A is for Archetype

Differentiating your Firm: the Triple-A Formula

If you’re tasked with leading strategic planning, cultural change or market positioning efforts in your firm, this post is for you.

A brand narrative describes the essence of ‘who your firm is’.  This narrative – or story – becomes the way people inside and outside your firm describe it relative to other firms. It’s an essential component of strategic projects because it sets the tone for future activities.

To be successful, your brand story must be credible. It must be told consistently over a long period of time, so it becomes  recognizable and trustworthy. And it must convey your unique position in the professional services marketplace.

You could use one of several well-known models to create your narrative. The one below is described in The Alignment Factor by Cees van Riel, a Professor of Corporate Communication at Erasumus University in the Netherlands, and the editor in chief of Corporate Reputation Review. I give full credit to Professor van Riel for writing one of the best textbooks I have read on branding and reputation. The ideas below are his, with my own examples from the professional services sector.

Try following the “Triple-A” formula to create your firm’s narrative:


  • The nature of your firm
  • The nature of your industry
  • The scale of your operations
  • Your mix of services


  • Facts, figures, evidence of market share, client satisfaction ratings, unique awards, financial performance


  • You unique ability to accomplish certain objectives – why you and not another lawyer or firm?
  • Why did a certain way of working together produce exceptional results? This can’t be replicated easily by your competition.
  • What’s different about the way you practice?
  • What is continuous and consistent in your practice? Predictability is essential to earning trust.
  • What links your past success to your future success?

The formula in action

The model can be used to describe your competitive position to any stakeholder group – employees, potential investors, clients, regulators, alumni, community groups, shareholders, third-party suppliers, etc. The trick is to tell a consistent story across the board, although the words may change based on where you tell it (i.e. you would use fewer words in a print ad than in a speech).

Let’s apply it to a hypothetical small rural law firm:

“Wile E. Coyote law firm is located in the historic desert town of Acme. We have two lawyers and two paralegals who work exclusively on patent applications for blasting equipment used in the local mining industry. Coyote has developed technical expertise in mechanical engineering as well as patent law, having filed more patent applications than any other firm in the state. Our firm was founded on the principles of creativity and tenaciousness – values we bring to our work every day, on behalf of every client.”

Granted, the example above is far-fetched. But with some thought and attention to your competitive space and stakeholder expectations, you can create a narrative that sets your firm up for long-term success.