Familiarity Breeds Contentment

by Janet Odgis on September 22, 2013

Ogdis, JanetWhat’s in a name — and a logo? Plenty. Your firm’s core identity, for one. Your name and logo (your branding, taken together) represent the first glimpse potential clients get of you, and longtime clients take comfort in the stability and reassurance your branding confers. If you’re thinking of altering it for whatever reason — a shuffle in the partner ranks, a desire to be more descriptive or visually contemporary — here are some key considerations.

1. FAMILIARITY BREEDS CONTENTMENT.

However long your firm’s history, its name — often, of course, itself a collection of two or more partner surnames — is an invaluable commodity. You’ve made a substantial investment in establishing it in clients’ minds and the broader legal marketplace. Older firms risk deemphasizing decades of hard-won recognition; newer ones risk a step back to square one. A branding overhaul can be invigorating, but be sure you’re ready to make it happen.

2. HALF A LOAF, OR WHOLE HOG?

Might a partial branding shift meet your needs better than a wholesale switch — perhaps shortening to an acronym rather than changing the name outright? A roughly analogous situation cropped up in January, when floundering smartphone pioneer Research in Motion changed its name to BlackBerry, rebranding itself after the classic product that brought it to prominence. Consumer confusion was likely to be minimal, but the move gave off an unmistakable odor of desperation. How much of your firm’s current branding ought to be kept, and what is the reaction likely to be? Perhaps leave the name intact but give the logo a fresh, contemporary makeover. Half-measures are sometimes more effective than complete transformations.

3. LET’S GET WHIMSICAL?

An august law practice should never sacrifice solemn professionalism on the altar of irreverence, right? Well, maybe: Consider Morrison & Foerster, a prominent firm specializing in finance, technology and life sciences, with offices in 16 countries. It refers to itself, with a hint of salaciousness, as “MoFo,” and it doesn’t shy from the term: “About MoFo.” “MoFo Women.” “MoFo Foundation.” Risky? Sure, a little — but also an artful balance of the madcap and the serious. And it’s nothing if not memorable. The firm’s logo remains crisp and professional, its credentials beyond dispute. Such cheek might be too much for many practices, but it helps underscore that creative branding and beautiful design, while a modest component of client service, are essential all the same.

4. THE AFFECTION CONNECTION.

Clients, especially longtime clients, often feel tremendous loyalty to a firm’s name and, somewhat less overtly, its logo. Presumably, few people select a law firm because they like the sound of its name or the look of its logo. But don’t discount the almost familial connection such things can inspire: Twitter’s bluebird. The playful sound of “Google.” Coca-Cola’s timeless script lettering. This is especially true for makers of consumer goods, of course, but the premise holds in the legal space as well. Increasing clients’ fondness for your firm is one of the more subtle benefits of a high-quality rebranding.

5. DIFFERENTIATE THE POSITIVE.

The above are all crucial elements of brand differentiation, a vital consideration when your firm merges with another or mulls a redo of its overall look. A stellar example of differentiation is designer Paul Rand’s two transformations (in 1956 and 1972) of the logo of International Business Machines into the blocky, then striped, IBM logo still instantly recognizable today. (IBM had first abbreviated its corporate name in 1947 — a highly uncommon move at the time.) Similarly dramatic changes for your firm must take into account partner names and sensitivities, as well as the potential effect on your relationship with current and prospective clients. Done thoughtfully and artfully, though, brand differentiation of this nature can ultimately, like Rand’s iconic IBM, become a classic.

Janet Odgis is the Creative Director and President of Odgis + Co., an award-winning woman-owned design firm based in New York City. For over 25 years she has worked with some of the world’s most prestigious corporations and foundations reinventing ways to define and express their brands.

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