Thursday, February 28, 2013

Legal Marketing in an Impersonal World

Over the weekend, I watched my teenage daughter vigorously texting away a she tried to make plans for an upcoming dance at school.  Fortunately, when I asked her what this “intense” conversation was about, she actually gave me a reasonable response – or at least as reasonable as one might expect from a seventeen-year-old.

She showed me the stream of messages which had begun with “Are you going to the dance next week?” and ended with “Great. I’m sure I’ll see you before then anyway.”

This is not exactly ground-breaking stuff, but what struck me was that it took twenty-one back and forth texts to reach the conclusion that yes, both girls were going, they would get there around 7:30, one of their friend’s mom was driving, they would probably be picked up around 11PM and that it would be best if they made sure they were not both wearing the same color dress.

I suggested that perhaps this discussion might have been better handled with a simple telephone call in which all logistical matters might have been addressed. She rolled her eyes and looked at me in the way only a teenager really can and said with a note of exasperation, “Dad, that’s just not the way it’s done any more.”

And she’s right. And that’s unfortunate. But when I stopped to think about it, are we as professionals in the world of business, marketing or lawyering or any other industry for that matter, really any different?

Every day I go to work and after wading through hundreds of emails, proceed to make scores of my own, often preferring the anonymity of my keyboard. Sometimes, there’s price to be paid for this, particularly when one engages in electronic exchanges in which one’s “tone” may not be coming through accurately. We wonder what did the client really mean, or is there “stuff” in this email which “they’re” not telling me about.  Why did he or she only give me a one-word reply when he or she usually is pretty verbose?  What does it all mean?

There’s something to be said for verbal cues and feedback. It’s amazing how much a raised eyebrow or a soothing voice can convey.   Sometimes even a smile.

I thought about all this as I started working on an attorney’s social media campaign. The campaign is working fine, thank you, but I can’t help but wonder if this client might be better served if his social media efforts were augmented with a more personal, interactive outreach initiative…. Actually getting out and seeing or meeting his prospects and clients, networking the old fashion way if you will.

I’m not suggesting that social media tools such as Linkedin or Facebook should be ignored. Hardly. They are extremely useful in reaching large blocks of people. Hey, I’m writing this blog, aren’t I?

But I am suggesting that the most effective marketing and business development programs are invariably those that integrate the best of all the things different business-building activities have to offer. Even those of yesteryear.

Anyway, I gotta go. My daughter just texted me.

And this could take awhile.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Thoughts on Marketing the Sole Practitioner and Small Law Firms

I thought I’d post some thoughts today on legal marketing for smaller law firms and the sole practitioner. Obviously, in terms of marketing, the biggest difference between smaller firms and their larger brethren is the depth of resources they can apply to the marketing function. It is foolish to think that such practices will be able to “out shout” their competitors. Hence, they must think smarter and utilize whatever resources they do have more wisely.

Part of thinking smarter means ignoring the temptation to be just another fish in a large pond and instead turning into the proverbial large fish in a smaller pond. And that “pond” can be the geographical area the practice targets, the type of individuals or businesses the practice seeks to reach, the sub-segment or niche in which it seeks to make its mark.

Some examples…

By geo-optimizing its SEO and pay-per-click efforts, a small family law firm can be ranked high up on the online directories within that area closest to its office. There’s no need to reach out across a large metropolis to seek business among people who will never see the listing and even if they did, would probably not venture miles away from where they live.

A small personal injury practice might recognize that it would be foolish to take on the “big boys” with a television campaign. But it could carve out a niche among new and young drivers by a) launching a social media effort towards high school and college students, b) running ads on highly targeted cable networks (e.g., MTV, VH1, Spike) or c) implementing an outreach program or special event for high schools/colleges in which students are rewarded for safe driving or participating in a contest on driving tips, etc.

By thinking vertically, a B2B law practice focusing on a specific industry can become the player in a given market. Every individual and every business inevitably considers itself to be unique. By highlighting its experience in transactions for, say, the retail industry, the small firm can become the “go to” practice. It doesn’t really matter if other firms might be just as capable. The mere fact that experience in transactional matters for retailers is conveyed through the firm web site, social media pages, collateral materials can convince potential prospects that you understand their language. Want to get even more specific. That same firm might consider becoming the perceived guru on matters pertaining to retail restaurants.

Solo practitioners and smaller practices should not grouse about the unlevel playing field on which they compete. Nor, in frustration, should they ignore the marketing function altogether. Instead, they should recognize that they can be highly successful by leveraging their resources against tighter definitions of geography, target prospects and/or area of focus.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Looking for More Revenue From Clients & Referrals?

Consider E-newsletters.

While they may not be for generating quick hits or fast leads, does that mean they’re not for generating revenue?


E-newsletters have very specific purposes -- namely keeping the firm name top-of-mind among clients, referral sources and prospects, highlighting very specific areas of expertise and cross-selling firm services. And while, as stated, they may not be for generating an immediate slew of new business leads (particularly if they’re being sent to the firm’s own database), they are for steadily increasing interest in the firm. And of course, more interest means more business – from both current as well as new clients.

Armed with an understanding of what e-newsletters can do, legal marketers are wise to implement such programs based upon some very basic concepts.  First, keep each issue short – preferably to one topic. Almost anyone you meet will tell you they’re “very busy,” (even if that term has different thresholds for different people). We are besieged by hundreds of communications each day, so make yours short, sweet and standout.

Second, keep the content to that which affects your target recipients. Again, as with all good marketing endeavors, the message is not about you.  It’s about the individual reading it.

For this reason, a third imperative is to use your database wisely. Segment your target lists as deemed necessary, perhaps by practice area, perhaps by B2B vs. B2C, or perhaps even by current versus potential clients.

Fourth, if yours is a firm with multiple practice areas, be sure to explore ways in which clients from one practice area can be made aware of services they might utilize in another practice area.

Fifth, and this may almost sound heretical – you should fret a lot more about the subject line under which you will send the e-newsletter than about the content of the e-newsletter itself. That is not to say you don’t want your e-newsletter to be of the highest quality possible, just that you need to recognize that the majority of recipients will either never even open the email or if they do, they may never bother to read the material. Hence, that subject line is the only opportunity you may have to convey your message. Make it count. Let the recipient see the knowledge you have about a very specific subject, about a service that may be applicable to them or a warning about the impact a new legislation may have.

Finally, be consistent in creating and disseminating firm e-newsletters. We all get very busy at times (hmmm, seems I’ve said that before) and the temptation is there to let such initiatives go for a while. Resist that temptation, because it’s the consistency and continuity that gives merit to e-newsletters. You’re staying in your clients’ and prospects’ faces – but doing so in a very nice way.

Different marketing tools serve very distinct purposes and this is true for e-newsletters as well. But one advantage e-newsletters hold over many other marketing options is that are darn inexpensive to create and disseminate. 

SEO or Pay-Per-Click. Which Route Should I Take?

In initiating their online marketing programs, clients often ask us whether they should focus on optimizing their web site (SEO) or engage in paid advertising (PPC).

The answer is simple.

It depends.

It depends on any of a number of factors, the four most important being the nature of the target market, what it is you’re promoting, the level of competition and the short vs. long-term goals of the firm. Notice I didn’t say money, because how much you spend on an SEO or PPC effort is really a function of the other three variables. Pay-per-click may require out-of-pocket dollars while an SEO effort may not.  But the amount of time required to develop an effective SEO campaign may be unfeasible for the firm to implement, in which case it is either hiring an in-house professional or an outside provider. And of course, this then becomes an out-of-pocket expense as well.

So I repeat, in determining whether to go down the SEO or PPC paths, it really depends.

In that it can be launched immediately, if you are looking for quick hits, then PPC is a much better way to proceed. Set your budget, determine your key words, write your ads and off you go. On the other hand, SEO takes time. It will take lots of man-hours to develop content rich web site pages hyperlinked to hundreds of other sites, and it will take even longer for the major search engines to recognize this and reward you with high directory rankings. In fact, in developing web sites, we often suggest that our clients begin with a PPC effort until that time when the full effect of an SEO campaign is beginning to be realized.

PPC may be a better way to proceed if you are looking for fast clicks-throughs. But if you’re looking for quality leads, then you might wish to skew your efforts towards SEO.  This is because high placement on the organic listing of the directories are generally thought to have more credibility than the paid-for ads that usually appear at the uppermost and right side of the directory pages.  Think of it as being akin to the difference between traditional advertising and public relations.  In public relations, when you get an article placed in a newspaper or magazine, you are in effect being vetted by an objective third party entity such as an editor or producer. But you have no control over when or where your article will appear (or if it even will).  In contrast, with a print or broadcast ad, while you’re guaranteed of being seen, your target market understands that the communication is being paid for by you and thus carries less credibility.

The nature of the practice and its target market are also key variables to consider.  For practice areas that target the general public, PPC may make more sense as the prospect is often an unsophisticated shopper who may or may not understand specific questions or ask or credentials to review. A carefully crafted ad may entice this individual drawn to being hit over the head with visions of successful outcomes (think your typical personal injury commercials). Law practices targeting the business community on the other hand, may be dealing with more sophisticated prospects looking for very specific types of law firm features.  Here, an SEO effort may be preferable, unless of course the firm has challenging competitors more solidly entrenched among the higher rankings, in which case, an alternative PPC initiative may be considered.

The fact that there is no clear-cut answer to the question of SEO vs. PPC, underscores that even in the online world, marketing is as much art as it is science.