the markets turned bearish, the first instinct for many law firms is to clamp down on marketing dollars. We're told that branding -- gaining a place in the minds of buyers -- always takes years and costs tons of money. So is a bad market a bad time to embark on a branding program? No.

A branding program can have a greater impact in a downturn. Here's why:

Less competition

Look at the pages of Red Herring, Business 2.0 and other technology-oriented magazines. In a downturn these magazines are not so bulky, it is easier for your advertising to get noticed.

This isn't only true with advertising. Everyone from trade show organizers to associations find many of their usual sponsors reduce their involvement or back out all together. So this would be a prime time to show your consistency and commitment to the industry groups where your prospects and clients hang out. (Beware of having low-level involvement in many groups. Instead, hit a few groups hard and strong at the "platinum" level so your audience takes notice.)

Show of strength

A branding program during a downturn reinforces that your firm is thriving. It sends a strong message to clients and recruits alike that you are here to stay. Internally, it is a morale-booster to see the firm move confidently forward when others are in full retreat.

Training opportunity

Branding takes a firm. No brand is successful until lawyers and clients believe in it and act on it because a brand is not what the firm says about itself, but what lawyers and clients think and feel about the firm. Use a slowdown as an opportunity to train people to live your brand, not just talk about it.

Business retention

Branding helps you increase client loyalty at a time when companies may be considering a change in law firms as part of strategic, budget or personnel shifts. Don't let them go without a fight! Remember, current clients are far more profitable than new ones. And since developing new clients costs a lot more than retaining old ones, a branding program is a good investment.

Why it works

Branding works because buying decisions, including decisions about legal services, are as much emotional as rational. At the moment of decision, the brand provides a reason that goes beyond the firm itself. It is the bridge from what we know to what we feel.

If you want to increase mindshare and get into long-term memory, make the branding investment now. Remember, mindshare is a measure of a position in the minds of buyers. Holding the top position gets you on the shortlist more often and that's important at a time when there are fewer shortlists to get on.