By Stephen Izatt, Managing Director of strategic branding and campaign agency Thinkfarm
When the phone rings at Thinkfarm HQ, it’s increasingly likely to be a legal-tech company at the other end of the line looking for advice on how to communicate its offer to traditional law practices. That might be because it’s new and needs a from-scratch brand strategy and identity. Or it might be because an existing business has outgrown its current ‘jacket’ and needs a complete refit; a clear architecture and identity to better reflect what it’s now bringing to the table.
For people new to the game, sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. Start-up entrepreneurs are often in too deep, buried in the detail. Outsourcing to a brand strategist can bring clarity – essential if you’re to decant the contents of your head and have them make sense to the people that matter.
For those further down the line there are different kinds of problems. A business might be expanding its offer, and the existing brand strategy and identity no longer make sense. Or it could be embarking on a major digitisation project. Here the brand strategist’s role might be to develop a new structure to support the growing business. As well as serve as a brand guardian, ensuring cohesion and integrity as the organisation shifts and expands.
Jon Brewer, now a founder of will-writing platform Bequeathed, was a director of international legal research firm LexisNexis, and called Thinkfarm because he was doing just that. LexisNexis was shifting from being a print archive of thousands and thousands of legal texts to digitising and expanding its portfolio. To accommodate this new, more complex suite of products and online approach, a different architecture was required.
There were a few jobs to do here. The naming convention needed to be revised so that people could navigate the database and reach the right information quickly. So we moved it from LexisNexis, with tens of different product names, to Lexis Library, Lexis PSL, Lexis Applications, Lexis Learning, etc. It’s a deceptively simple approach because, not only does it serve as a navigational tool, but it also demonstrates that it’s designed to be complementary to traditional law practice methods. It uses language that the target customer understands, and it shows that, rather than threatening traditional systems, LexisNexis serves to enhance them.
The new brand strategy needed to persuade consumers and stakeholders of its effectiveness and reliability. Again, the clarity and seeming simplicity of the approach worked to achieve this. It also made it easier for sales teams to sell the product and create bespoke packages. LexisNexis is now regarded as the market leader in its field.
Our work with Mattersmith required something quite different. Founder Andrew Scott was leaving heavyweight firm Bond Dickinson to set up his own company – a legal practice committed to improving the productivity of legal and contractual processes using digital platforms and in-real-life methods. Having experienced Thinkfarm’s work for his previous employer, he knew the team could help him with his next big move.
Lawyers talk about ‘matters’ and Andrew told us that he wanted to make a virtue of helping with ‘everyday matters’, taking over the complex legal procedures that absorb huge amounts of in-house counsel’s time. The name Mattersmith was devised to respond to that and to demonstrate expertise. The messaging – legal advice, accelerated by technology – was careful not to exclude human intervention. Still so important in a world that values human interaction and is sometimes distrustful of technological approaches. It’s a country mile away from seeming like some kind of robo-lawyer, and the feedback Andrew has received indicates that it’s well-known – and understood – within the profession.
If these approaches appear simple on the surface, that’s because they do their job. They make perfect sense. The structure, messaging, tone of voice and creative expression don’t have to work too hard to make the offer understood. They can also flex and grow without needing a major rethink down the road. It should feel a bit, “Oh, of course!” Anything abstract, try-hard or oblique is not a good thing. Nor is anything that backs you into a cul-de-sac and thwarts new direction and growth.
This isn’t back-of-a-beer-mat stuff. As Andrew said when we discussed the Mattersmith project, “There are so many names and tag lines in this sector that leave you scratching your head. ‘What the hell is it?’ If I can’t get my message across in 30 seconds or less, I’ve lost an opportunity. It’s about instant understanding. It really is as make or break as that.”