Branding Your Law Firm with Emotion

October 2, 2018

Lawyers stake their careers on being logical. Pure analytical brain power. The courtroom drama of Law & Order and the flare-ups and tense rivalry of Suits make for good television, but in real life clients expect their lawyer to be cool, calm, maybe even a little remote— a bastion of reason.

So, what I am about to argue might strike you as odd: law firms should pay attention to the emotional side of their branding. They should consider the emotional response of their clients, and implement strategies for connecting with clients on a meaningful level. Counter-intuitive? Perhaps. But harnessing the power of emotion is far from an illogical strategy.

Feelings are powerful. They are the molten layer shifting just below the thin crust of reason. All of our decisions are made in a swirling cloud of emotion. This isn’t rocket science, but it is neuroscience. In Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio demonstrates how emotions form the bedrock of all thought.

There is more logic in emotion, and often more emotion in logic than is generally believed. Legal marketers who ignore the emotional opportunities in branding are missing out on more than half of the human equation.

We are not thinking machines that feel; rather, we are feeling machines that think.—Antonio Damasio

Marketing with Emotion

Marketers have long recognized that consumer behaviour is hardly rational. As a study from Harvard Business Review, The New Science of Customer Emotions, observes “when companies connect with customers’ emotions, the payoff can be huge.” An example of this strategy at work, is major banks creating credit cards targeted to engage the emotional aspirations of select market segments. Millennials, supposedly, don’t like credit cards, but “after a major bank introduced a credit card for Millennials that was designed to inspire emotional connection, use among the segment increased by 70% and new account growth rose by 40%.” (HBR).

When done correctly, emotive branding can help sell everything from banks to professional services to laundry soap. Until recently, Proctor & Gamble, the largest advertiser in the world, avoided creative & emotional branding for their product lines. Instead, they listed off product information, as if the sheer facts about dish detergent could inspire consumers to rush out and purchase a jug: an approach Terry O’Reilly, host of CBC’s Under the Influence podcast, refers to as “icepick in the forehead” advertising. Losing business, P&G switched their branding efforts to be more creative. They set their sights on a new goal: drawing an emotional reaction from audiences. The result? In 2008, when Cannes named P&G the Creative Marketer of the Year, the company’s share price hit an all-time high and revenues shot up 20%.

The most sophisticated firms are making emotional connection part of a broad strategy that involves every function in the value chain, from product development and marketing to sales and service.—Harvard Business Review

Emotions Drive the Ability to Make Choices

Now, obviously, law firms aren’t in the business of selling detergent or consumer products. However, that doesn’t mean that the underlying psychology behind client choice is all that different. It would be a mistake to think that law firms exist on an altogether different level, a law land, where prospective clients make decisions based on pure fact. This just isn’t how thought works. As Antonio Damasio observed, decisions inherently have an emotional aspect.

Damasio had a famous patient, a “Mr. Elliot”, who had suffered through cancer the loss of his orbitofrontal cortex— the part of the brain that connects the more analytic frontal lobes with the emotional centre.

The result? Mr. Elliot became a sort of Mr. Spock, a man of pure logic. Being free of emotion didn’t empower Mr. Elliot to make more rational choices. He became imprisoned in a sort of analysis-paralysis, unable to make even the simplest of decisions— frozen in an endless calculation of the infinite series of benefits and risks, pluses and minuses, that are inherent in even the simplest decision. Should I eat eggs and toast for breakfast? Should I book this flight? But what about all that cholesterol? And what if there is a better deal on tickets tomorrow?

We call it a “gut-impulse” for a reason:  impulse, from the Latin impellere— to impel or drive. Just think of the last time you observed a friend agonizing over a decision. Did you say to them, “Well, what do you feel like doing?”

So yes, your clients are making choices based on their feelings, because feelings are a necessary impetus to decision making.

Emotions and the feelings are not a luxury, they are a means of communicating our states of mind to others. But they are also a way of guiding our own judgments and decisions. Emotions bring the body into the loop of reason.

Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

Marketing the Law Firm with Feeling: A Professional Approach

I find it strange that the businesses that are driven by people, professional services, have a tendency to adopt the most stock form of branding. Too often, lawyer photos look like they’ve been cut from the same catalog as the accountants down the road. This makes it hard for the public to distinguish one firm from another.

Law firms want clients to feel like they are in steady hands. For this reason, many law firms take a traditional approach to their branding and marketing efforts. But a “safe” brand doesn’t make clients feel secure. It doesn’t make clients feel anything.

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.

Dale Carnegie

A lawyer painting with bright, emotional colours.

It’s probably about time that I clear up exactly what I mean when I say that law firms should brand for emotion. I’m certainly not encouraging firms to go about cracking puns or posting melodramatic videos to promote their estates practice group. I am encouraging law firms and lawyers to identify opportunities for genuine connection and to think carefully about putting in place practices for fostering these opportunities.

A common branding question is: what do your clients think about your law firm? Let’s change this around slightly: how do clients feel about your law firm? How do they feel when they seek out your services? What state of emotion are they in when they first contact your firm?

As an example, it might be that your clients are facing a problem and feeling a bit unsettled. They may be motivated by a desire to feel secure. Does your firm make them feel this way? Not just through your legal expertise, but from the moment they enter your lobby? What practices could you establish to build a sense of security?

Or it could be that your clients are tech entrepreneurs. They might be inspired by a desire to make a mark, to stand out from the crowd. They may be forward-thinking, eager to make their vision of the future a reality. What steps is your firm taking to cultivating that mood? Would a client of this sort feel excited upon stepping into your lobby today? What about when they visit your firm’s website or blog?

Marketers need to be careful about how we incite emotion, (and that we are inciting the desired emotion). With that caveat, I would still encourage law firms to explore the potential of emotive branding. Because the secret is that every decision is driven by emotion, whether it is choosing a new pair of shoes, a career, or a legal representative. The law firms that best connect with clients at this core level, and that take steps to cultivate the desired atmosphere, will be the ones that succeed in retaining current clients and engaging new markets.

Do you have questions about how best to brand your firm? With a team of both marketing strategists and creative designers, we’re ready to help your firm connect with new clients.

Connal McNamara

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