Survey Says: It's Time to Be Strategic With Your Firm's Content Marketing Efforts

by JD Supra Perspectives

Many firms already use content to demonstrate expertise and create brand awareness, but thinking of it in terms of true journalistic standards means being strategic, staying on message and committing fully to your audience in every piece of content you produce. - Peggy Heffner, Dechert

[Updated May 27 to include the above video interview between Mimesis Law's Lee Pacchia and Greentarget CEO, John Corey.]

This week saw publication of Greentarget’s much-anticipated 2014 State of Digital and Content Marketing Survey, an annual report that has quickly become an industry standard by which law firm marketers can benchmark their current digital media activities and identify important next steps in the rapidly changing online landscape.

Greentarget, a leading corporate communications firm, produced the study in association with The American Lawyer and Zeughauser group. This year, to create a fuller picture of the new media landscape, says CEO John Corey, “we expanded this year’s survey to include input from both corporate in-house counsel — the content consumers — and senior law firm marketers — who, working closely with their firms’ lawyers, are the content producers.”

The results? Available in full below. We’ve embedded the entire survey in this article. Of particular note to us is the emergence of Content, with a capital C, as a key driver of professional visibility online today. Of course, we’ve seen the growing importance of content marketing for a number of years, but the 2014 survey underscores the notion as never before. No surprise there, certainly around JD Supra offices.

We asked our clients (professionals who perhaps have the greatest stake in these survey findings) to provide their initial, top-level takeaways on the 2014 Greentarget report. Here is what we heard back:

1. It’s Time to Bring True Journalistic Standards to Content Marketing

From Peggy Heffner, public relations and social media manager at Dechert: “The concept of corporate journalism is very appealing. Many firms already use content to demonstrate expertise and create brand awareness, but thinking of it in terms of true journalistic standards means being strategic, staying on message and committing fully to your audience in every piece of content you produce. Knowing that many of our corporate clients and 73 percent of those in the B2B space already do this should motivate more firms to embrace this approach.”

"We have to earn readers' trust with every piece of content we publish. Every well produced piece of content builds our content brand equity; every poorly produced one diminishes it.”

Adam Stock, chief marketing and client services officer at Allen Matkins, echoes Peggy’s view on the strategic role of valuable content thusly: “The Greentarget study validates what we are seeing in the market. We see the growing importance of 'content brand'. Because our audience is drowning in a sea of content, providing high quality information that is insightful, concise, relevant and informative is our goal. Our audience wants us to be their information guide, curator and Sherpa.
When someone sees an email, video or blog entry from our firm (Allen Matkins), we want them to think 'I’ll open that because that firm’s information is worth my time!' We hope they'll open it, read it and act on it.
We feel that we have to earn readers' trust with every piece of content we publish. Every well produced piece of content builds our content brand equity; every poorly produced one diminishes it.”

Molly Porter, content strategist at DLA Piper, sees in the Greentarget report good reasons for a less-is-more approach when it comes to quality content. It's an approach that enables the good stuff to cut through the noise: "It’s always great to see content in the limelight! My main takeaway from the survey was that firms of all sizes will have to work double time to make their stuff stand out in what promises to be an even more crowded content marketplace. Counterintuitively, this may indicate a less-is-more strategy, where quality, usefulness and shelf life outweigh immediacy and quantity. I’m thinking about slow content like handbooks, surveys and guides. An example is our growing bookshelf of 'Laws of the World' handbooks. Not only do these garner amazing readership, they provide value year after year to our clients and have positioned our lawyers as cross-border thought leaders. The challenge then becomes how to better market these pieces by serving them up again and again in new and fresh ways."

2. Print May Be Dying, But Client Alerts and Newsletters Are Still Valuable

From Jeff Berardi, CMO at K&L Gates: “One of the primary benefits of the survey is that there has been some consistency with the research collection process over a period of several years, which enables the reader to more clearly identify patterns and trends within a particular demographic or target audience. I believe that most of what is contained within the 2014 survey affirms what has been reported upon in prior reports (especially the 2013 report), and it is helpful to know that some changes or trends are not as drastic as they may have appeared a few years ago.

That said, I’d like to call to attention a couple of key takeaways that I think are worth noting. The first finding was not all that surprising but interesting nonetheless, and that was the data that showed how daily readership of general business media in print form has dropped significantly in the past year. It is hard to dispute that print readership is on the decline, but to see the number of in-house counsel who read a daily business newspaper in print drop from 55% in 2013 to 33% in 2014 is still pretty impressive. Not good news if you’re in the print publishing industry, unless you also have a robust digital platform that is heavily subscription or advertising based.

The second finding was somewhat more surprising to me, and that was when in-house counsel were asked what types of law firm-generated content they found to be most valuable, more than 3/4 said practice group newsletters, and nearly 2/3 said client alerts. Meanwhile, social media and video clocked in at less than 15% total between the two of them.

This isn’t to imply that social media campaigns and video production will not become more valuable to in-house counsel in the future (and perhaps practice group newsletters and client alerts less so), but I do think it’s rather reassuring that some of the more traditional content development strategies employed by law firms are still viewed in a positive light by clients and potential clients.”

3. It’s Time to Integrate Content with Traditional MARCOM

Client alerts and newsletters might still score favorably with in-house counsel, but as David Bruns, director of client services at Farella Baun + Martel, points out: “The Survey is further proof that content marketing is no longer sending Client Alerts into the ether. We, as marketers or business developers, must understand how our clients obtain and digest their content in order to succeed at driving revenue at our firms. While the distribution has moved from print through email to LinkedIn and content aggregators, a strategic plan that integrates content with traditional MARCOM levers continues to demonstrate a path to business generation.”

Womble Carlyle’s Steve Bell addresses this notion in a word of caution: “A material percentage of buyers have LinkedIn (and other social media) accounts. A material percentage of them use LinkedIn as a channel for information they need. But, since so many listen without participating in the conversation, content producers (i.e. lawyers) are going to have to take it as an article of faith that producing content is worth the investment of their time.”

Take it as an article faith, or - as Dave Bruns suggests - build a strategic plan that integrates content with other, traditional marketing activities.

On a final note, we’re pleased to mention our mention on page 8 of the survey. To whit:

“…legal news curators and aggregators, such as JD Supra, are catching up. They’re the next-most-trusted source [after traditional news sources such as NYT, WSJ and CNN], with 44 percent of our survey participants rating those aggregators as ‘very credible,’ up from 36 percent last year. That trust again underscores how participants are combating information overload — In-house counsel value services that help them sort through vast amounts of content.”

The complete survey is embedded below. We also suggest a visit to Greentarget's microsite dedicated to the study.


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