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.
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?
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.
What does the future hold? To quote Nobel laureate Niels Bohr, “Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” And given all the ongoing change in both the legal profession and the marketing world, it must take a certain level of foolhardiness to attempt to tackle the subject of the future of legal marketing. And yet, there are sufficiently strong indications of where things are going that I felt I was on solid ground in my recent presentation, “The Future of Law Firm Marketing and Business Development.” Of course, I wasn’t predicting the imminent end of the world, or even The End of Lawyers (although I did mention Richard Susskind’s excellent and thought-provoking book of the same name).
The theme for the June 9 presentations at the Denver Bar Association was The Future of the Law, and the format was in the style of the tech-industry’s fast-paced, five-minute Ignite presentations. Obviously, it’s absurd to try to address such a complex topic in such a superficial way. But it did make it fun. And even given the mandated 15-second limit for each slide, and the speaker slip-ups and the lack of time to correct misstatements, some points worth considering can nonetheless emerge within the Ignite format. But don’t just take my word for it; see what you think and share your thoughts.
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™?
“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.
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.