ULTIMATE GUIDE TO MARKETING IN THE LEGAL SECTOR.

Over the last 10 years all sorts of changes have occurred that have fundamentally altered the way that the legal market functions:

  • The creation of Alternative Business Structures and the decline of the traditional partnership model
  • Digital transformation of all functions and departments, driven by a variety of new technologies including AI, robotics and cloud computing
  • Evolving customer expectations as household brands deliver increasingly frictionless, transparent and fast transactions, largely via digital and mobile, professional services are now judged by these ever rising standards.
  • A shift towards productisation of legal offerings, particularly within consumer markets
  • The rise of purpose driven brands as firms acknowledge that both customers and employees want to associate themselves with companies that really stand for something
  • The talent war – employees are more mobile and less loyal than ever, again driving the need for brands to stand out and offer a culture and vision that inspires commitment

Pre-marketing strategy checklist:

The problem with most law legal marketing strategies is that the company is simply not ready for it. There are basic gaps that mean no matter how brilliant the marketing strategy (and they are usually anything but brilliant), the foundations just don’t exist.

This checklist may help to identify some of those potential gaps:

The fundamentals:

      • Have you defined your core competence?
      • Has this been translated into a clear product set?
      • Are you consistently delivering on that product?
      • Does the product represent great value to your client whilst delivering a healthy profit to your business?

Scalability:

    • Are your processes and systems fit for purpose?
    • Do you have a clear marketing strategy at both a brand and lead generation? (which hopefully this guide can help with!)
    • Do you have an agreed sales methodology within the organisation?
    • Is your IT system fit for purpose, and do you have a strategy for your data that is both effective and compliant?

 

Future proofing:

  • Do you have a clear digital transformation strategy?
  • Do you understand where technologies like AI and robotics fit into this strategy?

 

This guide is aimed at ensuring the marketing function is fully prepared, but it’s essential that plans for all other aspects of the business are equally developed, as otherwise all the noise and attention you’re about to generate will be for nothing.

 

Branding Your Firm

Finding your core competence

Decades ago, Jim Collins spoke about the need for every company to embrace their inner hedgehog. The analogy, if you’re not already familiar with it, was that while foxes appear smart and cunning with their endless tricks and tactics to hunt their prey, the hedgehog has merely one technique – to curl up into a ball. The problem for mr fox is that the hedgehog’s singular tactic works perfectly, time and time again.

The point Collins was making was that most companies try to be too clever, employing countless strategies and tactics but never really mastering any of them. He describes how invariably the most successful businesses have identified just one thing that they can do really well, and then repeat it over and over again until they are famous for it.

Few markets present this problem more than legal. As historically fees have been high and opportunities abundant, law firms have had little incentive to find their “one thing” but that is all now changing.

As the market becomes increasingly competitive and vulnerable to disruption by technology companies, it is now more important than ever that firms identify whatever it is that really defines their offering and distinguishes them from the rest of the market.

A simple way for your law firm to establish this core competence is to as the following questions:

  • What are you most passionate about?
  • What do you believe matters most to your audience?
  • What do you believe your competition is neglecting?

It is the intersection of these answers that will define your “one thing”.

 

Defining your purpose

It is no longer enough in the legal market for firms to superficially align themselves to this charity or that charity, or to donate one penny in every million pounds to a good cause. Customers can see this for what it is – empty nonsense. And if that is all you’re ever going to do then better to simply not bother. It will only tell the world you are not to be trusted.

If, on the other hand, you genuinely do care about making a positive impact, then you need to go all the way. You need to establish what it is that you’re seeking to change for good, and how the work you do is going to make that happen.

Increasingly law firms are realising the value of this, not only from a customer perspective, but also in terms of their ability to attract and retain the best staff.

 

Create a product set

Law firms view their industry as one that sells services rather than products. They believe their service is simply too complex and bespoke to be simplified down to a product, but there lies a significant problem.

First of all, let’s consider what we actually mean by “product”. We tend to think of a product as tangible, while a service is intangible, but is that really important? Is a subscription from spotify fundamentally different from a CD simply because I can’t see or touch it?

The real difference between a product and service is that a product has clarity. The customer knows what they are buying and the business knows what it’s selling. Surely that is a good thing for all concerned, right? As a customer, I want to understand exactly what I am getting. The more predictable the better. And for the business, that also helps as a tightly defined and predictable project is typically a profitable one.

The argument against this for law firms of course is that it’s in their interest for their work to be loosely defined as then, once things start to snowball, the customer is going to end up spending a lot more money than they originally anticipated.

That’s pretty difficult to argue with, but the world is changing. If loosely defined, ever expanding service contracts are not what the customer wants (and they definitely aren’t!) then it is only a matter of time before the market is disrupted by companies that are willing and able to build products that the customer actually wants.

One of the most compelling examples of this has been in the wills market. 4 years ago a tech start up called Farewill launched an online service for wills. It used existing technology but packaged up the product in such a simple and compelling way that it soon took the market by storm, and within 18 months became the largest provider of wills in the UK.

Will writing is pretty low value so naturally solicitors will argue that this same disruption won’t occur with higher value services, particularly corporate legal services. There is probably some truth in that, for now, but the bottom line is that consumers like predictable, easy to understand products, and we are all consumers, even those who also happen to be senior corporate decision makers,

 

Building a rich identity

One of the challenges most law firms face is developing a brand that appears three dimensional. Most seem superficial and generic, which doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t substance underneath, but simply that they’ve failed to ever develop a complete identity that brings it to life in all contexts.

In order to ensure you are thinking about every aspect of the brand, I’d suggest working through the following sequence:

  1. Brand as organisation – what are the company values and how are they ingrained into the day to day behaviour of staff? This is less about painting inspirational words up on the wall, and more about developing practical measures that strongly incentivise a certain way of doing things. It should be built into performance reviews and salary structures, and most importantly of all, the partnership team must all lead by example. It doesn’t matter how much revenue they may generate, one bad apple and the entire culture is undermined.
  2. Brand as product – as discussed above, few law firms view their offering in terms of a product set, but regardless of whether or not you do, you definitely need to be clear on how you define
  3. your proposition in terms of key features and benefits, and where possible these defining characteristics should run across all service lines. Without this your sales messaging will appear disjointed. Needless to say, it should all flow directly from your core competence.
  4. Brand as person – this is perhaps the element of brand that traditional law firms tend to struggle with the most. Ultimately people buy from people, not companies, so your ability to identify the human characteristics of your firm, inevitably derived from the founders or senior leadership team, will play a huge role in your ability to be able to sell effectively. This is particularly true where interactions with the brand occur online, but it should also go beyond your marketing and directly impact the recruitment process.
  5. Brand as symbol – finally, we have the visual identity, which unfortunately is all most lawyers think of when you mention brand, when in reality it’s no more than the final 5%. Specific components of this will include the logo, typeface, colour palette and user imagery, and with the explosion of content marketing in the last 10 years it’s become more important than ever that this aesthetic is tightly defined across all channels.

 

Brand position and value proposition

The final stage of defining your brand is to articulate your positioning and value proposition. In simple terms:

  • Your position is what you do and who you do it for – Corporate legal services for the technology sector, for example. The more specific the better. Some large firms will have multiple positions if they target distinct audiences. That is okay as long as each person within that part of the company understands exactly which position they occupy.
  • Your value proposition – your key benefits (whether rational, emotional or self expressive) along with a supporting source of credibility. Most firms will instinctively concentrate on the rational elements, but Farewill are an example of a law firm that have spun that on its head and instead focused on the emotional and self expressive dimensions of writing a will, and the impact has been earth shuddering. In just 18 months they became the largest writers of wills in the UK, now writing 1 in 20. To put that in perspective, the second largest provider (a household brand who have nearly 10 times the number of staff) write only one in a hundred!

 

Content Strategy

Having established a comprehensive brand identity, the next step for any law firm is to develop a strategy for their content. This may sound like an exclusively online activity, but in actual fact this is largely channel agnostic. Of course, as we shall see, certain content pillars, as we call them, will align more naturally to some channels than others and each will serve a distinct purpose, but there needs to be an overarching story in which each channel acts as an important touchpoint.

 

Don’t lack ambition

There is a huge misconception that content within a B2B or professional service context can sacrifice emotion for education and insight. Don’t get me wrong, education and insight are vital aspects of any legal firm’s content strategy, but that is in addition to, rather than instead of, a more emotive dimension. This is just as true for firms that specialise in corporate work as it is for those that specialise in consumer legal services.

People do not choose their solicitor because they appear dull and serious. Neither do these people lose their personality when stepping into the office. In all environments, people are just people, and driven by the same underlying insecurities, fears, hopes and dreams as anyone targeted in the fashion, beauty or health markets.

The most important thing you can do therefore, is tear up the long list of uninspired whitepaper titles or endless FAQ’s, and think a little bigger. Remind yourself of the purpose you defined within the brand stage, and create a big, bold goal for your content that will represent an asset that builds over time, in line with your purpose.

This big goal is going to do a number of things:

  • It’s going to ensure that your activity is aligned, rather than an endless list of disjointed tactics.
  • It’s goal to build an asset that grows in value.
  • It’s going to provide the bulk of your content for use across all channels.
  • It’s going to inspire the participation of key influencers, that you never would have dreamt would want to associate themselves with your brand.
  • It’s going to make you famous.

So, what might this goal look like?

  • For a law firm targeting a consumer market, perhaps it will involve running local events?
  • For a firm targeting the c-suite within a corporate market, perhaps it will involve interviewing senior influencers within the target market and sharing their insight for free online.
  • For a firm targeting small business owners, perhaps it will involve publishing a series of compelling business stories and insights that eventually culminate in the publication of a book, that is then distributed to every business owner within a 30 mile radius.

The most important thing is that it drives effective short term activity whilst remaining aligned to the brand purpose.

 

Influencer marketing

As a law firm, you probably don’t imagine that influencers have much relevance to your world. You’d be wrong.

It doesn’t matter what your area of expertise or who your audience is, every market has influencers and yours will be no exception. You just need to know where to find them.

If you sell corporate legal services then likely examples could include:

  • Speakers at industry events
  • Senior figures in large corporations
  • Other subject matter experts

Or if your selling consumer legal services, then you’ll may find them in the more conventional places:

  • Instagram
  • Youtube
  • Bloggers

All that matters is that they hold influence over your audience and align positively to your brand.

The benefits of this influencer association are potentially endless and will depend on exactly who they are and what the relationship involves, but to illustrate it with an example let’s imaging that you’re a law firm trying to grow its presence within the technology sector. A sensible place to begin might be by seeing who is due to speak at large, upcoming technology events. By approaching these people for an interview, which could be conducted either as an article, video or podcast, you could achieve a number of things:

  • Strengthen the position of your brand.
  • Extend your reach online, as these people will likely have large audiences via social media and email, and their audience is the audience you want!
  • Generate incredible content – the whole point is that these are the top 1% in the industry.

It may even be that the interview itself is effectively a business development opportunity, if they themselves happen to be a decision maker.

 

Have a clear content framework

Before creating your first content calendar, you need to first establish a clear structure. There are several elements to this:

  • Content pillars – what are the three or four key themes you want to focus on, and which should you lead with? If, for example, you are a firm specialising in technology then you almost certainly want to focus the majority of your content on technology matters, as that is will what resonate most naturally with your audience. Of course one of your pillars will relate to the services you sell, but if you introduce that too early then you are likely to lose their interest.
  • Content formats – different formats will serve different purposes within your campaign. It is an absolute myth that law firms should focus entirely on long form, educational content. Even if you are selling corporate services, your content should include a mix of visual assets, whether image or video, as well as long form articles and white papers, the former being particularly effective at extending the reach of the brand and engaging new audiences, while the latter is more effective at nurturing and educating.
  • Content channels – what are the channels that correspond to each form of content? Your visual, emotive content is likely to perform well on instagram, for example, while long form content may be better suited to the blog or email. Understanding the primary objective behind each channel and how its success will be measured should be established before the campaign begins.

 

The role of the sub brand in your content strategy

Engaging influencers is easier than you think, as long as you are polite, respectful and ensure they understand what’s in it for them. After all, these people haven’t built their incredible profiles by underestimating the value of good self PR!

However, sometimes that still isn’t enough. There is a risk that influencers will look at your brand and perceive this as nothing more than a cynical commercial exercise (which it must not be – to reiterate, this must be absolutely aligned to your purpose), in which case, you’ll need to come at it from another angle.

The simplest way of overcoming this barrier is to work under a sub brand, specifically for your content. Think of it like an online magazine.

Suddenly, this will open up countless new doors. No longer are the influencers being approached by the marketing manager of an unknown law firm, but now they are being approached by a journalist, and who in business doesn’t have time to speak to a journalist?

Again, it’s imperative that this all comes from an authentic place and is aligned to a purpose that goes way beyond profits. This is about making a positive change in your industry, whatever it may be, and the influencers will see that (or, indeed, the lack of it!).

 

Channel Activity

When we began, you probably thought that this was going to be a long guide to SEO, social media and other popular channels for law firms, but there is absolutely no point worrying about channel activity until the overarching brand identity and content strategy is in place.

Once that point has been reached, we can finally look at what this means for each of these key channels.

 

Email marketing

I begin with email marketing as, other than your website, this is the only digital asset you actually own. That’s a really important point to stress. Data is the new currency, but so many law firms fail to effectively manage this data, or keep it GDPR compliant, and consequently its value is just a fraction of what it could be. Manage it well, on the other hand, and you develop an asset of ever increasing value. One that not only drives new business, but also improves customer experience and lifetime customer value. And of course the higher your customer value, the more you can invest in the other channels to generate that data in the first place!

 

GDPR compliance

One of the major challenges to an effective email strategy for law firms is GDPR compliance. It’s a sticky area that could get any company in hot water, but needless to say that regulators are likely to take a particularly dim view on companies in the legal space getting it wrong!

As with any area of law, the detail is so extensive that if you try and understand every last word you’ll end up never touching another piece of data again. In simple terms from a marketing perspective, this is what you need to be mindful of:

  • If you sell consumer legal services then unless you have someone’s explicit opt-in then you cannot use their data. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been engaging with your emails for the last 8 years, if you cannot demonstrate when and how they opted in to receive your marketing, then it must stop. Immediately. To avoid this, it may be worth one final outreach (ideally over the phone) to request their permission, but that of course only really works if their likely value is sufficiently high. For most consumer legal services it probably isn’t worth more than one final email blast, and I can tell you that if you get more than a handful of people opt in then you’ve done pretty well.
  • If you sell corporate legal services then thankfully the rules are a little less stringent. As long as they are from a limited company and the data you have represents their company rather than personal data, you can still use it, but you must ensure the content is relevant and valuable. Or what the ICO call, “legitimate interest”.

 

Social media

Social media is often looked upon by law firms with a degree of cynicism, and not without good reason. You do not own your Facebook fans or twitter followers, and you cannot cash in a “share” at the bank. There is a huge amount of time and money wasted on social media that results in little more than the accumulation of vanity metrics.

However, that is not to say that it doesn’t have its place. You just need to understand why you’re using it and how its success will be measured.

For example:

  • Direct lead generation – social media is now a hugely powerful direct lead generator. For a consumer audience, Facebook typically offers the greatest return, while LinkedIn will tend to be the best for business. A well constructed whitepaper, for example, particularly if it fits under an influencer sub brand, can generate quality leads from senior decision makers for as little as £10-15. Try achieving that on adwords!
  • Building your email list – while social media may not be something you own, it can be used to build an email list that you do own. This can be achieved directly on the social platform itself, or by driving traffic to your website content where they can be presented with a data capture form, whereas most law firms make the mistake of generating endless content but then failing to adequately promote it.
  • Brand positioning – social media can be an effective way to adjust how the brand is perceived. Brand positioning is always something of an art so unfortunately there may have to be some involvement of vanity metrics here (likes, followers, etc) but the most important thing is to keep challenging the relevance of the audience. Do they fit your demographic? If not, then the only thing seeing any benefit is your ego. Better to narrow your focus and stay relevant.

 

SEO

From a digital point of view, SEO is probably the channel that law firms have invested most heavily in for the last two decades. This is not without good reason.

Unlike content that you promote on social media, your website content is there for good. Every page you add is another troop in your army, battling it out for the attention of your audience. It’s this compound value that makes SEO and content marketing such a powerful long term investment.

SEO is one of those areas of marketing that is shrouded in mystery. Some of that is valid – there are hundreds of interdependent signals in Google’s algorithm, many now developing themselves via machine learning, so there is not a person on this planet, inside or outside of Google, that can guarantee that if you do A, B and C, then X, Y and Z will be your outcome.

However, there are are some fundamental principles that, if followed, will ensure your activity is building your website as an SEO asset:

  • Basic on-page optimisation – when Google arrives at any of your landing pages, you need to be able to help it make sense of the information it finds. By editing your title tags, image alt tags and URL’s to marry up with the terms your law firm would wish to rank for, you will ensure Google prioritises that page for those terms. You should also try to ensure your headers and copy contain sufficient relevance to these terms, although this has a more direct impact on user experience so it’s important not to be too aggressive with keywords.
  • Broad relevance – on-page optimisation isn’t all about keywords. To really give ourselves a shot of ranking at the top of the search engines for our target terms, we need to imagine that we are the user and consider the wide variety of things we might hope to find when we arrive on that page. For example, if we are trying to rank a page for “divorce law”, what information might the user hope to find? Perhaps the contact details of the partner responsible for that part of the business, perhaps reviews from clients that have paid for this service, perhaps links to blog posts that provide useful information on the topic. The more of these requirements we can fulfil, the better the page is going to perform. Your challenge is to ensure the page doesn’t become overwhelming, particularly on mobile, so you have to be really careful about how the information is presented.
  • Authority – even if you have a beautifully constructed landing page, that is far from a guarantee of hitting top spot, or even close to it. For any high value search query, there will inevitably be countless other websites jostling for page 1, so the question is – why should Google treat your domain more seriously than anyone else’s? This question of credibility is what we refer to as domain authority, and it is influenced by a broad array of factors. Top of that list is inbound links from other relevant and credible domains, but Google will also look at your presence on social media, website engagement (how long people spend on your site and whether they return again in the future) and brand traffic (how many search for your firm in Google or type your website address directly into the URL bar).

 

Paid advertising

While SEO, social and email marketing are all important long term drivers of your brand’s value online, if you want to generate results today there is really just one option, and that’s paid advertising.

There is a tendency for law firms to approach each paid channel in isolation and build a strategy around that, but the most profitable and scalable campaigns tend to take a different approach by building what we call a Cost Per Acquisition model.

Cost Per Acquisition refers to the amount you spend to generate a lead, and you need to begin by determining how to define a lead for your firm. If you sell consumer legal services then a lead will probably be a specific enquiry from someone who needs your help, whereas if you sell high value corporate legal services you may consider a lead to be anyone who holds a certain job title within a particular kind of company, downloading a piece of content that not only results in you having their data but also serves as a strong indicator that they are interested in the service you wish to sell.

The next step is to calculate the value of such a lead, which should be based on the lifetime profit that the customer is likely to represent, multiplied by an anticipated conversion rate. So if you are selling corporate legal services to in-house legal teams and believe they are likely to spend £100,000 with you, 30% of which be profit, but your conversion rate with the lead may only be 5%, then the value of that lead with be £1500, which means you should be willing to spend up to £1499.99 in order to generate it.

In one sense, the channel through which that is achieved is neither here nor there, but there are some principles worth considering for each channel:

  • PPC – Google PPC offers the advantage of generating leads that have a specific requirement. The two challenges with it are a) that it’s been around such a long time that most law firms will have a well developed PPC strategy, making it quite difficult to get a competitive edge, and b) that you have very little control over who these people are, which is a real issue if, for example, you are targeting a particular sector.
  • LinkedIn & Facebook direct response – the pros and cons of social media direct response are almost a mirror image to PPC, so on the up side you can generate very targeted leads (demographic, job title, sector, etc) and in most legal markets these channels are still quite underexploited so there are definite opportunities to gain an edge. However, the limitation is that most social media direct response campaigns will only result in a very early stage data capture, rather than someone with a specific requirement, and therefore the likely conversion rate is so much lower.

Ultimately, it’s about understanding the value of a lead. If you’re clear on that figure, then you should be able to find a channel that offers a profitable and scalable route to market.

The real challenge is not in the advertising, but in the mentality of the law firm, as many are so risk averse that they would rather not spend £1, even if it means forgoing a future £2 return. This attitude and ambition will ultimately need to flow down from the senior partnership team.

 

Reporting and analysis

The biggest challenge with reporting that any law firm faces is the sheer breadth of data available. The objective, therefore, should be to boil this down to the two or three items that most directly indicate success.

At the top of this list is what we call the firm’s “Northstar”. That is the single KPI that, if going in the right direction, indicates that everything else is also moving in the right direction. This is a method used most frequently by tech companies, but the reality is that every market is now a technology market, so there is a lot law firms can learn from these kinds of businesses. In their early stages of growth, for example, Farewill used the % of customers to leave a personal message as their Northstar. In their minds, it was this emphasis on the emotional aspect of the customer experience that would most define and distinguish their brand, in what was an otherwise dry and unimaginative marketplace.

Underneath the Northstar your firm may then wish to track various other metrics that offer more direct insight into your marketing performance. I would suggest breaking this down into the different levels of the funnel, so:

  • Brand awareness – this could be overall website traffic, reach on social media or email list size.
  • Engagement – number of repeat visitors, email engagement or interactions with on-site educational material.
  • Conversion – email enquiries, telephone calls, downloads or anything else that indicates an intent to progress significantly down the funnel.

One of my strongest recommendations to law firms for their website tracking is to create segments that isolate the traffic arriving on service landing pages, as this is the traffic that will actually lead to new business, whereas 90% of website traffic is just noise.

Once the reporting framework is established, this should then be circulated to anyone involved in the strategic growth of the business, including the Managing Partner / CEO, as it is visibility and accountability that will drive action and progress.