Does your Brand = (internal) Culture?

A law firm’s Brand is obsessed over:

  • The name – should we abbreviate it?
  • The colour.
  • The stationery.
  • The brochures.
  • The lack of differentiation of the website.
  • The car parking signs – oh yes, trust me on this one.
  • Folders, business cards, and advertising – even down to the minutia of the font size.
  • And if all else fails wheel in the brand consultant to make sense of everything.

When I say “obsessed over”, please don’t take that to mean it is understood properly or at all. I just mean that it takes up copious and very often unwarranted amounts of time.

But now think about the development of the culture of the (/your) firm. How much time does that take up?

I sense an echo…

Very little if any. In fact, most partners don’t like to go near the subject for fear that it will reflect badly on them.

It is a moot point but even in these more enlightened times where hopefully the silo mentality is on the wane, I still remain to be convinced that the culture is anything other than a tribe of followers coalescing around a few senior partners. In other words the culture will change from partner to partner. Now you may be wondering if that is different in kind to a lot of businesses but truly, honestly is that right? Would you honestly expect one manager of a large retail chain to have such an overwhelming amount of power or influence over how the brand was perceived by their clients? Oh sure it might not be this way with a small independent but compare a £10m business with a £10m law firm? I think you get the point.

The problem is, and sorry if I inadvertently offend anyone – oh bugger it I am bound to offend someone – it is far easier to change the stationery than it is the partner cohort. Indeed my view is that if it weren’t for the rather moribund and stagnant partnership structure, firms would have moved far more quickly to take advantage of market opportunities, even nascent ones and change the perceived culture of the firm. I am not ignoring the fact that trying to move people in a direction that they very often don’t want to go or at least have some strong reservations about is tricky, but don’t ignore the internal paradigm or at least give it the same amount of time as the branding issue. After all what is the point in changing the colour of the firm’s brand if people still believe it stands for something else?

A good way to look at this is to codify your values and see how that mirrors both the firm’s (perceived) culture and then compare it to the brand and messaging that that dissipates. If there is any incongruence then look at the values/culture first before hoping that the brand will lead the charge.

An example might look like something like this:

Firm name: Snooks LLP (a fictional firm)

Brand: Bright Red with Ariel font on a white background.

Messaging:

  • Dynamic;
  • Forward thinking;
  • Modern;
  • Clean;
  • Crisp;
  • Authentic;
  • Commercial feel.

Culture:

  • Old school in certain areas (property and private client);
  • Known for acting for wealthy individuals but very commercial clients of any note;
  • Led by a 2nd generation senior partner who is active in the community;
  • Trying to win new strands of work in IP and IT;
  • Stodgy in places;
  • Trying very hard to ape a larger firm but hasn’t got the client base to justify it;
  • Poor promotion record of woman partners;
  • Lost a number of senior fee earners who have all reported that too much power is concentrated in the centre;
  • Has a reputation as a hire and fire place;
  • Pays its staff well in some areas but only the bare minimum in others;
  • Its offices are out of date and looking tired.

Hopefully you can see the disconnect. There are many more things on the culture side of the equation that need to be sorted out or actions put in train whereas the branding material is going to be easier to implement – even if its reach is not fully understood at this stage.

It may never or rarely be possible to square the circle but you can bet your bottom dollar that those firms or entities coming into the market will have done a lot of market testing over their proposition and that will mean in all likelihood an internal and external exercise. Even if that is not the case, they are unlikely to bear the burden or handicap of the name ‘solicitor’ which for many still connotes all the wrong things (although I accept that there will be a lot of people who still perceive their solicitor as a trusted advisor).

My message: work 10 times as hard on the culture *thing* as you do on the brand. If you lick the culture or improve it by more than 50% (if it is that easily measured) then playing artist with the brand will be so much easier and fun.

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2 responses to “Does your Brand = (internal) Culture?”

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