Tuesday, April 7, 2015

How to Minimize The Perceived Risk In Hiring Your Firm

One of the most important elements of the legal marketing function is reducing the perceived risk involved in the contracting of a law firm’s services. Personal injury law practices have intrinsically known this for years and is underscored by their assurances to be compensated, only when “you are.”  In the world of consumer goods, the provision of a “money back guarantee” provides much the same purpose. In such situations, the marketer and not the “buyer” assumes the risk.

In marketing legal services however, such promises are neither practical nor cost-beneficial. Yet reducing the perceived risk remains critical and, as noted below, there are a number of ways in which law firms can approach this task.

1. Branding
Unfortunately, although this is probably the most effective strategy, it is also the most expensive. People are comfortable with what they know and if they feel they know a company or a law firm (even if this perception is inaccurate), they are more likely to entrust their resources with it. “No one ever got fired for hiring IBM” is as true today as it was when some clever individual first coined the phrase. Businesses and law firms allocate large sums to positioning themselves in the marketplace and then reinforcing that positioning over and over again through hundreds of both large and small ways. 

2. Professionalism
“Professionalism” is a horrible term to use because it is difficult to define. It’s one of those things that we seem to know when we see it.  Or perhaps better said, we seem to notice a lack of it when we don’t. When representation of a law firm – be it through an individual, an email, or piece of promotional material is “sloppy,” incomplete, inaccurate, etc., we have raised the bar of perceived risk. After all, if one is less than attentive to how one’s own firm is represented, why should a potential client think that that attention will be any greater for him or her.

To illustrate this, think for a minute about the impact it would have if a vendor promoted its wares to your office and when prompted, could not produce a business card or a website address. The lack of such basic accoutrements of “being in business” would not necessarily mean the vendor was of a lower quality, but it sure would give that impression.

3. Transparency
It is important to give prospects an opportunity to “check you out.”  This is usually done through marketing materials, testimonials, client referrals, published articles, etc. The more forthright the firm is in how it promotes its wares, the more credibility it establishes. Even when the inevitable mistakes occur, an honest representation of these mistakes (along with an explanation as to how they will be addressed) can sometimes go a longer way towards a positive client experience than even one where no issues ever arise.

4. Getting Prospects to Know You Before They Make The Decision to Hire You
For any prospective client, the decision of which law firm to hire is a big one (as is even the decision to hire one in the first place). In fact, there are times when it can be downright intimidating.  Much of that is due to the uncertainty that goes with initiating some kind of legal action or procedure.  What’s rote for you is certainly not rote for them. Hence, the more you can do to make them as comfortable with you before the actual hire, the more likely you are to convert that prospect.

We have found seminars to be particularly helpful in this regard. There is a comfort that comes with being an anonymous person sitting in a room with other anonymous people.  No one knows (or cares) who you are and your problems are not for public consumption (unless you choose them to be). The seminar or workshop gives the prospect the opportunity to get to know whether or not they like you – before it really matters. By seeing you, hearing you speak, appreciating your grasp of the issues that are important to them, that prospect is getting to know you without he or she themselves being evaluated.

5. Implementing a Meaningful Marketing Mix
The philosopher Marshall McLuhan once said that the “medium is the message” and he was absolutely right. The avenues by which prospects are exposed to your message play a significant role in whether perceived risk is heightened or diminished. An article in the New York Times that highlights your expertise in a particular area of the law is infinitely better at building credibility (and thereby reducing risk) than is a billboard “down by the highway.”  A web site that refers to yours is likewise stronger than a pay-per-click ad. The aforementioned seminar can do wonders to reduce risk; less so for a booth at a trade show.

That is not to say that these other vehicles do not have a role in practice-building (that’s fodder for an article on another day). It’s just that some are specifically geared for reducing perceived risk.

I close by recalling how an attorney called us once for recommendations on how he might go about marketing his real estate practice. I suggested that he should start by creating a web site. (He didn’t have one at the time). The attorney balked at my recommendation, stating that in real estate law, he could not see obtaining clients in this manner. As much as I tried, I could not get him to understand that when it comes to marketing, converting a prospect into a client is but one element of many. And among those others is a pretty important one called… “Minimizing Risk.”

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Legal Marketing: Is There Still a Need for “Creativity?”

Anyone who has ever worked for an advertising agency, a marketing firm or any other type of organization where design and copy play such an important role, know that traditionally, one of the watchwords has been “creativity.”  Agencies sold their wares by highlighting how “creative” they were versus their competitors (a difficult premise to substantiate) and begged their law firm clients, to embrace their innovativeness.

There was a reason for this and it had a lot to do with the very nature of the marketing process. That process began when the firm took out an ad in a publication, produced a commercial or developed a brochure, etc. Of course their competitors did likewise, making it imperative that that ad, commercial, brochure, etc. jump out from amongst the clutter, “grab” the intended target and encourage them to take some kind of action. 

But with the coming of the digital age, a lot has changed, including the fact that the marketing process is now so often initiated by the prospect. This is particularly true online (the vehicle of “choice for many, if not most firms) where, instead of being “grabbed,” that prospect is now “seeking” information about the firm – usually with the prompt being driven by “need,” rather than traditional marketer “creativity.”  Further, those organizations that do “jump out” on line do so because they are at the top of the search engines. This is unfortunate as that ranking is more a function of a) links to other sites, b) use of keywords and c) volume of content than it is of the firm’s ability to convey its reason for being and the benefits it provides.

With “content” and “relevancy” now the new watchwords, is there still a place for “creativity?” The answer, I believe, is that while clever words and pretty pictures may have lost some of their luster, “creativity” still is a critical component of any legal marketing initiative. Often, this is at a more macro level than it is at the single execution of a web site page, an email blast, a pay-per-click campaign, a public relations program, etc.. It requires getting into the prospects’ shoes more completely than ever before and developing the offerings, practice areas and niche expertise of individuals with very specific needs. Being “creative” with “content” and “relevance” means knowing your potential clients better than your competitors and applying that understanding to both the materials you develop as well as how you disseminate that material. I am frequently amazed at how much law firms develop certain content and then fail to deliver that very same content in a multiplicity of ways, when all it would require is the touch of a key or a click of a mouse. Knowing how to “creatively” use the myriad of online and offline tools, and to do so cost-effectively, has become essential.  

Examples? A seminar can be videotaped and turned into a webinar which is then promoted via press releases, e-newsletters to the firm’s contact database, email blasts to a targeted list, social media posts, etc. Following the event, that webinar is then also archived on the web site and posted on Youtube. All of this is done using mostly the same content and will probably cost the firm relatively little.

Another such example is aligning the firm with a specific cause and promoting itself around that cause. For one PI firm, our agency recently implemented a “no texting while driving” campaign aimed at local high school juniors and seniors. Similar initiatives can be implemented across a myriad of other relevant causes.

I would be negligent if I claimed that today all “creativity” is or should be of a “macro” nature.  There are certainly instances where this is not the case.  A pay-per-click ad campaign must be carefully constructed within the very tight character limitations mandated by the search engines.  Similarly, one of the most often neglected aspects of an effective e-newsletter or e-marketing effort is the subject line. Rather than something haphazardly thrown together, it should be considered a “headline,” vital to prompting email “opens.” In fact, it actually requires more “creativity” in the traditional sense than the print ad, direct mailer, or television commercial, because it must prompt an action in just a few words – and with no visual element to augment it.

The net takeaway of all this is that while the ways in which legal marketers can show their creativity may be changing, the continuous need for that creativity in order to facilitate firm growth, remains unchanged.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Writing for Your Audience Versus Just for SEO

A few weeks ago I wrote a post in which I discussed how strictly adhering to search engine optimization guidelines can, at times, do more harm than good. This is because by focusing too emphatically on specific search terms we sometimes risk alienating visitors to the site who may be looking for content not related to those keywords.

Today I would like to address another concern regarding an overemphasis on SEO. Too often, many law firms (and many businesses in general), perceive their web site to be a tool used to generate new business. This is fine and is, in fact, one of the ways in which a quality web site can serve a positive function in the firm’s business development efforts.  

But it is not the only one. Any purchasing process involves both the generation of potential new customers as well as converting those prospects into clients. A web site is not just a lead generation tool—it is also a conversion tool. As such, it is visited by prospects for information about the firm, its areas of focus, its attorneys and also to get a sense of the very essence of the practice.

When content is developed that focuses too heavily on having the “right” keywords appear the “right” number of times in the “right” places, we lose sight of what we are actually trying to do – sell the site visitor on the merits of our organization. This requires a writing style that understands the target audience, that is user-friendly and that underscores the firm’s benefits. When we do not do that, we run the risk of falling into traps exemplified by the admittedly exaggerated line, “Smith & Jones are divorce attorneys who focus on divorce and assist those individuals going through the divorce process to get through that divorce process smoothly.” 

While Google and the other search engines have learned to account for such extreme examples of trying to get keywords into the content as often as humanly possible, the point remains the same.  There is a fine line between writing for SEO purposes and writing to the needs and interests of the reader. If you don’t focus enough on the SEO elements, you risk losing new visitors. Focus too much on the SEO and not enough on what you are saying (or how you are actually saying it,) you risk losing prospects. Copy written in a format as highlighted above will almost certainly not convert educated, high net worth prospects into clients that family law firms so often seek to obtain.

In many ways, this has become a very critical part of legal marketing in the 21st century. The degree to which your firm moves more in one direction versus the other needs to be carefully thought-through and should be a function of the type of practice areas in which your firm is active, the sophistication level of your target audience, the culture of your firm, how the percent revenue generated from different practice groups breaks out and the nature of the “purchasing” decision making process of prospects in your firm’s areas of emphasis. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Thinking Small: Niching Your Practice

If you have absolutely unlimited marketing dollars at your disposal, then read no further.

If however, your law firm is like most, then making the most out of limited resources is an essential strategy. 

There are many ways in which to do this of course, but one way often resisted by law firm management is seeking niches for the practice’s offerings. In suggesting this, I am referring to a strategic approach that actually seeks to narrow, rather than broaden the number of target prospects.

Before we get into the “How,” let’s first discuss the “Why.”

Effective marketing involves gaining exposure. In most cases, gaining such exposure is an expensive proposition – be it in hard dollars or in human resources. Obviously, some firms are better able to fund exposure-generating initiatives. For example, a personal injury law practice may inundate the broadcast airwaves simply because it can. Another firm may rule the page rankings on Google and other on-line directories because it has managed to allocate the manpower to consistently generate new content and establish new links. Yet a third firm consistently finds ways of getting its attorneys on the pages of major newspapers and interviews on network television because it has paid high-powered public relations professionals to do just that.

Firms that own a greater “share-of-voice” have a much easier time generating the kinds of exposure that generate revenue. Unfortunately however, they also make it that much more difficult for the “little guy” to play in the same arena. While its true that a small personal injury practice can run a television campaign just like its larger competitor, the fact that this effort will be drowned out by a much larger media budget often makes such an initiative futile at best.  Instead of generating more clients, it simply drains whatever precious financial resources the smaller law firm has. Similarly, a search engine optimization program that lands a firm on page twenty is not even worth the effort to get there. And that PR campaign? Public relations, more than most other marketing tools can, at times, be risky.  Your story idea, your pitch – they are all at the mercy of editors, producers, etc. 

The problem that many law firms have is that they seek to be a big fish (or even a medium fish) in a big pond. Sometimes it is far wiser to be a larger fish in a smaller pond.  Most successful firms that do so have found a way to establish a niche for which they are specifically known. Their pool of prospects may be smaller, but amongst that pool, they enjoy heightened levels of awareness.

There are many ways in which to find and create that niche. Take a person who has suffered a spinal cord injury in an accident as an example. That person may very well not research “attorneys” or even “personal injury attorneys” when seeking a lawyer.  Instead, that individual may well seek out a lawyer who truly understands the ins and outs of spinal cord injuries. Similarly another practice may focus on brain injuries, while still another on birth defects.

Becoming the one who “knows” inevitably provides one with a leg up. “Type of injury” is just one way to niche a PI practice. There are others.  One can also niche by “Cause of injury.” We see this in promotions for practices that focus on motorcycle injuries or truck accidents.

Segmenting the community is yet a third means of niching. Having a full grasp of the needs, wants and habits of a particular ethnic or national group is a good way to not just generate exposure, but also create to an atmosphere of goodwill and understanding.

Finally, there’s geographical niching. Limiting your marketing efforts to a confined area allows you to leverage your human and financial resources. Now you do become the “big guy,” albeit in a smaller setting.

The whole concept of niching is not just for the PI firm.  It is applicable to just about any other practice area. Some of this involves “drilling down” to a sub-topic within a topic. We worked with one firm with a strong corporate litigation department that asked us to promote its understanding of the much more specific area of independent contractor law.  Another criminal defense practice sought to focus its efforts on bullying. When the issue of domestic partnerships arose, one firm sought to emphasize its understanding of that topic in its consumer outreach.

Yet another way to leverage a niche is to identify industries with which the firm has experience. Being a corporate litigation law firm conveys one thing. Being the corporate litigation firm for energy companies conveys quite another.

If you have tremendous resources, by all means, go out there and “shout” your selling points.  If however, you do not have such resources, don’t try and shout so you won’t be heard. Rather, go out there and shout – even if it’s to a smaller crowd.

Learn more about marketing your practice area...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

You Really Want Your Law Firm's Web Site Optimized for... What???

We recently encountered a situation that was a textbook example of how strict adherence to SEO guidelines can potentially do more harm than good for a law firm.

The case involved a small multi-practice firm seeking to drive up web traffic for its personal injury business.  The firm’s web provider had done a good job in optimizing the site for PI, splashing all of the keywords and images across any and all of the site’s pages. The firm’s experience in handling PI was highlighted throughout and attorney bios emphasized personal backgrounds in this area of the law. Not surprisingly, traffic to the site increased several-fold. All of this would, under normal circumstances be considered a good thing.

Except that in this case, it was not.

The bulk of the firm’s revenue stemmed from practice areas geared more towards business and government than towards the general public. Its target audience, which often included business decision makers and governmental officials, was far less prone to visiting web sites based on online directory searches than it was to visiting web sites as a means for learning more about the firm as based upon professional referrals. Visitors to the site wanted to ascertain the depth of understanding the firm had in regards to business and governmental matters, the experience its attorneys had in these areas and the range of services the firm might provide.

Yet, when such visitors came to the site, they were besieged by headlines, photos and verbiage that screamed “Personal Injury” – in some cases, even on pages that had nothing to do with that topic. Instead of coming away with the perception that this was a firm with many practice areas, one of which was PI, the net takeaway was that this was, in fact, a personal injury law practice that, yes, “dabbled” in a few other areas as well. In short, the firm lost its opportunity to convey its legal acumen in areas where it was critical that they do. When one considers that personal injury did not represent even the largest of the firm’s revenue segments, it’s not hard to see how detrimental the SEO initiative was to the overall health of the firm.

This is why it is so very, very important to take a holistic approach to the task of business generation.  Things are not always as they seem. In this case, there was a discussion to be had that probably never took place. That discussion would have elicited 3 possible approaches to address this dilemma. First, the firm might have taken a balanced approach and done the best that it could in highlighting all practice areas including PI. Second, it might have determined that personal injury represented the greatest potential revenue stream, all other practice groups be damned. Or third, it might have understood that optimizing for PI might cannibalize its other revenue sources and decided to have two sites, one focusing on the firm at large and the other, dedicated to personal injury and optimized to the hilt.

In deciding on a marketing approach – whatever type of business development tools are being used, it is important to understand how such tools fit into the big picture. Failing to do so only risks having that big picture become not so big.

Monday, January 19, 2015

It’s a New Year. Time to Start “Pondering”

A few years ago, I opened my annual series of blog posts by concentrating on such traditional marketing functions as creating a firm-wide marketing plan, developing an appropriate promotional budget, and determining optimal target markets to pursue.  But every once in a while, I believe it is wise to step away from the “traditional” and indulge in a little creative brainstorming designed to push one’s firm in directions it might previously have not considered. And really, there’s no better time to do this than at the start of a new year.
Without the benefit of research or hard data, without the input of “experts,” colleagues, wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends or even mother-in-laws, it’s a good idea to just ponder the future of the business that we’re in and gaze into the crystal ball as to how law firms will stand out in the future. Some sample questions to consider are noted below:
What is the future of online marketing?
Many have stated that “content is king,” but at some point we must ask, “If everyone is bombarding the world wide web with content for their web sites, their blogs, their social media posts, etc., at what point will we have reached message saturation?  And when that point comes, how will law firms reach out to new prospects and customers?  Will we return to more traditional media? Find new ways of using the internet? Or perhaps find completely new ways of reaching out to our prospects? The answers may not be very clear now, but staying ahead of the curve now is one way of avoiding irrelevancy down the road.
What new practice areas might emerge or even be created?
Years ago, I was surprised to be contacted by a law firm that focuses its practice exclusively on the area of reproductive law. I had never heard of that before, nor had I ever really thought about how law firms might niche themselves so narrowly.
In every industry, and in every part of life actually, there are highly specific areas of knowledge that if leveraged and promoted smartly, can lead to greater levels of profitability. For example, one of our law firm clients focuses a big part of their practice on bullying. Many other firms focus on high technology, but one could drill that down further to emphasize “technology and ethics,” and go further still by becoming the “leaders” in all of the legal issues related to social media.
Who will be the new and/or “hot” cluster target groups?
We’ve had baby boomers, yuppies, Generation Xers and soccer moms. What’s next and what might the current socio-economic landscape suggest for how groups of people might soon be categorized?  The current generation of Facebookers and Snapchatters will soon become our clients, our employers and our colleagues.  How does that bode for how law will be practiced?  What opportunities exist to reach them?
What is the future of interpersonal networking?
How will we schmooze in the future? Is business development still really about face-to-face interactions or are we heading to a world in which our clients and colleagues are people we never see and perhaps may never actually meet?  What effect will this have on the law practice of tomorrow, particularly those B2B practice areas where personal interaction has been such a staple of revenue growth?  Will business still be conducted on the golf course or simply move over to the cyber version of that same golf course. Wherever it is going, if you can be there first, so much the better.
What values will resonate the most?
What will your firm’s calling card be?  Quality? Price? Value? Speed? On-line Accessibility? Changing times demand changing thoughts on such attributes.
Where will your geographic market be?
Everyone else is going global? Do you need to be there as well? Are you positioned to do so? How will you accomplish that?
The list of questions of course could go on and on. And if you were expecting brilliant answers to the above, I am sorry that you’re probably disappointed. The point is however to underscore the value of first generating the questions.  Because it is only through those questions that we can start to stand out from the many others with whom we compete for share-of-mind, clients and revenue. 

If you would like to discuss strategies for marketing your practice in 2015, contact us at (856) 810-0400.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

So,... How Did You Do? 10 Questions to Ask about Your 2014 Business Development Efforts

In a few weeks, you will all be besieged by scores of emails, promotions, and invitations, etc. asking you to begin the new year “right” by purchasing whatever product or service is certain to make 2015 the “big” one in terms of revenue, new client generation, and cost efficiency.

But before you begin the 2015 planning process, this may also be a good time to take a step back and assess 2014, because all products and services aside, this is the best way to ensure that successful initiatives are duplicated or enhanced, and that any mistakes made are avoided.

So, that in mind, I offer you the 10 questions every managing partner/legal marketing professional should ask as 2014 winds to a close:
  1. How successful was 2014 in terms of new client generation?   Were increases in firm revenue a result of ongoing or repeat client business or the result of the firm’s business development initiatives?
  2. Where did new business come from?  Was new revenue concentrated amongst a relatively small group of clients or scattered across a wider range of new clients?
  3. Which marketing activities were most effective in generating new business?  This is a trick question, because not all marketing tools can be easily measured and most new business comes through exposure to a number of different types of business development efforts.  That being said, either quantitatively or qualitatively, is there a sense as to what worked this year and what did not?
  4. Which practice areas benefitted the most from business development initiatives?  Very important.  Different practice groups have different marketing needs. Did the firm ”do right” by each group in terms of implementing the most effective marketing strategies?
  5. Were human resources employed in the most profitable manner possible?  Let’s face it.  Not everyone is good at everything. Some individuals are natural salespeople while others are more comfortable sticking strictly to “lawyering.”  And even among those who are particularly good at generating new business, different people have different skills.  Some write brilliant articles.  Others are terrific presenters. And still others are just gifted when it comes to making small talk at a social or business function. Did the firm take all of this into account in implementing its 2014 plans? 
  6. How efficient was the business development function?  It’s great to have generated new revenue, but far less so, if the expense involved outweighed that revenue. Aside from obvious out-of-pocket costs, how did internal processes affect the business development function? Were marketing committee meetings productive? Did outside vendors get clear direction from the firm and did the various projects flow through the firm smoothly and swiftly?
  7. How was the firm perceived?  Did the firm get adequate feedback from current clients, new clients and prospective clients as to the perceived quality of a) the firm’s work product, b) the firm’s image and c) the firm’s sales “pitch.” 
  8.  How successful were firm competitors in 2014?  Did competitors make inroads into the firm’s business?  Steal any clients? Did any new competitors emerge? If so, what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  9.  What relevant issues, trends, news events were “hot” subjects during the past year?  Did the firm leverage its expertise in certain areas of the law? Did it keep an eye on happenings in the world, the community, the legal industry and its target industries?
  10.  How did the results of 2014 compare to what had been anticipated and planned for one year ago?  How good was the firm at forecasting its future and spotting opportunities and potential trouble spots?  What might the firm have done differently to better anticipate and meet its practice-building needs?

So, there you go.  Ten questions to ask yourself before the curtain drops on 2014.

But think, once you’ve answered them, you’ll truly be ready for the next big assignment – developing your attack plan for generating more business in 2015.

If you would like to discuss strategies for marketing your practice in 2015, contact us at (856) 810-0400.