By In a recent survey conducted by Robert Half Legal, 45 percent of lawyers anticipated boosts in their marketing budgets within the year. While you’re unlikely to see it happen in the form of music festival sponsorships or televised Super Bowl ads, according to research by Gartner, CMOs are predicted to spend more on technology than CIOs in 2017.
Forward-thinking firm Jackson Lewis P.C. just announced the recruitment of its first chief digital officer. This trend is likely to continue at both large and small firms — even single-attorney practices — as artificial intelligence, marketing automation, and big data continue to permeate the environment (and as firms seek to provide more software-based tools to increase the efficiency of the services they provide to clients).
Branding has always been a vital part of the legal industry, of course, but it’s mostly been larger firms that were able to allocate budgets for branding initiatives and carry them through to execution across print and digital fronts.
Smaller firms have generally taken up digital marketing more quickly, but they still find themselves at the tail end of innovation due to limited time and resources. All too often, they miss the bump in value and ROI enjoyed by those firms that adopted content marketing, social media, and other key strategies much earlier. With competition at an all-time high, today’s legal marketers must work harder than ever to effectively distribute the right content to the right audience, regardless of firm size.
To Stay Relevant, Expediency Matters
Management in the legal industry tends to rely heavily on precedence and evidence to back up marketing decisions and will sometimes take a backward-looking view to determine future marketing efforts. Conversely, marketers are typically looking forward, and that’s where the friction between the two perspectives originates.
The truth is many marketing trends are just that — trends. And waiting for a trend to peak is a surefire way to allocate resources toward the wrong initiatives.
When it comes to marketing technology spend at law firms, a negative cycle frequently occurs: For maximum ROI, execution must be fast and focused, but firms usually move even slower than typical corporations. A rollout that would take a large retailer a month to push through project management might take nine months for a large law firm to do the same.
Firms that are slow to move due to weak price-cutting strategies lack clear visions of the market. By contrast, marketers often see the relevance of emerging trends for their firms before management teams ever begin to react to them.
This managerial focus on spending and ROI only delays the launch of marketing initiatives until later in the tech cycle. By the time things get rolling, budgets are even tighter and the competition is both strong and far ahead of the curve.
Unfortunately, when a project finally launches long after the marketing trend has peaked, the potential ROI is severely limited. These disappointing results validate holding back on future marketing innovations for management, continuing the cycle. Such inefficiency is contagious, too, when smaller firms end up emulating efforts of larger ones.
This has resulted in an industry largely unaware of modern marketing strategies that are easy enough for anyone to implement. Big law firms are dropping the ball on effective marketing strategies that could easily be leveraged by smaller firms and individual attorneys willing to trust the data other industries embrace.
Branded Content Marketing
If you haven’t been focusing on a solid content marketing strategy, now’s the time to start. Eighty-nine percent of B2B organizations surveyed by Content Marketing Institute reported implementing strategies, and yet law firms haven’t traditionally focused on content marketing. This means those who do can easily stand out of the pack.
Today’s savvy clients want to hire legal thought leaders who publish their thinking to provide easy access to expert insights, regardless of firm size. Still, many firms rely on old standbys like television commercials and billboards. And while prospects don’t typically hire attorneys based solely on their websites, they do play a key role.
When looking up professionals they’ve been referred to through other channels, prospects read bios, check background experience, and look to see if content exists relating to respective expertise.
Blog content, webinars, and video content that can be found easily around the web reinforces your thought leadership, which helps move clients into the sales funnel. The key is to invest in quality content development, editing, and distribution, as well as to focus on content that enhances your brand. You can also consider paid placements, but only if you have the staff to monitor the results.
Mobile optimization is key online — if you’re part of a small minority of law firms that still doesn’t have a mobile-optimized presence, 2017 is your last chance. A website rebuild is not a small investment, but every web development trend in the past five years has pointed to a mobile-first internet. Removing the barriers to accessing your content helps immensely, regardless of firm size.
According to a recent SEO strategy survey, creating relevant content is the most successful strategy for 57 percent of respondents. Researching keywords and phrases to create this content came in second at 49 percent. Both should be active ingredients in your website, along with social media integration (including social feeds and social profiles for each employee listed on your site). Social media is the new Yellow Pages — ignoring it is a huge mistake.
Be sure to provide bilingual content if it’s appropriate for the community you serve. Accessibility should be a major consideration as well. Approximately 18 percent of the world’s population has a disability: Not only would you be losing out on a significant audience, but you’d miss out, too, on the fact that targeting this audience helps your firm comply with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Tracking analytics data for marketing initiatives has been occurring at major firms for years. You may not have noticed because they haven’t always understood how to properly analyze the data. Now is the time to invest the resources for sifting through this data. It’s also the time to make smarter decisions about where to invest your marketing spend (and to work toward tracking those analytics back to business development success).
In both marketing and law, every minute counts and every deadline must be met. Fortunately, using analytics data, you can merge the two worlds to create a stronger, more nimble firm that is able to compete at a higher level. We’ve all witnessed tech giants like Uber and Amazon ascend and overtake larger competitors thanks to a relentless focus on data analytics. This is one trend that isn’t going to fade away anytime soon — embrace it.
Experiment, Iterate, and Maintain
Online marketing tools have gotten more powerful in recent years, and they continue to flourish at a prolific rate. A wide variety of apps and platforms can accomplish just about anything a business, regardless of its size, might need.
Now, marketing teams must lead the way for their firms in terms of defining and delivering applications to make their attorneys and their clients more effective and more efficient.
This starts with experimentation. There are no silver bullets here and no assured returns. The most effective tools come from iteration on an idea in an agile fashion, progressively enhancing the system over time. Because this is not something most law firm IT departments do, you might need to seek out specialist software engineering firms focused on creating these types of experiences for clients.
Providing client-facing software systems requires a certain level of know-how regarding user experience and design, as well as a particular polish and refinement that can be skipped for internal solutions. Internal and client-facing software boast much different looks, feels, and functions, and good firms understand this.
So, while it’s very likely you’re behind the times concerning digital marketing efforts, take comfort in knowing that firms of all shapes and sizes are playing catch-up right along with you. The legal industry is notoriously slow to pick up on the latest marketing trends and technology, but sooner or later, those firms that do embrace these trends and tech will begin taking over the field — just as early adopters have in so many other industries.
Jaron Rubenstein is the founder and president of Rubenstein Technology Group, a software engineering firm that has launched award-winning websites and mobile applications for numerous top law firms built on the industry-leading RubyLaw content management system.