Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Case Against Online Marketing

This article is prompted by an inquiry we received recently from a family law practitioner who felt that he had extracted all he could from the smorgasbord of online marketing tools and was seeking alternative, “out-of-the-box” means for growing his practice.

Now, before I get on my high horse and start to come across as sanctimonious, cynical or perhaps both, let me first acknowledge the obvious: Online marketing has and should have an absolutely prominent place in the marketing arsenal of most law firms. The reasons are fairly obvious:
But it is the wise law firm that understands online’s limitations vis-a-vis more traditional media vehicles. And believe it or not, one of the most critical of these relates to cost. (More on that later).

First, for all of their noted benefits, each of the online marketing tools comes with some inherent drawbacks:
  • SEO is a process that takes a significant amount of time to yield tangible results. Despite what the SEO providers may claim, two firms offering the same services in the same market cannot both be ranked number 1 across all major search terms.
  • Pay-Per-Click advertising tends to generate clicks – but often of a dubious, less-than-qualified sort, with even the metrics sometimes being questionable
  • Depending on the nature of the market, the content of the message, the quality of the list etc. etc., emails can often represent an inordinate waste of money.
  • Social media, implemented correctly, mandates the constant generation of reams of content – relevant or not, potentially across a multitude of platforms. It takes a great deal of time to institute a strong social media program across several vehicles.
And it is exactly that “time” conundrum that really sits at the heart of the issues with online marketing – whether one integrates with a marketing automation system or not. In fact, I would suggest that the time commitment required makes most of online marketing more, not less costly that many other traditional types of marketing approaches.

As stated, to do it “right,” requires oodles of effort – an allocation of human resources that the firm may or may not have. To generate the constant content that is the bread and butter of online marketing is inevitably going to cost the firm in time (when developed internally) or in money (when outsourced.)

This is of course no different than any other medium. An advertising campaign in trade publications is going to require an investment, yes – but once its created, its created. Until the next campaign, there really is not there much work to do. And the costs involved in hiring an agency to develop that campaign may actually be less than those incurred in hiring one to implement any of a variety of social media initiatives. Ditto for PR, where volume of content still plays second fiddle to the quality of the pitch, interview or article.

The grass isn’t always greener and the most cost effective media aren’t necessarily those you might think at first blush. Add to that the fact that everyone is doing online, and a case can be made that looking at alternatives to online marketing is actually looking at investing in a less competitive environment and one that, by looking elsewhere, is perhaps actually looking forward.

So what will I tell the attorney who inquired about alternatives to online marketing? I will tell him to take a step back, analyze his results to date and to conduct some kind of time and money cost/benefit analysis. I would not tell him to abandon his online efforts (he still needs a web site and being ranked first isn’t necessarily a bad thing). But if his dollar and time bank accounts allow… to definitely take a step back to the past… er, I mean the future. Surprisingly, it may actually make his online program work that much harder!