What’s in a name?

December 17, 2008
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After reading the comments on our last post, I wanted to expound on my previous post on law firm name changes.

Firm names evolve with the addition or departure of partners. That’s the nature of the business. It’s when we lose a firm name completely to an outside firm that it alters the way I perceive the firm. Again, I know that with these mergers, the attorneys and staff are pretty much remaining the same and it’s just a minor change.

But names can have a lot of power over people’s perceptions; think how long some parents agonize over the “perfect” name for their child, aiming for one that is tease-proof or unique. When a firm has built a reputation in the community, name recognition can be a great marketing tool. That name recognition is gone the instant an Indiana firm merges with an out-of-state firm.

It’s as if these renamed firms have to start over to recapture that recognition by the general public. Someone who has lived in Indiana a long time or knows a little about the legal community would recognize “Ice Miler” or “Locke Reynolds,” but they might not be familiar with “Frost Brown Todd” or “Taft Stettinius & Hollister.”

As I touched upon in my last post, it may just be a matter of time before these new names can be recalled by the general public, and me, as an Indiana firm. After all, I’m sure it took some in the legal community a while to get used to saying Ice Miller instead of its previous longer name. These out-of-state named firms will have to continue being active both in the legal and general communities, letting people know who they are.

As always, I appreciate your comments and encourage you to keep the dialogue going about this topic and other topics, or anything else you think is worth mentioning here in First Impressions.
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  • Name change marketing and acceptance is extremely important.
    Shortening of a name such as Ice Miller is a different topic than a complete name change. The community and Ice Miller\'s client base had likely already changed the name of the firm on their own. That is a common trend. In some cases, firm names have become so long that people can\'t be expected to remember them, much less get the order of names correct. They take the easiest path and shorten the name themselves, therefore the shortened name Ice Miller was already being widely used prior to its formal change.

    Merging with another firm is a different story, and requires a great deal of strategy and planning prior to its announcement. It is always important to put yourself in the shoes of the public, meaning clients, potential clients and referral sources, as well as those we interract with every day. Try to imagine what it will take for them to get used to this name. What do we need to do to make this name change so easy and so common that the transition is seamless?

    It typically takes a multi-step plan to be successful. I could go in to every step necessary, but it depends on the firm\'s current position in the minds of their audiences to find the correct strategy. I can tell you that it starts with making sure your internal clients, meaning staff and attorneys, are fully informed and comfortable with the meaning of the name change and the new name long before it is introduced to the public. It is also important to approach clients on a one-to-one basis to let them know what is being considered. Bring them in to the process. Build equity in your new name by sharing your news as much as possible. When it\'s time for the change, your internal and external audiences can help speak on your behalf to sell and explain the name change. Who couldn\'t use that many brand advocates on the streets when making such an important change? We all can.

    When announcing and reinforcing the name change, announce it widely and often. Don\'t stop after the first month or two as you haven\'t gone far enough to help your audiences memorize the change, much less what that change should stand for in their minds.

    It might help to remember this: Just when you think they are getting sick of hearing your message, whether that message is a name change or any other, your target audiences are barely beginning to pay attention to it. You become tired of hearing it because you\'ve been dealing with it for months, and sometimes years, and have been thinking about it internally 24 hours a day, but they have many hundreds and sometimes thousands of messages they have to filter through their minds every day. Give your message a fighting chance by making your way through the clutter in their minds.

    Spend time creating a thorough strategy for this, and every other, message you have to share. Yes, it\'s that important or you wouldn\'t be making it in the first place.

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