News and Insights

Creative Differences

July 11, 2019

How do you stand out while fitting in? It’s easy to contribute to content clutter are discussed in FINN Partners “Red” paper Content Marketing ROI in a TMI World. Below are three ways to distinguish your brand when it is not that different from your competitors.

We learned about the rebranding/new website efforts of two great law firms from two different sources.  One was featured at an LMA regional event, another was profiled in the legal trades. The two are shown below:


Both websites are impressive, device agnostic, rich with content and feature sharp professional bios. The sites are easy-to-use and have a modern, pleasing aesthetic. Each firm is also a leader in their fields with communications becoming of leadership. Bottom line, they are very high quality.

They and many other sites also reflect a broader challenge we see in dozens of larger law, accounting and consulting firms where discernible differentiation can be so hard to achieve. Professional service firms do not face this challenge alone. Think of a BMW and Mercedes sedan. Since I drive an old Jeep Wrangler, I’m not an expert in either of the sedan brands. To me, they both appear to be beautiful and functional and reliable, with similar pricing and performance. There are only a few degrees of difference between them.

Brand differentiation with messaging and design.

If differentiation is your goal, it can be achieved with strategic messaging allied with design.  This is not to say that design is the only source of differentiation—there’s pricing, niche dominance, service experience and other tangible facets of differentiation. However, when the degrees of difference between you and your competitor are hard to discern, design can become a discernible advantage that runs deep. How to utilize design to transform uninspiring content is a key point in FINN’s recent red paper

As examples, here are three firms with creative differences:



1. Design distinction: Vedder Price

The Chicago, DC, London, San Francisco and Los Angeles-based Vedder Price sought to look sharp in their own unique way. Step one was to create a distinct brand style for building pitch and proposal material, ads and content marketing communications. Step two was to apply it to a new website.  The unique approach is anchored by a new signature “V.” Voila! The device drives the website design. Even ordinary imagery shines in this graphic structure. Substantive content and information are now delivered graphically in the Vedder V. Along the way, a revised logo and core identity materials were developed and introduced to market.  

2. Messaging/thematic distinction: Dorsey

Dorsey is another great, full-service firm with international reach and credentials.  Taking its lead from a strategic plan, the Dorsey brand positions the firm as a source of competitive advantage for its clients, and is anchored by the tagline “always ahead.” The firm considers the line to be a service mantra. The notion expressed in all the firm’s communications is simple: Dorsey helps clients stay ahead of schedule, the curve, the problem, the pack and more.  On the web and in all communications (like the ag-business pitchbook cover above right), strong headlines build off the “always ahead” theme and flip communications from about the firm to about the market. 

3. Client-facing distinction: Schwabe

Research consistently proves potential buyers of professional services wear their industry hats. What do you know about my industry, its vocabulary, challenges, trends and opportunities? Organizing your firm around industries is often a tough sell in law firms, (where’s my practice in that scheme?) yet some firms have the courage to face the market this way. Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt, a Northwest regional firm, was willing to stand and declare its deep industry knowledge in six industries that more or less define the Pacific Northwest.  The entire exercise actually began with the strategic organization of the firm into sectors and only then did we turn our attention to the website, the firm’s logo and ultimately, its advertising, collateral brochures, e-blasts and even trade show materials. 

Deeply Superficial

Again, we understand that sometimes differentiation is not a firm’s goal. We also recognize that creative differences, even the best messaging and design, can be viewed as superficial.  Yet Andy Warhol famously said (a quote often shared on this blog and in our presentations): “I may be superficial, but I’m deeply superficial.”

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TAGS: Professional Services

POSTED BY: Joe Walsh

Joe Walsh