By: Stephen Melanson

Do you realize it took until 1977 before attorneys could advertise their services legally?

David L. Hudson Jr., a First Amendment Center research attorney ( tells us, “(In 1977, the Supreme) Court first determined that attorney advertising was a form of commercial speech entitled to some degree of First Amendment protection in Bates v. State Bar of Arizona.”

Prior to that, he writes, the law said, “A lawyer shall not publicize himself, or his partner, or associate, or any other lawyer affiliated with him or his firm…”. Only business cards were an acceptable form of promotion.

Things have changed.

With consolidation and the overall ability to differentiate from each other diminishing, law firms are getting more and more attentive to their marketing efforts and brand identities.

For now, let’s focus on branding, and a curiously hidden element of it: verbal interactions as a brand building tool. Imagine how you’d feel if every time someone in your firm spoke to someone outside it, you lost money and your brand was diminished.

That sounds pretty awful. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly uncommon.

Most organizations, as far as I can tell, don’t recognize that direct contact with the public, i.e., actual conversations, represents the front line of their brand, and that these interactions must be managed as branding activities.

From over twenty years of varied business experience, there’s one thing I’m quite sure of: the last people to be trained and given a full understanding of an organizations’ value and brand positioning are, quite surprisingly, those on the front lines of direct customer contact.

That’s not only a shame and a lost opportunity, but it literally stands branding on its head.

Given one regrettable interaction, some clients will remember it the rest of their natural-born lives, and to them it’ll symbolize a firms brand from then on. (If you doubt this, ask an unhappy client what your brand is. Often, they’ll be most upset about an interaction they had with someone on the staff.)

It’s bad for business and, well, just bad for everybody. Therefore, verbal branding ought to be a management priority and a critical training issue.

Before we continue, let’s establish some philosophy: No matter what you do, you can only count on your audience (the public and individuals) remembering one or two things about your firm—period!

I know this to be true, and I can’t overstate the importance of understanding this going in, so you’ll develop your messaging correctly.

With this in mind, how confident are you that an initial contact with someone is promoting your brand effectively? Or for that matter, think about your web site – another type of “interaction” – and if a visitor will leave the site remembering what you want them to?

Without this effort to manage what people remember about you, especially through verbal contact, your brand could be diminished every day and potentially with every conversation.

Yes, it’s a scary thought. But as I mentioned, at some companies it’s happening right now, everyday.

Consider: Do you really need to tell people so much during a first conversation? Are questions of any kind likely to take you “off message,” never to return? If so, maybe you haven’t really found your best brand message. And by the way, does the home page of your web site really need to be that busy? It’s probably diluting your message.

Let’s get back to the central point. What do you really need someone to know – or if you will, remember – so each direct interaction is as productive as possible? The idea of “productivity” is an important one to verbal branding. An interaction is productive to the degree that people remember what you want them to, whether it’s a day, week, or month later.

When you’re compelled to tell your audience every detail of your organization and service, it simply means your verbal branding needs work.

As Vincent Gardenia said in Moonstruck, “That’s all I’m saying; I’ll say no more!”

Let me describe a productive business environment from a verbal standpoint: each interaction has a foundation of just a couple of central concepts; your answers to questions support, and track back to, those concepts rhetorically instead of diverting from them; and when anyone in your organization is asked, “What in the world do you guys do?” they understand what needs to be communicated, and they can do it with simplicity and confidence – every time.

Is it less exciting? Maybe. Does it work? Definitely.

Plus, the entire staff now has more confidence and the relief of knowing what to say. That’s how you generate more revenue, increase market share, and build your brand on a daily basis, conversation by conversation.

I like a quote by Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team:

“If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Stephen Melanson is a brand and positioning consultant, specializing in verbal brand development and teaching its application.