There are more options than ever for law firms who want to market and grow their practices. This often leads firms to invest in many different tactics, hedging their bets by spreading their resources widely like one dollar chips scattered across a roulette table.
Marketing, of course, should not be like gambling, with little to determine the outcome other than the luck of the draw. It should be a data-driven, thoughtful, strategic, and goal-oriented exercise. Done right, it involves testing and measurement, and making adjustments, to dial-in the right approach.
The “80/20 Rule” suggests that 80% of effects come from 20% of causes. In the context of legal marketing, this means that a small percentage of the marketing activities your firm engages in likely have an outsized impact on effects such as increased brand awareness, lead generation, and conversion. The trick is identifying the right levers to pull to produce the highest ROI, and disinvesting in, or at least scaling back, the rest.
Content marketing is not new. Sharing valuable, educational, and relevant content as a means to attract new clients and customers has been an integral marketing tactic for businesses across a wide spectrum of the economy for decades. And it’s particularly effective in marketing sophisticated legal services—in fact, among all the alternatives, it offers the best marketing ROI for law firms in 2019.
What is Content Marketing?
Content marketing involves sharing free content to users in order to drive traffic to and engagement with your firm’s website and brand. Content can take many forms, from written articles, to interactive videos, to informative podcasts—all created with a strategic purpose and specific goals in mind.
Content marketing is a form of inbound marketing. In a world where shortened attention spans, ad blockers, and international laws and regulations such as GDPR have made it harder to interrupt your way into a prospect’s consciousness through paid advertising and other outbound marketing techniques, the ability to execute effective content marketing has become increasingly valuable and effective.
The data bear this out:
Why Content Marketing is Effective for Law Firms
For any law firm looking to build awareness, authority, and influence online (in other words, all law firms), content marketing is the best marketing tactic for 2019. Here’s why:
1. SEO has Fundamentally Changed
Search engine optimization no longer involves a process meant to “game” the system with discrete tactics like link-building and keyword-stuffing. Today, search engines like Google use a more integrated and diverse approach, focused on the objective of providing users with the best answers to their questions—regardless of whether such content is packed with terms that were part of a search.
Instead, Google is taking a more holistic approach, taking into account search intent and using ranking signals such as trust and authority as indicators of search relevance. This is great news for lawyers and law firms— if you produce great content, you don’t need to pay a so-called “SEO expert” to compete online.
2. It’s How Thought Leadership is Established
A prospective client can’t take a law firm for a test drive. Nonetheless, prospects are kicking the tires as best they can by doing due diligence online. They’re searching, reading, watching, comparing and contrasting, with the intention of finding the best solutions to the challenges they face.
...establishing thought leadership online in today’s environment is table stakes for a law firm with big ambitions.
In many cases, a law firm won’t even know it’s in the running because the vetting process—or at least the winnowing down process—is happening behind the scenes.
To position itself for success online (and offline), a law firm must position itself as a thought leader within the practices and industries in which it hopes to compete.
This is best accomplished by sharing expertise and insights online. Indeed, establishing thought leadership online in today’s environment is table stakes for a law firm with big ambitions. A firm that isn’t focused on content marketing is going to have a really tough time competing because it can be certain that many of its competitors are investing heavily in their own thought leadership initiatives.
3. It Maps to the Buyer’s Journey for Sophisticated Legal Services
Selling sophisticated legal services doesn’t happen all at once. It’s typically a slow, sequential process—a dance not a sprint to the finish line. The establishment of trust is the precursor to engagement. Before a prospect will engage a law firm, it must get to know the firm, its lawyers, its worldview, and its ethos.
The establishment of trust is the precursor to engagement.
Content marketing is a way to empower prospects to familiarize themselves with your firm in a low-pressure, respectful manner. By publishing great content, you enable prospects to opt-in to your ecosystem and stay engaged, rather than hitting them up with the hard sell.
4. It Keeps Your Firm Top of Mind (with Prospects and Past Clients)
At the moment of first impression when a prospect discovers your firm’s brand online, the need to engage your firm’s services may not be acute and urgent. But if the content that your firm offers is relevant and helpful to the prospect, they may opt-in by joining your email list or subscribing to your social media channels. They want to hear more from you but they’re not ready to move forward just yet.
By consistently offering them something of value, your firm can stay top of mind and top of inbox with its prospects, and you’ll have the opportunity to transform the relationship from writer/reader to attorney/client.
The same principle applies to current and past clients. The failure by law firms to focus content marketing efforts on their existing relationships is one of the most costly missed opportunities in legal marketing.
According to a study by Bain & Company, organizations that are able to increase client or customer retention by just 5% can increase profitability by 25% to 95%. You can’t always be bugging clients with phone calls and invitations to lunch but clients are almost always open to receiving resources that help them grow their business.
5. It’s Scalable
A law firm is made up of lawyers who are responsible for both producing work product and generating sales for the firm. In other words, they’re busy. And they’re humans constrained by the laws of physics. They can’t be taking depositions and taking clients to lunch at the same time. They’re not scalable. But their ideas are.
Humans aren't scalable. But their ideas are.
By publishing content online, whether it’s written, video, or audio, your ideas can spread and reach prospects far beyond your current network. And it’s just as discoverable a year from now as it is the day you publish it. In other words, it’s scalable. And if it’s focused, relevant, and helpful, your firm’s online body of work can serve as a digital breadcrumb trail that leads qualified prospects back to your website and brand, and keep them coming back for more.
Set Your Law Firm Apart with Content Marketing
Engaging in effective content marketing is one of the few ways to avoid the “race to the bottom” in which many lawyers and law firms will be forced to participate in the coming year. If you’re merely one of many, then there’s little chance you’ll differentiate yourself from the pack and sidestep the RFP and rate-cut cattle call.
When legal work is perceived as a commodity—and an increasing amount of it is these days—then the lowest cost provider wins. But when it really matters, price is an afterthought and a successful outcome is all that matters.
Assuming you want to position your law firm above and beyond your competitors in the legal marketplace, and be in the running for premium work, then expressing and establishing thought leadership through content marketing is a means to your end, and it offers the best return for your marketing investment. This article explains why that’s the case.
In my next piece, I’ll provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to craft a content marketing strategy that attracts and engages the exact target market that will fuel the growth of your law firm in 2019.
[Jay Harrington is the owner of Harrington Communications, a leading digital marketing agency for law, consulting, and accounting firms. He specializes in helping law firms build engaging websites and digital marketing strategies through creative design and storytelling. Jay is author of the recently released book The Essential Associate: Step Up, Stand Out, and Rise to the Top as a Young Lawyer. In 2016, his first book, One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Law Practice, was published. Jay is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, and previously he was a commercial litigator and corporate bankruptcy attorney at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner.]