Aesthetics, Branding and Transition

November 1, 2021

Case study: Rebranding a 10-year-old boutique corporate law firm.

Having started my career in advertising, I enjoy brand strategy projects, particularly rebranding. Rebranding because: 

  1. In most cases, the business undertaking the rebranding exercise is aware about their target audience. 
  2. The product-market fit has been achieved, which can help guide the rebranding decisions.

I found this project on UpWork, in fact my first gig on the platform. Having worked extensively with CPG and tech startups over the years, I was convinced that I can deliver on the rebranding for a law firm. The interview went well, my inexperience with law firms wasn’t an issue and I was given a go-ahead. This task was right up my alley because I dig rebranding work (oh you know that already), and working in new industries. In this blogpost, I’m sharing my experience and learnings from this interesting project. 

Why are we rebranding? 

This is the first question I always ask as a marketer. But in this case, I didn’t have to. Because the Firm’s founder (“client”) had a very clear vision and reasoning. He wanted his firm to be perceived as modern, professional, and approachable. 

One look at the marketing collateral and firm website, and it became clear to me that there is a tremendous scope for improvement. So now since we know the ‘why’, let’s move to the next big question. 

Who is the Target Audience?

RLF is a corporate law firm specializing in M&A and Business Transitions. Therefore, the target audience was: 

50+ Business Owners of middle market companies, primarily in Oregon and Washington 

45+ Wealth and Investment managers at Banks in Oregon and Washington

Setting up the team: 

To work on the new brand identity, I hired an experienced art-director on behalf of the client. The art-director was responsible for creating the new logo, typography, digital assets, and the brand manual. To infuse this new vision (see redesign section) into the brand, I also hired an experienced graphic designer once the new brand identity was approved by the client. 

Design brief:

The goal: For this iPhone using and Lexus driving customer group, RLF needs to be positioned as a modern, sophisticated, and approachable firm while continuing to maintain trust, and strong relationships. 

The constraint: As RLF is a 10-year-old firm with hundreds of existing clients, the changes we make to the brand identity should be iterative and purposeful. 

How Might We: 

  • Apply the modern UI and branding best practices to achieve the Firm’s rebranding goal?
  • Use aesthetics to position the Firm as modern, professional, and approachable? 

Designers need empathy… for the clients:

This might sound commonsensical, but it is surprising how most designers don’t apply their ‘human centered’ learnings to their client communication. I suggest designers to start considering clients as ‘users’, since most of their empathy is reserved for the users. Have a look at these logo options sent by the art-director with over ten years of work experience:

Requesting all designers to number the slides and options.

"How hard can it be to number the options? It’ll become easier for client discussions. “I like the number 7 more than 3” is far easier to say than “I like the last one in the third row over the first one in second row."

Anyway, this could be a blogpost for another time.

Now back to the project. 

The New Logo: 

After the options were numbered, the discussions became easier. But arriving at ‘the logo’, wasn’t as simple. 

The UX designer in me was rooting for a logo with sans-serif type. They look modern and have better readability (as compared to serif fonts), was my reasoning. The lawyers in the client team though, love the serif. 

After a couple of meetings, I started to see their point of view. The sans-serif seemed like a big change, and this isn’t a tech startup but an established corporate law firm. Moreover, there isn’t one right way of doing things in marketing and product design. Keeping all this context in mind, we agreed on the serif logo. Please see below the comparison between the old and the new logo: 

The old and the new logo for RLF

I am excited about the new logo; it has improved contrast for accessibility and modern flat design. Please see below the logo icon and some use-cases of it. 

Typography:

Raleway paired with Open sans were selected as the fonts of the RLF.

Great readability and also available for free.

Raleway and Open Sans

Redesign:

Once the new brand identity was approved, and vector files delivered by the art-director I kickstarted the execution. In this stage, all the RLF brand communication (brochures, stationery, etc.) had to be redesigned. I assigned this task to my trusted graphic designer (Ahmad), who has over two decades of design experience. 

Redesigned brochures and stationery

Branding is not just about logo and collateral design of course. It also includes all customer touchpoints like your office reception and the voice mail message. Every point of interaction should be aligned with your brand ethos. 

With the redesign, we managed to achieve the modern and professional aspects of the brief. The next step to completion: Communicate the ‘approachability’.

Messaging: 

RLF sends out Emails to its top clients and referees regularly, and I recommended making these emails more personable and (slightly) less formal. This idea was well received, and the open rates improved dramatically (up by 32%). 

Promotional Event: 

RLF sponsored a golf event - Big Lake Golf Benefit, and I am happy to say we hit it out of the park there.  

Instead of setting up the stall with standees and a screen with the video presentation playing on loop, I suggested we do something more engaging. Can we do a game or an activity with an ‘unbranded’ gift/prize for the participants? A simple wordfinding game was created (in less than 48 hours), which surprisingly helped attract a lot of crowds. 

So how did the event go? Although the event did not generate business directly but was still considered a huge success for the firm. A step in the right direction, according to the client. 

Next Steps: 

Redesigning the RLF website, and the blog has been done already. 

Learnings:

This has been a unique and extremely satisfying project, some of my learnings: 

  1. I didn’t know much about corporate lawyers before the project. But now I know, and it was fascinating for me as I’ve studied commerce and business. 
  2. Lawyers have excellent attention to detail, and this attribute makes them good partners for design collaboration.
  3. I realized how most designers lack empathy for clients. 
  4. RLF’s rebranding project is a great testimony to small improvements leading to big results.
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