Blog Post

Why marketing fails (and what law firms can do about it)

4 comments

Most marketing fails. Yup. It’s sad, but true. In most cases, law firm marketing efforts don’t achieve results good enough to justify the time and money (and mindshare) expended.

So, what’s the problem? Bad targeting? Poor design and branding? Weak messaging?

Nope. Nope. Nope.

In most cases, the problem has nothing to do with the marketing department’s work. The problem is with the “product” that is being marketed. Most attorneys just don’t have a unique selling proposition. And if it looks like you’re selling the same thing as your competitors, few people will pay attention to your marketing. The best design, targeting and copywriting can’t fix this.

Yet, nobody talks much about the “product” problem with respect to legal marketing. Why? Because no attorney wants to hear this unfortunate truth from his marketing guy. So, most marketing folks (both in-house and consultants) remain quiet and pray for a miracle. Clearly, this doesn’t solve anything.

So, what’s the solution?
The solution is to improve the product. While this is difficult, it’s by no means impossible.

How do you do it?
You need to figure out a way to make your product remarkable. In the case of lawyers, there is a two-step process:

  1. Become a specialist: Pick a well-defined market niche and declare yourself to be one of the world’s leading experts in that niche. If you aren’t one of the world’s leading experts yet, do whatever it takes to be able to plausibly make that claim.
  2. Demonstrate your expertise: Write. Speak. Blog. Tweet. You need to prove that you’re one of the world’s leading experts in your niche. This means that you have to give away your best insights.

Don’t take our word for this. Here are a few articles on the subject by legal marketing thought-leaders Cordell Parvin, Tom Kane and Andrea Malone.

Is that everything?
Pretty much. I don’t want to minimize the time and effort it takes to make this work, but it’s worth it. If you can make a good case that you’re one of the world’s leading experts serving a particular niche, you’ve greatly improved the chance that your marketing will succeed. It will be much, much easier to break through the clutter. People will begin paying attention to your message. In fact, they will look forward to hearing from you.

Comments

4 comments... read them below or add one.
  1. You are 100% correct. Lawyers and law firms need to set themselves apart from the competition. Demonstrating expertise, becoming a specialist in their practice area and having a professional online image always help!

  2. Keith Lee says:

    I tentatively agree with this. SM is nothing special, it’s pretty much common sense. You just get out there and do it. However, I do take issue with this:

    “Pick a well-defined market niche and declare yourself to be one of the world’s leading experts in that niche….If you can make a good case that you’re one of the world’s leading experts serving a particular niche”

    I realize that you make that caveat:

    “If you aren’t one of the world’s leading experts yet, do whatever it takes to be able to plausibly make that claim.”

    But many SM/legal marketing types don’t. They tell new, young attorneys (sometimes even older ones) that they just need to hop online and start declaring themselves an expert in this or that field. One appointed criminal case taken to trial? “Extensive trial experience” Put together a will for Aunt Martha? “Regularly drafts detailed wills and estates.”

    That is flat-out unethical, unacceptable, and an insult to the profession. I realize that times are hard and people are doing what they feel like they must to get new business. However, that does not excuse the behavior and it should be discouraged. Not that you are advocating that behavior, but there is no denying that some lawyers are being led astray in that direction by some SM/Legal marketing types who don’t have a clear understanding of the ethics and rules that lawyers are required to follow.

    Totally aside, this:

    “This means that you have to give away your best insights.”

    Cannot be emphasized enough.

  3. Kirsten Hodgson says:

    I agree that lawyers need a USP and that they need to position themselves as specialists wherever possible. However, I don’t think they all need to claim to be one of the world’s leading experts in their area because not everyone will be the best at what they do and not all clients want to pay for THE best person every time (admittedly they probably will on their make or break deals).

    When we interview clients of law firms they often say they use a particular lawyer for the majority of their transactions because they have a great understanding of their business, have a good relationship with them, and a good, solid knowledge of their area of expertise. Plus the clients like the fact they don’t have to pay top dollar for ‘business as usual’ transactions. And that’s great – it allows smaller firms and good, sound lawyers to pick up a large proportion of a client’s work from the larger firms and possibly more technically gifted lawyers.

    Definitely agree lawyers should build credibility in a niche area and, once they’ve done so, demonstrate their expertise by giving away their best insights. I think a lot of in-house marketing teams are doing a great job working with individual partners/attorneys to help them do just that. The hard part is often getting the attorneys to do what they said they would (hence a lot of marketers say they feel like a parent – constantly nagging to make sure things happen!)

  4. “..if it looks like you’re selling the same thing as your competitors, few people will pay attention to your marketing”.. This is obviously true as a bald statement, but I think it’s more complex than that. It will largely depend on the market you are selling to, for example. Where I work (Christchurch, New Zealand) personal connections are paramount, so a lawyer may be very average in terms of what s/he offers as a product, but be well liked and sought after because s/he is well connected (and therefore trusted – rightly or wrongly).

    Price is also a factor. People wanting bog standard advice don’t want or need the best in the business.

    Having said that, I used to be a partner is a City of London firm which grew its employment law practice in less than 15 years from one lawyer doing it part time to over 50 dedicated full time specialists. It did it by differentiating itself in the market by a combination of sustained excellent service, reasonable price and added-value extras, such as free seminars. As its reputation grew, so did its client base. It didn’t exactly have a USP in the literal sense of the term, but it did stand out.

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