Ever take career advice from a meth dealer? Me neither, but Bryan Cranston has some excellent words of wisdom for all of us. And, of course, he knows a few things about achieving success in a competitive marketplace.
Even if you don’t recognize his name, chances are you’ll recognize the gentleman in the accompanying photo. Bryan Cranston became a Hollywood star through his iconic role as Walter White, the mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher who became a ruthless manufacturer and dealer of methamphetamine in AMC’s award-winning and immensely popular Breaking Bad.
No Johnny-come-lately, actor Cranston just turned 60, and he’s been a TV and film actor since the 1980s. Prior to Breaking Bad, he was probably best known for playing the silly and inept dad in Malcolm in the Middle in the early 2000s. But it was his very different role in Breaking Bad that catapulted him into orbit among Hollywood’s biggest stars.
And since Breaking Bad ended in 2013, a wealth of complex and compelling roles has been coming Cranston’s way. In fact, just this past month he appeared as President Lyndon B. Johnson in All the Way, HBO’s dramatization of LBJ’s first year in office and his efforts to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Cranston’s LBJ is one for the ages; at times, he appears as tortured as Walter White. It’s well worth checking out.
So, why is any of this important to you? Because even if the film industry isn’t quite as nasty and cutthroat as the meth business, it’s still a tough place to earn a living, let alone become a star. And yet, good guy Bryan Cranston, who’s the polar opposite of Walter White, has done both. So, after many years of making a decent living in Hollywood before making the big time, he has a good amount of hard-earned wisdom to offer the rest of us.
So, what did Michelangelo and Goldilocks know about marketing? And what exactly is niche marketing? Is market positioning something that law firms really need to care about? Isn’t “strategic branding” just an overused buzzword? In fact, aren’t all of these terms just meaningless marketing jargon that a sensible attorney can ignore? (C’mon, can’t you just build me a website?)
Let’s take these questions one by one, starting with the last one. No, my team and I can’t just build you a website, not without knowing much more about you and your law firm, and helping you figure out where you best fit in the legal marketplace. (Someone else can build you a website, of course, and then, well…you’ll have a website. As you know, just having a website isn’t anything special. But its messaging should be.)
And no, all these terms are not meaningless jargon. They may be jargon, but, of course, that doesn’t necessarily make them bad. And they’re definitely not meaningless. In fact, niche marketing, market positioning, and strategic branding are some of the most critical terms for you to understand if you want your marketing to be meaningful.
What is Meaningful Marketing?
What does that mean, to have meaningful marketing? First of all, it’s marketing that’s neither bland, nor generic, nor boilerplate. It’s a tagline that’s more distinct than “Experienced & Trustworthy.” It’s an attorney bio that tells me more than just what schools you attended and in what courts you’re licensed to practice. It’s a website that doesn’t look or sound like every other law firm website. Meaningful marketing is hard work. Meaningful marketing takes risks. But meaningful marketing is worth it because the alternative is to be lost in a vast ocean of blandness and banality.
Meaningful marketing sends a strong signal that your law firm is more than just another plain vanilla, me-too group of lawyers that’s really no different from any other group of lawyers. Meaningful marketing reaches your intended audience of ideal clients and conveys to them that your attorneys are more than commoditized widgets; that they are not interchangeable with the lawyers of a dozen other firms in town. Meaningful marketing tells your ideal clients that your firm is special, at least for them, because it was created with them – and their legal issues – in mind.
In my previous blog post, I talked about how law firms have much in common with – of all things – philharmonic orchestras. Both are traditionally revered institutions with roots that are hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. However, because of changing times, both the traditional law firm and the classic municipal orchestra are finding themselves in trouble.
In the old days (i.e., 25 years ago), it was sufficient for law firms to operate pretty much as they always had. The better ones offered quality legal services at a fair price with a commitment to client service Similarly, there was a standard model for a city’s orchestra, and it had worked fairly well throughout the 20th century. While a few orchestras across the country made up the brightest stars that the others could only hope to emulate, most orchestras were able to find a solid, if not stellar, position in their communities in which they had a relatively consistent stream of patrons and revenues.
But newly arrived competitors can wreak havoc on one’s carefully laid plans, and today both orchestras and law firms are finding that just keeping that solid position is not as easy as it once was.
Before FedEx, there was Federal Express and its game-changing Unique Selling Proposition.
The “Unique Selling Proposition” is a concept that’s close to the heart of marketers everywhere. The USP is a shorthand way of describing what every product or service desperately needs: a meaningful point of distinction, a way of differentiating it from the products or services of its competitors. In a crowded marketplace, a well-defined USP is truly critical, because without it, no product or service offering can expect to stand out.
Back in the early 1980s, Federal Express became famous for its groundbreaking Unique Selling Proposition, which guaranteed that the firm would deliver a letter or package anywhere in the United States overnight. The promise contained in the company’s tagline, revolutionary at the time, now seems almost quaint: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.”
Dated as that may sound today, 30 years ago it set Federal Express apart from every one of its competitors, and in a very significant and meaningful way: In the days before “overnighting” a document became standard practice, and more than a decade before email and the web became commonplace, nobody else was able to make that promise.
However, when I talk about the concept of a Unique Selling Proposition with attorneys, I often get blank stares. Granted, it’s a marketing concept that’s not taught in law school. But there’s more to it than that. For many lawyers and other professionals, it seems, well, unprofessional – and even flat-out wrong – to think of themselves as providers of services that must be marketed and sold. It is the profession of law, after all, isn’t it?
But – given all that – might there be something in the Unique Selling Proposition concept that could be helpful to lawyers in these competitive times? What if we rebranded the USP as the Unique Lawyering Proposition™?
By now, it’s fairly well understood that we are living through a period of great change and uncertainty. As Peter Winick proclaims in a recent post, uncertainty is now permanent. While I tend to be somewhat hesitant about calling anything permanent, it appears that for most people in the workforce today – and for almost anyone in the legal profession – uncertainty driven by growing competition will be an increasingly large part of our reality going forward. In fact, Winick notes that business guru Jim Collins – not someone prone to exaggerate – recently stated that “uncertainty is now the rule and not the exception.”
Fair enough, but what does this mean to you? What does it have to do with the challenges you’re facing in running a law firm? And what does any of this have to do with marketing?
First, this means you need to assume that change and uncertainty will be with us for a long time to come. Second, much of that change is going to involve increased competition, which will come from across town, from across the world and from technology – as well as from various combinations of these sources. Third, an environment of continually increasing competition should be sufficient incentive for every lawyer and law firm to focus on figuring out how they’re going to stand out and succeed.
“There are no second acts in American lives.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
“As you get older, it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.”
– Ernest Hemingway
Who are your heroes?
I’m a firm believer that heroes are not just for kids. Everyone should have heroes – and the more, the better. All of us need that inspiration they can provide, whether our hero is a decorated war veteran, a champion basketball player, a boss, a parent or someone who has surmounted great odds in life.
So, let me tell you about one of my newest heroes. Her name is Libby James and a few weeks ago she ran the Bolder Boulder 10K in 49:19. That’s a 7:56 pace for 6.2 miles, which would be quite good for almost any of us, but did I mention that she’s 73 years old?
If you’re not a runner, it may not jump out at you just how amazing that is. Maybe this will help: She was the 822nd finisher out of 25,851 women of all ages. And just so you don’t have to do the math, that’s in the top four percent of all women finishers. At age 73.
For many reasons, I’ve never been much of a friend of Facebook’s. And this sentiment has only increased lately, as news from and about FB in the last few weeks has been a steady stream of evidence as to why one shouldn’t trust the company or its $4-billion, 26-year-old CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. More on that in a moment, and it is troubling. But it’s not a good reason to tar all social media with the same brush.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Yes, the red flags being waved about Facebook are a strong signal that those who have been thinking about dipping their toe in the social media pool have all the more reason to leave FB alone for a while. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it means that it’s therefore that much easier to decide to focus your social media efforts elsewhere, and especially on platforms where the rules of the game are clear and not changing every few weeks.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
If you think of LinkedIn, Twitter and blogs as they’re most commonly used, it’s as public channels open to the world. And if you use them as such, you’ll never find yourself in a situation increasingly common to users of Facebook, in which you unhappily discover that something you thought you were communicating to a private audience is now accessible to everyone in Google’s search results. With LinkedIn, Twitter and blogs, everyone understands the #1 ground rule: This is for public consumption.
Of course, you could use Facebook in the same professional way that most use LinkedIn and many use Twitter, but that would be a bit like donning your best suit to wear to your kid’s soccer game in the rain. Not only will people look at you funny, but your best efforts to stay professional likely will just send you home in a muddy suit.
Spring in Boulder means the end of ski season and the beginning of running season. Of course, the hard-core Boulderites have been running six times a week all winter long, but even in my younger days, I never had the sufficient commitment to running that was necessary to claim membership in that elite group.
So, for me, the vanishing of the ice and snow from the trails brings with it my annual fire drill to get in shape for the Bolder Boulder. For those of you unfamiliar with the BB, it’s one of the largest and most celebrated 10K’s in the world, with over 55,000 participants in 2009. The race takes place throughout downtown Boulder every Memorial Day, and it features live bands, dancing grannies or other entertainment on nearly every block. It finishes up at CU’s football stadium with a picnic for all, military jet flyovers and paragliders. It’s truly a blast.
The Boulder Flatirons
And all that’s a good thing, unless you haven’t been running all winter long, which means that you have just six weeks from the last day of ski season to running a 10K in peak form. (And since this is Boulder, your peak form had better be good.)
At any rate, in my younger days, I was able to put together a few runs in April and May, and I’d be more or less ready for the Bolder Boulder. However, as I discovered last year – after an eight-year sabbatical – it’s not so easy anymore. Somehow, over the course of that time away, I had lost a minute off my pace, and that was on top of the time I’d lost over the previous several years.
This is when the acronym long used by computer programmers comes to mind: GIGO, or Garbage In, Garbage Out. When you’re over 40, a few training runs over the space of a few weeks will get you just that: very little return on very little effort. Meaning that even if your body was able to quickly overcome a certain slackness in your training schedule back in the day, those days are long over, and only a disciplined approach will help you find success post-40.
Why is it that the arena of online marketing and PR often reminds me of one of those old-time carnivals? It’s almost impossible to navigate along the online midway enjoying your cotton candy without falling prey to the multitudes of self-proclaimed “gurus” and “leaders” in your path, all of them promising that there’s nothing easier than to follow their advice, knock over the three milk bottles and win the biggest prize.
David Meerman Scott
And yet, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some legitimate leaders in our brave new world of marketing and PR, and I’m able to say with confidence that David Meerman Scott is one of the few. Over the course of a successful career in corporate marketing and public relations, David saw that the traditional practices that had long been used in these two disciplines were being discarded for a new set of rules, and he saw this long before many of his fellow practitioners were convinced. Based on what he saw happening, three years ago David wrote what became a phenomenally successful book, The New Rules of Marketing & PR.
In a field that sees countless new titles on a continual basis, this work was the bestselling public relations book on Amazon for nearly two years, has sold hundreds of thousands of copies and has been translated into 24 languages. And it’s telling that the term “social media” didn’t even make it into the first edition, which was published less than three years ago, in June 2007. When David was writing the book in 2006, Facebook was still only for those with an .edu email address and Twitter had barely caused a ripple.
So, it’s an indicator of just how fast social media has become the 800-pound gorilla in marketing and PR that the newly-released second edition prominently features “social media” in the revised subtitle, “How to Use Social Media, Blogs, News Releases, Online Video, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly.”
Yet, the main message of the book hasn’t changed. And therein lies the beauty of it. The New Rules of Marketing & PR has been successful for many reasons, but here’s a big one: Instead of focusing on numbers (e.g., how many people are on your email list, tips and tricks for improving your Web site’s SEO or getting your press release into as many hands as possible), David knows that content is still king. His sine qua non of online content is that it must be customer-focused and compelling. This theme is found in one of his favorite mantras: You must earn the attention of the public.
I like that word, “earn.” It implies honesty and integrity. But it sounds kind of like work, doesn’t it? It means that you need to focus on creating authentic, compelling content that will: 1) appeal to your prospective clients and customers, 2) provide them with something of value, and 3) keep them coming back for more.
In our unbelievably busy, fragmented and distracted world, that’s not easy to do. How do you get yourself heard above the noise? How do you get people to watch your show more than once? This isn’t just work, it’s hard work. This is knowing what your prospective customers are interested in, addressing their needs and interests, and putting yours on ice. This is being a journalist and a thought leader. This is the opposite of spending your time figuring out how to game Google.
Does this mean that David is not a believer in the importance of SEO? No, that’s not a fair criticism, for he fully understands how useful SEO can be in helping your customers find you and your site. And that’s quite important, given all the noise and distractions out there.
But on a recent podcast, David put search engine optimization in its place. He emphasized that if he were making a recommendation to a company that wanted to increase visitors to its site – and the firm had a budget to hire someone to help – he would suggest hiring an SEO expert only after first hiring someone who had experience as a professional journalist. (He even suggested that after the journalist was on board, he’d hire a copywriter next, before hiring an SEO expert.)
Why is that? Because it’s all about having engaging content, and there’s not much use in driving traffic to your site if there’s nothing there to engage your visitors.
So, focus on your customers. Address their interests, not yours. And you will earn their attention.
Do you still think that writing blogs is just for people with either an axe to grind or too much time on their hands? And that Twitter is just an inane waste of time with absolutely no possible positive ROI?
As Kevin O’Keefe describes in a post this week, Peter Horrocks, the newly appointed director of BBC Global News, recently told his news reporters that they should use social media as a primary source of information. You read that right: BBC reporters are now required to use social media.
And you also read this correctly: we’re talking about the British Broadcasting Corporation. For the record, the company was founded in 1922 and it’s safe to say that the BBC has never been known as a group of impulsive kids randomly jumping on the latest fad. No, this is the ever-so-reliable, familiar and comfortable “Beeb,” as its devoted fans across the world have fondly referred to it for decades. But perhaps this really says it all: the BBC is an 88-year-old British institution with its own coat of arms.
The takeaway here is that perhaps you should give a good listen to what the BBC Global News director has to say about social media. In an internal newsletter earlier this month, Horrocks said, “This isn’t just a kind of fad from someone who’s an enthusiast of technology. I’m afraid you’re not doing your job if you can’t do those things. It’s not discretionary.” And he later says, “If you don’t like it, if you think that level of change or that different way of working isn’t right for [you], then go and do something else, because it’s going to happen. You’re not going to be able to stop it.”
So, erase that image in your head of the doddering old Beeb, for we see that the BBC is actually wide awake and energized in these Twitter-infused times. In fact, the organization is operating with a keen understanding of the truly revolutionary changes that have occurred in how information is aggregated and disseminated.
And what does this mean for you?
Well, John Schwartz, the National Legal Correspondent for the New York Times, recently spoke to O’Keefe about just how popular RSS readers have become with reporters everywhere. These reporters use RSS to follow particular blogs, in addition to following keywords and key phrases in Google Blog Search. The great thing for you about that last point is that these keyword searches can lead them to new blogs that they hadn’t known about, including, perhaps, yours.
O’Keefe, who as the founder of LexBlog, Inc. has helped nearly 3,000 attorneys build their blogs, continues:
If you’re covering timely legal issues in your blog, you’ll get seen by reporters. Reporters aren’t stupid and looking to waste their time Googling search terms looking for an old article or even being sillier yet, waiting for your PR person to turn them on to experts at your law firm.
The point he’s making is that you’ll likely mention cases, regulations, and companies in your law blog, and when one of those subjects becomes newsworthy, your blog post will be instantly picked up by the RSS readers of reporters covering that subject. Ultimately, there is a good probability that you could get a reporter’s call, or that something you wrote may be cited in a reporter’s article. Either one would be fine with you, right?
The only problem is that neither of these great things will happen unless you do the work to put yourself out there in the blogosphere. The good news is that there’s still time to catch the train. But you’re going to have to run.
I hear you say that you weren’t born to blog or tweet. Fair enough; none of us were. And none of us has the time to do it, either. But I’m pretty sure I heard Horrocks say to his reporters, “Change or die.” It’s being said a lot these days. In fact, in a small, flat world, it’s the new mantra.