While traveling to Chicago today (an adventure in and of itself, due to delayed and cancelled flights and two trips through security – a story for another time), I had the opportunity to read a fascinating in-flight magazine article in American Airlines’ American Way magazine.
The article, titled “The Brand Challenge,” by Kristin Baird Rattini, discusses how private labels in grocery stores are gaining some real traction against national brands. Since I was already contemplating a post that focused on how brands outside of the legal industry can teach us lessons, I was particularly attuned to how the article is relevant to lawyers and legal marketers.
Let’s look at a few of the quotes that struck me, first, starting with the idea behind the article:
It’s called the Publix Brand Challenge, and it’s as close to a callout as you’ll find in the grocery industry. Several times a year, the Publix Super Markets chain in the Southeast pits three to five of its store-brand products against their national-brand equivalents…If customers buy one of the featured national-brand products, they’ll get the Publix store-branded version for free. ‘Buy theirs, get ours free,’ the ad trumpets. ‘We think you’ll prefer Publix.’”
I had two thoughts immediately as I read that – the first was to wonder how many law firms are so confident in their service and the ability to please their clients that they’d be able to make such a bold claim and challenge? And secondly, how can firms be the “Publix” of the legal market – are the services that you’re offering as part of your brand being overlooked because another law firm is “safer” or “cheaper?”
PS – Publix isn’t just trying to get attention; the data for this is backing up their claim that private labels are becoming more and more successful, and, of course, some of that is due in part to the economy. But it’s also because the brands are being revamped to be better and to really compete with national brands. Similarly, we’re seeing much more competition in the legal marketplace – as we’ve discussed many times in the last several years, quality is what gets you to the table, so what are you doing as a firm to differentiate yourself?
For these private brands, creating higher quality products is the differentiator, because cost-savings is the common denominator – but it is different for law firms.
Why does it matter? Well, here’s another great quote, this one from Christopher Durham, a private brand consultant who runs My Private Brand (www.mypbrand.com):
‘But if you have a great store brand, it gives you the opportunity to build strong, unique relationships with your customers because the customers must come back to your store for it.’” [emphasis is mine]
What is it that your law firm “sells” that no other firm does? What can clients find at your firm that they can’t also find at every other firm in the marketplace? Is it a guarantee that you’ll call them within 24 hours of any email or voicemail? Is it a real focus on business over the law? Is it an efficient and streamlined process management system? If the answer is “hey, we’re just really good lawyers,” then you’re running the risk that your clients can and will just go to another firm that also has “really good lawyers.” Why should they come to and stay with YOU?
Although this article focused on consumer products at grocery stores, I saw parallel after parallel with the legal industry. Another quote struck me with the idea that smaller and mid-sized firms are more nimble in a down market, in the same way that private label brands are able to be:
‘Retailers with store brands were able to react more quickly to the recession than the large national brands,’ says Don Welge, president of the Gilster-Mary Lee Corp…’Store brands were able to gain a competitive advantage at that time,’ Welge says. ‘Consumers had less money in their pockets and were shopping harder to save money for their families. As a result, some started using store brands who hadn’t tried them before.’"
The legal industry saw this too – clients had always had the power in the client-attorney relationship, but once the downturn hit, they started to realize it. They became and have remained more cost-conscious, and so began to give more work to smaller firms that they may not have previously worked with, who could more easily offer creative cost-effective solutions for their legal needs. And in many cases, they continue to stick with those firms.
But this doesn’t mean that smaller firms should pat themselves on the back either – if a client is willing to switch to your firm because of price, then they’re willing to switch to another firm for the same reason – unless they are motivated to stay. And with the larger firms having the chance to catch up to the marketplace, they are also beginning to be just as competitive again. So I ask again, why should your clients come to and stay with YOU?
Even the article points out that "where store brands are seeing the greatest growth…is with value-added products, not budget items" – perhaps a client hires a law firm because they offer good cost value, but that’s not why they’ll ultimately stay with them (in most cases). What are the value-added products that your firm is giving to your clients? Better service? More focused client teams? It’s essential to really identify what those are.
"[S]tore brands are filling niches overlooked by the national brands." How is your firm filling the niches overlooked by other law firms? There is huge opportunity here to identify the ways in which your firm is different to others, and how that translates to being a benefit to the clients you serve and want to serve.
Once you know what that is though, you’re not finished – it’s as true for the legal market as it is for the consumer one:
"Once those new products arrive…retailers can’t just let them idle on the shelves. ‘Private label doesn’t sell itself,’ Welge says. ‘You have to do a thorough job of packaging and promoting it.’
Law firms must do this too – how can you articulate the "packaging" of your services in a way that sets you apart from the rest of the firms out there? There are many different ways to do this, but maybe it’s not a bad idea to take a page from the retailers here either:
Raley’s went the prize route too. It offered $5,000 in gift cards to the customer who could make the best 30-second commercial praising the virtues of the chain’s store-brand products. The finalists’ ads were posted on YouTube."
Would any of your firms challenge your clients to be creative in helping you promote your services? I know it would be unlike business law firms (and impossible in some states for ethics rules) to ask their clients to enter a YouTube commercial contest, but I would be just tickled to see something unique and memorable like that to come out of the industry.
I will admit – I’m not a big fan of change. When something works, I’m happy to just keep doing that as long as it’s sustainable. So I understand the feeling of many lawyers who wish things would return to the way that they used to be (before 2008) and are reticent to have to make any radical changes. But what many of us have been saying all along is true – the changes brought about by the 2008 downturn are here to stay – and really, that’s not a bad thing.
There’s a quote that I like (and I’m paraphrasing here), which basically says that we may not like change, but if we think about where we want to be ten years from now, it’s usually not in exactly the same place as we are now. And we can’t get there unless things change, so we shouldn’t be afraid of it. The new challenges put in front of us are an opportunity for us all to be creative, to grow and become better servants for our clients – whether we’re legal marketers or attorneys. We can either kick and scream and be miserable about it, or we can be excited and welcome the chance to grow.
While I may not embrace change every day, I am happy that the changes our profession has and is undergoing mean that I need to be more thoughtful and more demanding of myself – which helps me constantly look for inspiration wherever I can find it. Even in a consumer brand challenge!