Ep. 5: Branding 101 for ADR Professionals

Today, I want to spend some time talking about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately, that I think will really help a lot of the people listening who are trying to find ways to bring in more ADR business.

This article is also available in podcast format. You can listen to it here, or scroll past it for the text version.

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Let me start by framing the discussion with a little story. This has happened to me a number of times. I’m talking with an ADR professional, and I hear something along the lines of, “I’ve done the mediation training, or the collaborative training, but I just can’t seem to find the clients,” or “People who come to me aren’t asking about collaborative law or mediation,” or just more generally, “I can’t seem to make a living doing just ADR.”

Those are valid concerns. I totally get it, and if you’re not getting enough ADR clients, then you’re not going to feel like it’s economically feasible to shut down the other parts of your business, if that’s something you want to be able to do.

But here’s the thing. INVARIABLY, when I go home later and look up that professional online...

They don’t have a marketing presence that supports what they’re trying to do.

  • Sometimes, they don’t even have a website, or there’s just an “under construction” placeholder where their website is supposed to be.
  • Or if they do have a website, it’s not much more than a list of services they offer and a list of their professional credentials.
  • On top of that, when there is a list of services, the ADR services — collaborative law, mediation, etc. — don’t get top billing. They might be buried at the bottom of the list or they might even be on a separate page.

This is very common. We’ve all seen websites like this. So why is it a problem? Well, I want you to put yourself in a potential client’s shoes. They have a problem that they want help with. So they start looking up professionals to help them with that problem. And they come across this website, if there is one, and they’re trying to figure out:

“How can this person help me with my problem?”

But they’re not finding the answer. They’re not finding a direct connection between the problem they have and the message you’ve put out there about what you do.

Let’s take divorce as an example. Somebody wants to get divorced, and they value the relationship they still have with their spouse, or maybe they’re concerned about the impact of the divorce on their children. They’ve heard awful things about divorce — whether it’s a nasty celebrity divorce, or a friend, or a family member — and they’re really worried that their divorce is going to turn out the same way: bitter, expensive, etc.

Your job as a professional is to let this person know from the MOMENT they hit your website that you have an answer for them.

That you offer services that speak DIRECTLY to the problem that’s eating them up. That you can offer them a divorce that’s less adversarial and less expensive than what they’ve been hearing about.

They don’t care where you went to law school. They don’t care what professional organizations you belong to. They might care about your Avvo rating, but only because it helps instill some trust.

What they REALLY care about is, can this person help me solve my specific problem?

Here’s another way to think about it. One of the top questions I hear, after “Can I make a living in ADR,” is “How can I stand out as an ADR professional?” And there are lots of ways to do that, to stand out, but first you have to address the basics — the basics in this case being your branding.

In a nutshell, branding is the message you send to potential clients that connects your services with their problems. Let me say that one more time:

Branding is the message you send to potential clients that connects your services with their problems.

If your marketing materials, including your website, aren’t focused on clients’ problems in a way that really resonates with them, they’re not going to have much reason to pick up the phone and call you over any of the other professionals out there.

I call this a branding deficiency. And what I’d like to do today is give you some practical information you can use to help you define your own brand and overcome that deficiency. At the bottom of this article, you can download a worksheet that guides you through the process of creating your own branding statement. But before you do the worksheet, I want to explain a little bit more about how branding works and why it’s important.

The first thing you need to do is to make sure you have a really clear perspective on what you’re offering to clients.

Let’s think about the car industry. What does marketing look like in the car industry? Anyone who’s seen a car commercial knows that car manufacturers aren’t selling bland descriptions of their cars — they’re selling the benefits of their cars to their customers:

  • High performance.
  • Comfort.
  • Low cost of ownership, whether it’s due to low maintenance or high fuel efficiency.
  • Image; how people feel about being seen in this car.
  • What you can do with car — drive your kids around, haul work equipment, go out with your friends on a Friday night…

Just look at what different car brands are known for:

  • BMW is the ultimate driving machine.
  • Volvo is known for safety.
  • Toyota and Honda have reputations for reliability and fuel efficiency.
  • Ford says it’s trucks are “built tough.”

The list goes on — you get the idea. Car manufacturers sell the driving experience, not the bland descriptions of their vehicles. Think of what happens when you’re approached by a sales rep at a car dealer. They’ll say, “I see you have kids. Have you looked at our SUVs?” Or they’ll say, “I see you eyeing the convertible. How about a test drive?” They’re keying in on the experience that you’re looking for, so they can connect that with the right vehicle.

Another great example is toothpaste. What does Colgate sell? They sell big shiny smiles. Not the ingredients in the toothpaste, but what their customers hope to get from using the toothpaste.

And that’s what you need to be doing as an ADR professional.

Your marketing — your brand —  needs to be focused on selling the experience of your services, and what clients can hope to get from them — not just a boring description of what they are.

So, now that we have a better sense of what a brand is, let’s get into some concrete steps you can take to define your brand.

NUMBER ONE, make a list of the ADR services you provide and that you’d like to do more of.

Leave out any services that you’re not interesting in doing more of, even if you do a lot of it right now. This step should only take a minute, but don’t rush it. And remember, there are a bunch of ancillary services that you might want to be offering. I discussed those in a previous blog post. So make that list, and write it down because we’re going to be using it in the next step, too.

NUMBER TWO, make a list of all the benefits clients get from the services you listed in step one.

What makes them special, unique, and desirable? How do your services address those burning problems that your potential clients are trying to solve? Try to put yourself in the client’s shoes and use the language they would use to describe their problem. Keep in mind that at this point, the client might not even realize what service they’re looking for, specifically. For example, a client might not really understand what mediation is, but they know they want their divorce to be private, respectful, less expensive, etc. You can also frame these benefits in contrast to the alternatives, the things clients might be afraid of. For example, the alternative to privacy is public spectacle. The alternative to respect is acrimony. The alternative to power over the outcome is giving somebody else the power to make decisions for you.

NUMBER THREE, distill the benefits you listed into a branding statement of fifteen words or less.

This is the core message you’re going to give to potential clients. And again, I need to be clear here: your branding statement isn’t about you. It’s about the clients. It’s about the problem they’re trying to solve. It’s about connecting immediately with their concerns. You’ll still have a chance to let them know how many years you’ve been practicing, where you went to school, and how many awards you’ve won. But right now, we’re all about making that first connection.

For example, right now, the branding statement on my website is, “Divorce with privacy and respect.” Other websites have similar branding statements, but that’s okay. Your branding statement doesn’t have to be 100% unique, because let’s be honest here — most brands aren’t 100% unique. But it does have to make a clear and direct connection with the clients you’re looking to attract.

Next steps...

So now that you have a branding statement, what do you do with it? The first thing you need to do is put your branding statement front and center on your website. It needs to be the first thing people see when they hit your website.

Let’s think about what happens if you don’t have a clear branding statement on your website. What if, for example, your website just says that you’re a divorce attorney with experience in a variety of practice areas — alimony, custody, child support, etc.? The worst case scenario is that people don’t connect with anything and just leave your website. The best case scenario is that you get a lot of calls, but they won’t be filtered at all. You’ll still get calls from people in really contentious situations that aren’t well suited to ADR. And the people who are specifically interested in ADR might not call you, because your website doesn’t speak to them directly.

I know that my website speaks to my ideal clients directly. I can also tell within seconds if I get a call from someone who hasn’t visited my website. These are people who are running down a list of attorneys, calling everyone they can for as much free legal advice as they can get. If they had visited my website, they would know that my services don’t align with what they’re looking for. I’ll still talk with them, but only to refer them somewhere else.

"Racking the Shotgun"

There's one more great analogy I want to share with you. It’s not exactly in the spirit of ADR, but it is very memorable. It’s called “racking the shotgun.” If you were in a bar and wanted to recruit the biggest, meanest people to join your crew, what would you do? One thing you might do is rack your shotgun. Most of the people in the room are going to run outside, because they don’t want trouble. The ones who stay are the ones who aren’t afraid of trouble. Those are the ones you want to talk to about joining your crew. It’s the same thing with your website. You want to "rack the shotgun," that is, make a VERY clear statement about what you’re offering, so only the people you’re really interested in working with will stick around.

Like I said, the analogy is a bit crude and not exactly in the spirit of ADR, but it’s a great way of remembering the power of clear, purposeful branding statements — you're not only connecting with clients who will benefit from your services, but you're also filtering out the clients who simply aren't a good match.

I have a lot more to say about website design, but today, I just want to keep the focus on that branding statement. It’s going to be the foundation of all your marketing efforts going forward.

So if you don’t already have a clear branding statement, go ahead and put one together now. You can download a free worksheet below. It walks you through the steps of creating your branding statement.

And finally, I want to encourage you again to check out the ADR Initiative Facebook Group, if you haven’t done that yet. It’s a great place to share questions and advice about the business side of ADR, and feel free to post your branding statements there for feedback from the community.