Is the legal fine print undermining your brand?
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
Legal doesn't have to be the Sales Prevention Unit
Sustainable growth in any business requires a solid brand. Marketing, sales, and product development teams work hard to deliver a consistent brand experience through the company’s goods, services, shops and websites.
But where do your terms of business fit into the customer experience? Does Legal draft terms and conditions, then send them over for Marketing to apply the logo and change the font? If so, ask yourself if that’s why some salespeople refer to Legal under their breath as the Sales Prevention Unit.
Legal documents don’t need to be written in an artificially formal “legal” style. Any contract or standard terms will have only one job, which is to describe the deal you propose to your customer. Sure, the legal terms will need more detail than any marketing materials, but the principle behind any contract is the same: you do this, we’ll do that, you’ll pay us this much, here are the timelines, and if either of us doesn’t live up to our commitments, here’s how we’ll handle it.
Done well, your standard terms are written using your brand voice, supporting a consistent brand promise. Done less well, the customer gets a conflicting message. Sales and marketing offer them one vision, but once they are ready to buy, the fine print offers an unexpected twist or a different attitude. For a customer, that’s a jarring experience. It can seriously damage trust in your brand.
Now for the advice you didn't expect from a lawyer: one technique to reduce the risk to your brand is to have Marketing do the first draft of your terms of business instead of Legal. Describe the intended customer experience in detailed, concrete terms, but sticking to the brand voice. Explain who does what, in exchange for what, on what schedule, etc.
When the first draft is done, invite the lawyers to weave in any missing legal bits, working in close partnership with the brand experts. To be fair, this kind of process will take a bit longer than just asking Legal to draft the terms. However, the result will be more likely to fit with the customer experience and brand you are building.
Trevor Fenton, founder of Fentons Commercial Law, is a lawyer qualified in Scotland, England & Wales, and British Columbia.