11 Oct Corporate vs personal practice branding
One of the most difficult decisions when starting up a new practice is to decide on the practice name: should you name (or rename) the practice after yourself, or alternatively go for an impersonal ‘corporate’ brand?
There are many considerations, and both good and bad reasons for choosing one over the other. Here are some of the issues I believe practitioners should consider:
Personal practice brands (e.g. Smith Lawyers)
The most obvious reason for choosing personal branding for your practice is that it is much easier to build a personal brand. It’s already been created and promoted – it’s you!
In a profession/industry where differentiation is both so important and so difficult, a personal brand carries with it a relatively unique set of associations that will set you apart from your competition, aiding both recognition and promotion. You will have been building your personal brand all your career, and you will have already established a market presence and reputation even before you go out on your own. People will remember you and search for you.
A personal brand is also more flexible in that, if your practice changes focus and you begin something new, you can adapt your offerings without needing to change the name of the practice. In a fast-changing profession, that has to be a plus.
Corporate practice brands (e.g. Success Litigation)
Corporate practice brands, on the other hand
- can clearly position you: tell people where you are, what you do or how you do it (e.g. Cairns Quick Conveyancing Pty Ltd).
- can support specific digital marketing strategies,
- can be more diplomatic and egalitarian in their recognition of more individuals, and
- also have more value for sale or succession.
Key questions to ask yourself therefore include:
- How prominent and valuable is my/our existing personal brand(s)?
- Does my personal brand help to clearly position my offering? Do people know what I do?
- How much is the appeal of the practice based around the experience and expertise of individuals?
- Will the practice grow significantly? Do I anticipate other individuals having an important role in the practice?
- Is sale or succession an important consideration?
- Will the practice’s offering change significantly going forward, which may impact the relevance of the brand?
- What is my marketing strategy? Will I rely heavily on personal networking, personal referrals, personal blogging and speaking etc., or will I focus on digital marketing and advertising?
Can I have the best of both worlds?
There is, of course, no need to put all your eggs in one basket:
- A practice name can combine both some personal and some positioning component (e.g. Smiths Family Lawyers).
- A practice can use multiple trading names and different brands within the same single practice
- A personal brand can be successfully promoted alongside a corporate practice brand
- A brand can evolve so that the practice name changes subtly towards more of a corporate practice brand as it grows. (John Smiths Lawyers – Smiths Conveyancing Lawyers – Cairns Conveyancing for example)
Modesty, vanity and size insecurities
Most of the time, I think people make the right choice. Where they don’t, either modesty or vanity are often to blame. Undue modesty is far more common than vanity: I regularly see solicitors choose a corporate practice brand for no good reason when greater leverage of their personal brand would have allowed them to build the practice much quicker. It is genuine modesty – they don’t realise how well known and well respected they are amongst their potential clients.
With some, its size insecurity – they feel that they need to promote a more corporate image to reassure their clients that they are legitimate and substantial. This sort of approach is not only potentially misleading or transparent (clients can tell when its only you), but its also counter to the fact that people prefer to do business with people, and that larger client organisations are increasingly preferring to work with individual solicitors as the appeal and mystique of larger practices wanes.
Whether you adopt a personal or corporate practice brand, or a hybrid, ensure you choose for the right reasons! If you cannot think of a good reason/justification for choosing a corporate practice brand (positioning / growth / succession / recognising others / digital marketing), maybe take another look in the mirror.