You Are The Tea: The Crucial Role Of Image In Law Firm Marketing

Imagine, for a moment that, instead of being an attorney, you are a pile of tea.

I'm fairly certain no one has ever asked you to do so before, but bear with me.

You are a pile of tea. Not a big pile. A few ounces.

And, truth be told, you aren’t much different than any other pile of tea. You might be a slightly different flavor. You might be decaffeinated. And, while tea connoisseurs might disagree, to almost everyone else, let’s face it, tea is tea.

Now, here’s your choice: You can put yourself in a generic box with the local supermarket chain’s logo on it and sell on aisle 14 for $1.99, or you can pack yourself into a fancy white box decorated with Japanese higura characters with delicate cranes and bonsai trees, call yourself Tazo, and sell at Starbucks for $4.99.

It’s up to you.

As a law firm marketer, you’re in a worse position than the tea in this analogy. At least tea has a tangible physical reality. What you are selling — a service — is invisible.

As best-selling author and marketing expert Harry Beckwith emphasizes in his book, The Invisible Touch: “Products are made; services are delivered. Products are used; services are experienced. Products possess physical characteristics that we can evaluate before we buy; services do not even exist before we buy them. We request them, often paying in advance. Then we receive them.”

That’s why image marketing — packaging — is important for products, and even more important for services. This is a truth that can be difficult to accept, but one you ignore at your peril. The buying process is an emotional process.

In marketing, packaging is more important than quality. Perhaps this is not such a difficult concept to comprehend, and yet attorneys often balk at the idea. It’s easy to understand why. They work hard to develop expertise in their given field. They’ve gone to expensive schools to garner prestigious credentials. They are experts.

Attorneys often operate under the mistaken assumption that potential clients will see or hear about the attorney’s wonderful process and methods, great experience and tremendous education. They expect potential clients to rationally evaluate all this and choose the correct attorney to be the steward of their fortune.

Often the selection of an attorney comes down to something more simple: whether or not the prospect likes your tie.

I’m not saying that the quality of work or service is unimportant. I’m not suggesting that style is more important than substance. I’m not asking anyone to be fake, or insincere, or flashy.

What I am saying is that people are attracted to (and buy on the basis of) surfaces. Common sense will tell you this is true. There are all kinds of studies to show that the number one factor in used car sales is the cosmetic appearance of the car, not the mechanical condition. People who want to sell their homes create “curb appeal” by landscaping attractively, or spending extra money on doors and driveways. People who really, really want to sell their homes light candles inside, play wonderful music, buy some fragrant potpourri and have plenty of fresh cut flowers on display.

We live through our senses. We make initial judgments based on surface impressions. We have no choice. We are not blessed with X-ray vision. As with most facts of reality, those who choose to battle this phenomenon will lose. Those who use it to their advantage will win.

Again, I’m not advocating that firms or attorneys be deceitful. I’m not advocating that you present yourself as something you are not. I urge you, in Beckwith’s words, to “look as great as you are.”

Remember, we’re speaking here of the buying process only — not fulfillment, not client retention.

Most of us believe that our success ultimately will be determined by old-fashioned virtues: How hard we work; how effective our process; how great our knowledge; how special our service; and how inviolate our integrity. And when it comes to keeping clients, these qualities are crucial.

When it comes to acquiring clients, an attorney’s talent, credentials, and experience are largely useless. They are simply claims that you make. In any case, potential clients are in no position to judge an attorney’s expertise. They know little or nothing about the law, and are unable to distinguish between a C-plus attorney and an A-minus attorney.

People will not engage an attorney’s services because that attorney is the best estate planner. They will engage those services because they like the attorney’s clothes, or office, or assistant, or brochure, or business card, or seminar, or smile. They won’t tell the attorney that this is the reason. They will tell him or her that “It’s because I like you. I feel comfortable with you. I have confidence in you.”

In fact, since most of us are uncomfortable with the knowledge that we choose things based on looks and surface impressions, your potential clients will make large, subconscious efforts to convince themselves they have very good substantive reasons for choosing you.

All the better. You’ve closed the deal. You can now set about proving your new clients right.

In marketing, perception is reality, and image creates perception. You are the tea. Now go out and get yourself a compelling package.

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