Prospective clients have long been freed from relying on phone books or TV commercials to find an attorney. People have the ability to research your marketing claims and make comparisons among competing firms. They will come to meetings with questions about your process and your billing. Searchers have seen an explosion of options, from DIY legal kits, to small niche practices, to large nationwide and multi-national firms. And in the midst of this cacophony of information — some accurate and some misleading — they are demanding changes from those they choose to represent them.
Some clients request alternative fee agreements while others demand increases in productivity and efficiency, asking why they should pay per word for a document they could download online. Attorneys may cringe at the reality, but with the rise in popularity of (and requests for) fixed-fee agreements, the number of hours it takes to finish a task becomes a real issue of profitability for firms.
All of these developments necessarily affect the way attorneys and law firms must think about practice management and marketing. If lawyers accept and embrace changes to their practices in terms of technology, efficiency and expectations, they can market themselves to prospects using that as one real point of difference.
Marketing: Filling the needs of clients
Your marketing should be driven by a legitimate evaluation of the way in which your firm does business. Keeping a steady increase in cases is only possible if you are delivering a real value to clients. The term branding generally evokes thoughts of retail businesses like Nike or Apple. These companies attract and maintain loyal followers partly through quality and partly by reputation alone. People feel cool just owning their products. But an attorney is not a commodity, and firms must approach branding with the understanding that their client building strategies will only work if they can show prospects they understand and help solve real-world problems.
Marketing works in combination with your networking, advertising, reputation building and achievements to help establish your firm as a trustworthy, memorable leader in your practice area.
Marketing: More than advertising
Advertising is a specific piece of marketing, like a webinar or brochure. It is a piece of a whole strategy that incorporates everything from blogging to good client service to referrals. Choosing the right approach for your firm requires knowledge of your target clients and how best to communicate with them. Talk to clients about how they found you and what types of questions they wanted answered during their search. Evaluate your performance throughout the progression of a case with honest communication. Focus group test large projects like a website or commercial buy so you understand how people detached from the project truthfully react.
Spend your marketing dollars on activities that most benefit your practice area. Criminal defense attorneys may not find a seminar helpful, while estate planning attorneys may see a steady stream of clients from informational events. Business or technology-oriented companies may benefit more from a logo, tagline and naming services — to enhance their reputation as modern and in-the-know — than personal bankruptcy attorneys.
Create differentiation by marketing your niche. No one walks into a law office and asks for one of every item off of a practice area menu. Clients have specific needs, and it is likely that your firm handles one or two types of cases most often. When you have a deeper understanding of your clients and how their concerns match up with your services, you will be better able to develop processes that help deliver results and higher profit margins. You will also be better able to target your marketing efforts.
In many ways old fashioned branding is the new SEO. The practices that made offline branding successful are now necessary to produce results online. Network and build relationships. Share knowledge with others through compelling articles. A well-written blog entry that gets referenced by a journalist, school or colleague has online marketing value. Happy clients may be compelled to write reviews. And civic organizations may mention the work you do with them on their own sites.
Good marketing provides a method by which you can brand yourself consistently across all touch points. Gone are the days when law firms had controlled interactions with potential clients. Prospects may visit your office, or your website, or your blog, or your Facebook page. There is no guarantee you will even be able to talk to a prospect before they make a decision. Your marketing must adapt to changing expectations and make the crucial connection that gets clients in the door.