How Anderson Strathern presents its brand never been so important

Catriona Watt and Iain Valentine worked together on Anderson Starthern's new corporate identity. Pictures: Stewart Attwood
Catriona Watt and Iain Valentine worked together on Anderson Starthern's new corporate identity. Pictures: Stewart Attwood
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In partnership with Anderson Strathern

Brand innovation at legal firm Anderson Strathern was all about answering the apparently simple, but very difficult question “why?”. Catriona Watt, the Anderson Strathern partner who led the project and Iain Valentine of creative agency Whitespace explain that it was about much more than a new logo or door sign.

Why did the firm need to rebrand?

Catriona Watt (CW): We wanted to answer the question “why?”. We wanted to establish in the minds of our clients and the wider public why they might want our legal services and to tell them that we were here, and who we were.

There had been major change in the Scottish legal market since we looked at our identity a decade ago. Several global players had come into Scotland and a lot of firms’ names had changed or disappeared. There were a lot of firms whose names has become initials and we wondered if anyone could remember who anyone was any more.

Iain Valentine (IV): It was very important that it wasn’t just a cosmetic facelift or visual identity change. It had to be about establishing what makes Anderson Strathern – and the firm was open to that. It had to be something that went right through the firm’s employees, but outside the firm too. It had to work for everybody; if you were looking to move house or strike a large corporate deal, it had to speak to you.

CW: When I first met Whitespace, the reason I wanted Anderson Strathern to work with them was because of their determination to identify the “why?” Professional service firms had lots to say, ad nauseum, about “what” they did and “how” they did it, and the fact that they were the best. But we tried to get underneath that and ask: “Why do we come to work? Why do we offer legal services? Why should clients choose us?”

IV: Legal firms are not brand-led businesses. We found none of them really had specific points of difference; they were all saying pretty much the same thing.

For the team at Anderson Strathern to embrace the idea of “why” – and take it to the heart of the business – was bold.

CW: It was important that we chose a creative agency, rather than a web designer or advertising agency. We wanted the whole package.

How did you show clients and staff that you weren’t doing this because something was broken?

CW: We were talking continuously to clients anyway in a number of ways – and we knew they liked working with us. That was reassuring, but the question for us was how did we articulate in 2016 what that meant?

We wanted to show we had come out of the recessionary period alive and well and to speak to people in a voice they understood, but in a more creative way which still represented who we were. Every business has to grow and we wanted to demonstrate to existing and new clients we were right for them – and why.

How did you get a benchmark for your work?

IV: Our planning and strategy team spoke to current clients, recent and longstanding, and a wide range of people from across the whole business – all anonymously – and that gave us a huge depth of understanding about the firm and some real insights and conclusions. The firm was in a good place. What we looked at was this whole idea of realising ambitions; that’s where everyone felt comfortable.

What emerged from this initial research?

CW: The biggest visual change was removing the pink box from our logo. Whitespace told us we had to get out of the box – literally and metaphorically. There were concerns that people would react against that because they were so used to it, but they didn’t.

IV: It was important that we started with the positioning and then moved to the evolution of the brand and visual identity. There was a lot of brand equity but we needed the branding to be more versatile for use across all platforms, and for it to be fresher and cleaner.

The tone of voice was all about confidence, freshness and clarity and the visual identity had to reflect that.

CW: Our name only took up about 10 per cent of the space on the previous logo, so it was important that it was front and centre. You could see the AS very clearly but not the full name; it’s now very clear who we are.

So what is the core message?

IV: We looked at a few lines but “For where you want to be” talked to everybody – to the staff and to individual clients, businesses and public sector bodies. It was about showing Anderson Strathern had expertise across all areas, and that those experts were there for you – and “For where you want to be” provided a creative wrapper for all clients and potential clients. It also talked to the staff.

How was that communicated to Anderson Strathern staff?

CW: I was convinced with the idea of looking for the “why?” I was also very happy with the research and the way the work had been done – but really I had to be sure it was something everyone wanted to buy into.

IV: You need to be able to have an honest, open and trusting relationship with the client. It’s a partnership but our creative people have to be able to get on with what they are good at without dozens of people picking up minor points at every stage. Catriona managed that process very well.

CW: The firm’s board and the senior management team put a lot of trust in me and so it was not done by committee; I wasn’t going back with feedback every five minutes.

I was the middle person, conveying the belief and confidence in the idea back to the partners, who are the ones ultimately spending the money.

I was in the middle of two quite distinct sets of people and I had to ensure everyone had their voice heard without interfering with the creative process.

IV: We did quite a lot of partner presentations. We had to explain the rationale behind what we were doing, and show it was robust.

Were you happy with the outcome?

CW: We were all very happy, across the firm.

It was so important that the people who had to deliver the services bought into the whole idea – and they did.

If this is where our people want to be, then that passes on in a positive way to clients.

We had kept everyone informed with news and “teasers” as we went along and so when we did launch, everyone was ready – and they liked it.

We had a big launch party for all of our people and in advance of that various parts of the new look were appearing every day at all our offices, in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Haddington.

How important was the website in the whole exercise?

IV: People still underestimate the importance of a website as your shop window – but we wouldn’t have agreed to do the website if we hadn’t also been doing the brand, design and messaging work. We worked on the site very much from a user, not a partner, perspective. It was very important to use search terms that people use.

CW: For instance, the public are not searching for terms that lawyers and the legal profession use. We found people were not searching specifically for “private client” services – they were searching for wills, inheritance tax, or “passing on wealth”We wanted to get away from traditional website pages organised around how a firm is organised or describes itself internally – and to a place where it was easy to find the services clients wanted.

We had to produce three websites – legal, residential property and asset management – and it was a complex exercise. It was tough at times to make the sites simple and easy to get around – and to match the objectives of “For where you want to be”.

We got down to five simple tabs which summarised the business and its expertise – most firms have ten, we previously had 13. It was a leap of faith to change; I sometimes had to overcome my own traditional thought processes but once I had done my own hard swallow, it was easier to explain it to others. However, because we had done the presentations and kept everyone well informed, no-one was ever totally taken by surprise.

Has a consistent message emerged?

IV: Yes. Businesses have to be consistent across print, online and brand. I think we have achieved that integrated approach so that no matter how a customer comes into contact with the business, they get a consistent message.

CW: Yes – we have that consistency from the sign at the front door and the captions on the pictures in our office to the website and right down to the visitor Wifi password [a version of “For where you want to be”].

But I think we have achieved an authentic result that reflects what we are as a firm. The end result had to feel and sound true – and it does.

I have been here 16 years after joining as a legal trainee as a second career – and I know this is where I want to be. It would not work to use “For where you want to be” as our strapline if our people didn’t feel that themselves.

Is the firm in a better place now?

IV: It’s not about better, it’s about showing it’s absolutely relevant in this day and age. I think this is just the start.

The challenge is that everything that is done now has to be held up against the proposition “For where you want to be”. It should determine the tone and voice of every piece of communication. The visuals might evolve over time, but there is a core message to build on.

The visuals are just one part – it’s about embedding the core values all through the firm, and a lot of businesses just don’t get that.

CW: The real test is the next step; interviewing partners and employees and clients and asking what they think. But the feedback has been very good and there have been practical benefits already; people say we are easier to find because of the new signage and we have had more referrals because the website is so much simpler to navigate. It’s circular; you should never need click more than twice to get where you want to be.


Catriona Watt is a partner at Anderson Strathern. As well as leading the professional regulation group in her client-facing role, she is also the 
partner responsible for the strategic direction of marketing and business development at the firm and she 
is a member of the firm’s senior management team. She had a previous career as a journalist, working in newspapers, radio and TV news and current affairs at BBC Scotland.


Iain Valentine is managing partner and co-owner of Whitespace, an award-winning creative agency based in Edinburgh. He has 18 years’ design and digital experience. Whitespace was Design Consultancy of the Year 2013 and Valentine was Creative MD of the Year at the 2010 Scottish Design Awards. Current clients include Highland Spring, Innis & Gunn, the Scottish Government, Sainsbury’s Bank, Aegon, RAC and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

This article appears in the Summer 2016 edition of Vision Scotland. An online version can be read here. Further information about Vision Scotland here.