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.
I recently came across an interesting blog post about how to put together a good elevator pitch in a limited time. “The 15-Minute Method to Writing an Unforgettable Elevator Speech” by Kathryn Minshew is a good read. In fact, it’s just as important for those who believe that they have had the perfect elevator pitch for years – and for those who believe they don’t need one – as it is for those who recognize that their elevator pitch could use some significant improvement.
To the first group – those who feel they already have a solid elevator pitch because they’ve used it since the Reagan administration, I’d suggest that this would be a good time to see how your pitch has weathered the years. My guess is that over the last couple decades, your industry, your services and/or your clients and customers have probably changed. Your pitch needs to reflect those changes. What are your clients most interested in today?
To the second group, those who don’t believe that they need an elevator pitch, I’d suggest that most of those who claim not to have an elevator pitch actually do have one, they just don’t call it that. But when asked what they do for a living, this group likely utters the same well-worn phrases time and time again. But are they the right phrases? For this group, also, a look at how to craft a compelling elevator pitch would be time well spent.
Finally, to the third group, those who recognize that their elevator pitch could use some help, you also have come to the right place.
Ben & Jerrys renamed their Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough to “I Dough, I Dough” in their Scoop Shops.
Starting with the tragic attack by a white supremacist at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, the last two weeks have been an historic and hyper-speed ride through some of our country’s most controversial issues, from race relations to gun control to same-sex marriage to Mexican immigration.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the confluence of events and discussions surrounding these issues has been the quick and decisive responses from corporate America. In years past, any responses would have been muted and delayed. However, the nearly immediate, high-level calls to take the Confederate battle flag down from the South Carolina capitol grounds following the shootings quickly led to Amazon, eBay, Sears and Walmart pulling all Confederate merchandise from their shelves. A few days later, the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage throughout the U.S. was quickly followed by universal acclaim from dozens of corporate brands ranging from Absolut, American Airlines and AT&T to The Weather Channel, Visa and Walgreens.
And the decisions by NBCUniversal and Univision to sever ties with Donald Trump over his derogatory comments about Mexican immigrants were strong statements that likely would not have been made just a few years ago. All together, recent events have sent the undeniable message that social change is happening very quickly these days. In fact, I would suggest that it’s happening faster now than at any time since the 1960s.
But how do these social changes affect you – the lawyer, the accountant or other professional – and what relevance could the rate of social change in this country have to your firm’s branding and marketing?
It’s been a little more than a month since the Google search algorithm update nicknamed “Mobilegeddon” was rolled out to a fearful world. In many ways, this event was similar to an apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster, except that in this case, instead of everyone looking anxiously up at the sky, all Google watchers were intently focused on their mobile phones. And as we did so, we held our collective breath, waiting to see just how much destruction was rendered to non-mobile-friendly websites by Google’s update.
What’s a Mobilegeddon?
If you’re asking yourself, “What’s a Mobilegeddon?” it was the latest of Google’s most significant search engine algorithm updates. This one promised to dramatically shake up the rankings. In a nutshell, it would reward mobile-friendly websites by pulling them up in the search results on a mobile device – and in so doing, punish those websites that had not become mobile friendly by pushing them down in the rankings.
Why would this matter to anyone who doesn’t spend all their time figuring out the latest changes in SEO (search engine optimization)? Because anyone – or any business – that has a website should always be paying attention (or paying someone to pay attention) to what’s going on that might change the search results. Does your business’ website tend to rank well when relevant keywords are searched on? If so, good – but you want to be sure that you can keep it there. And if your site does not rank well, perhaps you can take advantage of the ever-changing algorithm to make it rank higher.
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.
What could your law firm possibly have in common with your city’s symphony orchestra? More than you may think.
The L.A. Times recently published a fascinating story about the many challenges faced by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and other orchestras. As the Times describes the situation, “Orchestras across the country have been shaken by the loss of subscribers, aging audiences, declining corporate donations, labor strife and the struggle of remaining relevant in an era when technology is redefining how people spend their leisure hours.”
Gustavo Dudamel, the dynamic and innovative conductor of the L.A. Philharmonic. (Photo courtesy Los Angeles Times)
Looking at this list of five concerns, it struck me that orchestras and law firms are much closer in spirit than one might think, and that there are more similarities than differences in the challenges they’re facing. Many of the same long-term trends are dramatically affecting both businesses, and in ways that are more sweeping than incremental. Could it benefit lawyers to hear about the challenges facing orchestras? Quite possibly.
I recently played a marathon game of Monopoly (is there any other kind?) that brought back great memories. Monopoly was always my favorite game when I was a kid, and I truly loved the competitive, grind-it-out games that seemed to go on forever. Over the last couple decades, I haven’t had the chance to play the game very often (who has the time?), but long winter nights seem to be conducive to digging up the old Monopoly board.
Lady Luck: A Key Player in Monopoly
As a kid, I had always prided myself on my skill at Monopoly, meaning that I was apparently either dismissive or unaware of the critical role that luck (i.e., the roll of the dice) plays in how the game unfolds. As almost everyone knows, in the initial stage of each game, luck means landing on the preferred and still-unsold properties so you can buy them, and in the later phases, luck is being able to avoid the overly-developed properties of the other players that would bankrupt you if you landed on them.
In the course of this recent game, I found that my lack of good fortune had allowed me to acquire only one monopoly (or full set of properties) and very few other properties that could be traded. In this case, my monopoly was the “Reds,” comprising Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois Avenues. (You remember the Reds, of course; they’re the properties located between Free Parking and the “Yellows,” AKA Atlantic and Ventnor Avenues, as well as Marvin Gardens. The Reds could perhaps be described as mediocre-to-good properties; they’re a couple steps above Mediterranean and Baltic, but they’re definitely not Park Place and Boardwalk, either.)
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That’s been a popular saying in Silicon Valley for some time, and it has a certain mystique because it’s attributed to the legendary business guru Peter Drucker. But exactly what does it mean, and could it be true? Could strategy be overrated? And how can culture possibly be so important?
What is strategy?
Before we get further into this discussion, it might be useful to define our terms. As a starting point, Wikipedia informs us that strategy “generally involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions.” That sounds pretty good, but to further flesh out what strategy is, Ken Favaro, writing in strategy + business, adds this: “Strategy is different from vision, mission, goals, priorities, and plans. It is the result of choices executives make, on where to play and how to win, to maximize long-term value.”
I think that definition is brilliant, but in an effort to ground it a bit, I would add that strategy involves a high-level analysis of the current situation and how it’s expected to change, so that an individual or organization can make the best decisions about how to go forward to achieve specific goals, meet current and future challenges, and leverage present and expected opportunities.
Bono, an effective communicator on the global stage.
I read an article this week that provides invaluable advice for attorneys, but it’s guidance that’s heard – and heeded – far too seldom. In fact, it will strike some lawyers as counterintuitive and wholly inappropriate for the profession of law. Nonetheless, this wisdom needs to be shared: “Dumbing down” your communications can be a smart idea.
The source of the article was Entrepreneur.com, so it wasn’t written specifically for attorneys – or even with attorneys in mind. Yet, its main point is as pertinent to lawyers who are communicating with their clients as it is to the entrepreneurs that the writers had in mind. (Which raises another favorite issue of mine – that all attorneys should think of themselves as entrepreneurs – but I’ll save that for another time.)
Why Dumbing Down Your Message Isn’t Dumb
Entitled, “Why Dumbing Down Your Message Isn’t Dumb,” the article, written by media trainers Andy Craig and Dave Yewman, makes a valuable point about the importance of speaking and writing in a way that anyone and everyone can understand. I’d add that if you have a visceral, negative reaction to the idea of “dumbing down” anything you write or say (and I can understand that), you may want to define your goal as “communicating with clarity,” which is always a good thing. And just so there’s no confusion, I would suggest that you should communicate with client-centric clarity.