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™?
Personal Branding 101: Honing Your Elevator Pitch, Knowing Your Audience and Speaking Their Language
I was at a networking event recently where the organizers drew a business card from a fishbowl to select one lucky attendee. They then provided that individual with a full two minutes to sell the crowd on their company, their services or themselves.
It turned out that the individual whose name was drawn was unemployed. What an opportunity, right? Here was the chance to sell himself before a room full of well-educated, well-connected people from a diversity of professions and industries. But how did this individual use this opportunity?
Well, basically, he squandered it. He talked about what he did at his old job in mind-numbing detail, and then he talked some more about what he did at his old job, and then he finished up by – you guessed it – talking about what he did at his old job.
And the worst thing was that he did such a deep dive into what he did at his old job – without ever explaining what he did at a sufficiently high level for this intelligent, but diverse audience from many different fields – that many of us were left speechless.
You see, ironically enough, when this guy had finished talking for two minutes about what he did at his old job, none of us could even tell you what he had done at his old job. Nor could we tell you what he wanted to do in his next job, or what he felt he was unusually qualified to do, or what he was passionate about or with what particular companies or organizations he was hoping to do this activity at some point in the future.
Okay, all that is not entirely true; I did glean some idea of what he does. As my mother says about any guy who labors in the technology sector, “He works with computers.”
“Begin with the end in mind.”
– Steven Covey
In my previous post, Your 2011 Marketing Plan, Part 1: The Value of Setting Goals and Planning, I addressed the importance of setting goals. At this time, I’d like to take it a step further by discussing how to set meaningful and measurable goals that become a critical part of a successful marketing plan.
But first, I’d like to step back and take note of what I believe are the two most compelling takeaways of that previous post. First, as personal development guru Brian Tracy tells us, people who set down written goals are significantly more successful than those who do not. And second, despite this evidence, just 3% of us actually go through the process of setting down written goals and tracking our progress toward them in a methodical manner.
Why is this? Perhaps setting goals seems pointless; perhaps tracking them seems difficult. Whatever the reasons behind this anomaly, it’s undeniable that for lawyers and other businesspeople the stakes involved are much higher than whether they lose that last ten pounds or run a 10K at a particular pace. In fact, the high failure rate of new ventures is testament to the inability of many entrepreneurs to effectively set marketing goals and track their progress in achieving them.
If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.
– Yogi Berra
It must be the end of the year already, because all the articles and blog posts about setting goals and planning are starting to appear. And guess what: This is yet another one.
Hey, I heard that groan. And I see how you’re beginning to turn the virtual page to find some other article or story that you feel might actually teach you something.
But wait. This could be the most important and even life-changing blog post that you’ll ever read, if it encourages you to take action. Because – as study after study has shown – goal setters are significantly more successful than everyone else. (By the way, that’s not thought to be coincidental.) And yet, if you’re like an estimated 97% of the population, you’re not a goal setter. And that’s too bad, because here’s what goal setters do:
1. Write out specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-sensitive goals for the year ahead,
2. Break them down into tasks and sub-tasks, and plot out on a calendar how they’re going to achieve each one,
3. Revisit their plan on an ongoing basis to measure the progress they’re making, and
4. Review their goals throughout the process to ensure that they’re still the right ones.
The Importance of a Strategic Approach to Law Firm Marketing in an Era of Change, Uncertainty and Increasing Competition
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.
What’s Next for BigLaw? Revolution is in the Air – and the Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) Firms Shall Lead It
“In retrospect, all revolutions seem inevitable. Beforehand, all revolutions seem impossible.”
— Michael McFaul, National Security Council
We are in the midst of a true revolution in the delivery of legal services. And upon reading that, it’s likely that you will fall into one of two camps: those who have already heard the guns firing and who are nodding their heads in agreement, and those who dismiss all the warnings of imminent change as excessive and overwrought.
If you’re part of the first group, I look forward to hearing your reports from the front lines. If you’re part of the second group, and it strikes you as hyperbole that anything could really change the legal industry in this country, in our lifetimes, please read on. Because many of those sounding the alarms happen to be more Paul Revere than Chicken Little.
Take Bruce MacEwen, for one. If you don’t know Bruce, you should. He is the talent behind the thought-provoking Adam Smith, Esq. blog, which looks at far-reaching trends in the legal profession. As the name of his blog implies, he is interested in the business and economics of law. Forgive me for stealing from the old E.F. Hutton ads, but when Bruce speaks, people listen.
And so, when Bruce said, “Outsourcing is here to stay” in a recent post, it’s worth paying attention. He was not talking about software development. He was talking about legal services that have always been provided by top-tier law firms to their corporate clients. But now there’s a new vendor of legal services in the room and it’s not a traditional law firm. It’s another animal altogether that some have labeled Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO).
Bruce continues, “Whatever you call it, and whatever you think of its quality, clients have tasted the fruit of the forbidden tree and they’re not going back. If document review can be conducted by Ivy League law school grads…for $50/hour instead of $350/hour, what’s not for a client to like?”
“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.
Is Facebook for Lawyers? Not Yet. Given Privacy Concerns with FB, Attorneys Should Focus on LinkedIn, Twitter & Blogs
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.
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.
Are You Running on Empty or Running Up That Hill? How Successfully Marketing Your Law Firm is Similar to Staying in Shape After 40
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.
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.
Crisis Communications: The Do’s and Don’ts, Keeping it Transparent and the Game-Changing Effects of Social Media
For many, preparing a crisis communications plan is similar to writing or updating your will: you know it’s something you need to do, but despite its importance, it always seems to take a backseat to everything labeled urgent that’s screaming for your immediate attention. And so it’s easy to continue to put it off, trusting that good fortune will continue to ensure that you don’t need it.
However, you will not only be much better prepared to handle whatever crisis comes your way when you have a communications plan ready, but it’s important to realize that such a plan can be useful for a much broader range of situations than you might at first imagine.
To that point, note that law firms need to be cognizant of crisis communications on two different levels. While they may need a crisis communications plan for an event that involves a client, they also should have a plan for any type of crisis that directly concerns either the firm or one of its attorneys. And while the definition of “crisis” may seem stretched if we’re talking about how to handle news of a law firm’s layoffs or a discrimination suit against the firm, many of the same approaches and processes should be followed in these types of events as in the more dramatic cases of workplace violence, plant explosions or plane crashes.
What are these all-important approaches and processes? They start and end with the truth. Yes, honesty and transparency head up the rules of thumb in crisis communications, even though candor is sometimes the most difficult thing to come by in a crisis. And lack of candor can hurt a firm’s reputation much more than whatever occurrence has triggered media attention.
One of the highlights of last week’s annual conference of the Legal Marketing Association was the presentation on crisis communications given by Cari Brunelle of Jaffe PR and Eleanor Kerlow of Hunton & Williams. In their presentation entitled, “Managing the Media When Crisis Strikes,” Cari and Eleanor talked about how everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve rides on your – and your firm’s – reputations, and how quickly a solid reputation can be destroyed.