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Meaningful Marketing: What Michelangelo and Goldilocks Can Teach Lawyers About Niche Marketing, Market Positioning & Strategic Branding

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.

Why is Market Positioning Important?

So, let’s look at some of these marketing concepts. There’s more than a little confusion out there about something called “market positioning.” And perhaps that’s not surprising, as it’s not something that’s taught in law schools (at least not when I was there). Additionally, market positioning may seem relevant only to the Procter & Gambles and the Unilevers of the world, and very far removed from the day-to-day business development and marketing needs of most attorneys.

However, market positioning should be very closely tied to lawyers’ business development and marketing activities, because it’s how an attorney talks about what he or she does, and it’s how a law firm’s website explains what they do, how they do it, and for whom they do it – all within the context of the firm’s competitors.

Ultimately, market positioning is staking a position in the marketplace, one that the firm appears uniquely qualified to handle, one that has positive growth potential, and one that strategically takes note of where the firm’s competitors are – and where they are not.

Michelangelo's David
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” ~ Michelangelo

Who Needs Strategic Branding?

Looking next at strategic branding, an organization’s “brand” is not its logo but something a little more difficult to define and shape: its reputation, or even its “promise.” Although I like to keep things from getting too abstract, I believe that a firm’s “promise” can be a good way of thinking about brand. It’s certainly closely tied to reputation, and it incorporates what I call the firm’s “Unique Lawyering Proposition,” i.e., that which makes the law firm different, special, and “just right” for a certain group of potential clients.

If “just right” reminds you of Goldilocks, it should, because all of us today work in a competitive environment where our potential clients get to act like the young girl in the classic fairy tale. Just as Goldilocks refused to eat a bowl of porridge if it was too hot or too cold, your potential clients can effortlessly use Google to check out a multitude of other options in case your law firm appears too large or too small, too expensive or too inexperienced, too impersonal, too uninterested, too bland, too unfocused, etc.

So, what’s the answer? Do you just surrender because you can’t please everyone? No, just the opposite: You embrace the fact that you can’t please everyone, and you focus on that group that you know you can delight. Taking a page from Goldilocks, your law firm needs to communicate to your ideal client that you are “just right” for their needs. And of course, for you to do that, you need to know exactly who your ideal client is. That’s where strategic branding and niche marketing come in.

Why Finding a Niche Can Make You Rich

If strategic branding is taking an active role in helping to create and promote the brand that you want for your firm, niche marketing is an earlier step. It happens once you make the decision to focus very narrowly rather than widely. The smaller the firm, the more important is this step. Think of boutique law firms. Think of the hedgehog, who, per Jim Collins, knows one thing very well.

Here’s a different way to look at niche marketing: The process can be helped along by making it clear what your law firm is not. As Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” That is exactly what you need to do with your firm. Michelangelo also said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” When you look at your law firm, what angel is inside it? Can you set it free? The long-term success of your firm may depend on it.

Ultimately, this is why market positioning is so important. Because just as the one-size-fits-all economy is long dead, the days are numbered (and few) for small law firms that claim they can do it all (or even a half-dozen different things) for everyone. Instead, tell us what you do best, whom do you do it for, and how do you do it differently from your competitors. If there’s a “why” involved, so much the better, because if you can provide a “why” clearly and sincerely, you’ll be a big step ahead of most other law firms.

And that’s important, because it is a competitive jungle out there. Of course, I would recommend preparing for your marketing expedition by hiring an experienced guide. He can help you by closely working with you to nail down a well-defined niche, a strong strategic brand, and some very clear market positioning. With those in hand, you’ll be ready to produce some meaningful marketing that will intrigue Goldilocks and make Michelangelo proud.