Legal services: Engaging the non-engagable through content marketing
For law firms, word of mouth has always been the principal generator of work. This may seem surprising given the wealth of marketing tools at their disposal, but the reason is actually quite obvious. Both individuals and businesses perceive purchasing legal services as high risk.
People generally don't fully understand their legal rights, and if they do, making a purchase is typically an infrequent act, arising out of a situation of distress (litigation, divorce, death). So people look to friends, colleagues and 'opinion leaders' for their experiences and recommendations, to reduce any risk they may feel exposed to.
Historically law firms have sought to leverage the power of word of mouth through 'thought leadership' activities, 'early' forms of content marketing; monthly newsletters, articles in trade publications, local seminars etc. But things have moved on. Or to be more specific, moved online: word of mouth has expanded its reach across social platforms, as 'interrupt marketing' continues to fail.
While other industries and big consumer brands opt for more 'permission-based' promotion, law firms and professional services in general have been usurped in the 'content marketing' stakes.
With huge investments being made, industries such as retail use content marketing not only as the cornerstone of their in-bound marketing strategies, but also to strengthen their brands and move consumers 'softly' through buying cycles.
Consumer and business audiences are now exposed to more content than ever before, and the bar for 'quality content' has been considerably raised. In order to ensure their firms are gaining traction amongst the increasing online 'noise', legal service marketers need to help their firms progress beyond direct mailing a 'quarterly newsletter' and 'monthly case updates' to existing clients, to a more rigorously defined, consistent and efficient content marketing and distribution system.
As almost cliched the term has become, law firms really do need to become legal publishing houses.
So how do firms bring thought leadership marketing into a new era?
How can they compete effectively online - not only with their direct competitors, but with any other brand vying for audience attention and mind space?
1. Develop the business case
Most legal service marketers need to 'gain buy-in' internally before they can do something different. At the most senior level, this probably means pitching a business case to your firm's management board. If you're putting a business case together to actively pursue a content marketing strategy, start by piquing the board's interest and talking their language. They need to understand that:
- 1. Clients - actual and prospective are more empowered, impatient and sceptical than ever before. They will do their best to ignore interrupt marketing and are acutely aware of when they are being sold to.
- 2. If ever there was a marketing tactic which supported the traditional tenets of professional services - trust, integrity, credibility - content marketing is it.
- 3. Socially shared content will create brand awareness beyond the traditional local-operating reach of the firm.
- 4. Content marketing can be used to foster engagement, create trust, establish your firm as a thought leader and expand the reach of your reputation and message through social sharing (online word of mouth).
- 5. Content will drive organic search results and will increase SERPs.
- 6. Content marketing contributes to income generation. It will increase visitor rates to the firm's content hub. The more visits, the more leads.
- 7. Content with highly targeted keywords will drive a better quality of leads.
- 8. Content marketing will reduce the costs of other areas of marketing such as public relations and advertising.
- 9. Content marketing will help retain clients between instructions and increase cross-sell opportunities.
- 10. Content marketing will increase client awareness, making future sales cycles shorter.
A good structure is to highlight the current situation, and then project a future position, remembering to under-promise and over-deliver.
For example: 'Currently we are getting 25 visitors a day to our website which generates 2 leads per week. By embarking upon a content marketing strategy, we would increase visitor rates by 500%, leading to 40 leads per month'. Back this up with your facts.
2. Develop the content marketing strategy
Law firms must turn their thought leading ‘authority' into 'audience'. To do this, the marketing team should lead on developing a solid content marketing strategy for the firm.
Define the purpose of the content in tangible and measurable terms of what you want to achieve. For most firms this will usually be aligned to the business goal of generating leads and converting an audience into clients. But remember, this is not about selling, it's about nurturing familiarity and trust with your firm’s brand by creating a positive experience over time.
By increasing and reinforcing awareness through quality content, you can achieve business objectives by illustrating why your firm's solution is the best fit or will meet potential clients' needs more adequately.
The content strategy should:
- 1. Define how content marketing will achieve business goals.
- 2. Define the needs and wants of the audience the content will address.
- 3. Define the value that the audience will receive.
- 4. Define how content will deliver and reinforce the firm's brand experience.
- 5. Define the content type; the legal topics that the audience need to be aware of.
- 6. Define how differentiation from other firms will occur.
- 7. Define the content message.
- 8. Address how the firm will reach the audience.
- 9. Address how the firm will encourage participation.
- 10. Address how the firm will convert leads.
- 11. Address howe the firm will engage long term.
- 12. Identify if the firm has the necessary resources in place, specifying who will be responsible for what.
Content marketing is about initiating a real conversation that addresses real problems and provides real solutions.
Firms must be able to create content that answers the audience's questions. Firms need to create something that will help people. Think in terms of how to be that 'best answer'. But also consider how your firm can achieve differentiation through your content.
3. Plan content and understand the audience
Good content planning considers the audience and their characteristics. Whilst many firms will already have a good idea of who their audience is, you need to go the extra mile and understand how your audiences discover, consume and act upon the content being provided.
Start empathising with the 'audience information journey'. Where are they looking for information? What are their discovery channels: email messaging, search keywords, social network topics, popular websites and forums?
It’s also important to figure out how your target audience prefers to consume information: video, visuals like info-graphics, long or short form text, or the many other media formats that exist? And consider the devices and platforms audiences are using: social networks, websites, blogs, apps, smartphones, tablets or computers.
Tapping into web analytics for devices used and media types consumed that result in conversions is the low hanging fruit for determining whether firms need to optimise for a mobile experience vs. tablet or images vs. video.
Once you understand this information, detailed editorial calendars and content schedules should be created. These are vital for indicating how frequent content will be updated, the content type and formats and how content will be created and sourced. As are delegated responsibilities to produce, edit and obtain approval for content.
The purpose of content must be to win the audience's attention; this is the only way results can be achieved. Firms must create content that is 'valuable', 'relevant', 'engaging', 'exceptional', 'inspirational', 'unique' and of course 'beneficial to share'.
Content needs to be found.
In today’s omni-channel communication environment, ‘transmedia storytelling' has developed because of the dynamics of how audiences consume and share content. Audiences have access to so much content, they filter or skim; except for the content they need.
Audiences consume content in bite-sized pieces, on smart phones and tablets, often on the go. Because engagement is central to this form of storytelling, firms must ensure that whichever platforms are being used, audiences should not only find content but should be able to react and interact with it in a very simple way.
Devise and build lists of the platforms that matter to your audiences, such as influential industry blogs, news sites, RSS feeds, podcasts, industry and trade publications, news and information aggregators and forums. But rather than simply repeating the content on different platforms, try to adapt the content and story to match the platform's strength to maximise user experience.
This content should not only all link together, but should be in narrative synchronisation with each other. By creating interconnected content, broken down into easier-to-consume chunks, you can embrace the technicalities and complexities that can exist in professional services content and educate audiences by distribution across varying channels.
A well-executed content marketing strategy will show returns. However, firms need to examine resources carefully and create a strategy that plays to their strengths. Showing an analytics report to the managing partner will just raise more questions than support.
Break down the returns into primary, secondary and user metrics.
1. As primary metrics, the management board will only care about:
- 1. Is the content driving business for us?
2. Is the content reducing costs?
- 3. Is the content retaining clients?
It's these questions that primarily need answering.
2. As secondary supporting metrics:
- 1. Is content improving lead quality?
- 2. Is content increasing lead quantity?
- 3. Is content making sales cycles shorter?
- 4. Is content increasing client awareness?
- 5. Is content increasing cross-selling opportunities?
- 6. Is content driving positive client feedback?
3. There are also user metrics that help support the secondary indicators, around content:
- 1 increasing web traffic?
- 2.increasing page views?
- 3.reducing bounce rates?
- 4.producing re-tweets or social shares?
- 5.increasing our search engine ranking?
The demise of interrupt marketing means traditional methods of thought leadership promotion don't work the way they used to. It's for law firm marketers to turn to content marketing as a way to leverage word of mouth, and support their firm’s efforts to attract, engage and acquire a clearly defined target audience.
However, in doing this, thinking like a publisher and formulating a content marketing strategy is a must if results are to be achieved.