There’s a new buzzword in town – ‘content marketing”. In this article – written specifically for attorneys – I will explain What it is, Why it matters, and How to do it.
What is Content Marketing?
Content Marketing is the distribution of useful and engaging information to potential clients in order to create name awareness, enhance reputation and build trust. With content marketing, the lawyer earns the attention of clients by providing them useful, free information. The more information and the more useful, the better.
With content marketing, you hold nothing back. This strategy is not teaser-based marketing, where you tell them a little and then hit them with “to learn more, call me”. Likewise it is not fear-based marketing. Your goal is to be as helpful and expert as possible in your chosen format. Some people may take the information and do it themselves. That’s fine – they were not going to make good clients. Others will simply become better-informed consumers of legal services and are more likely to hire you – the trusted expert – than they are to hire your competitor.
Why Does Content Marketing Matter to Attorneys?
The way people find and select everything is changing, and legal services are no exception. Increasingly, clients are selecting lawyers by searching the internet and reviewing available online information. If you have only a basic website and little online presence, and your competition has a well written and informative blog or a well-curated page of legal information or has written a book on the subject matter, you are fighting an uphill battle to land that client.
A recent Thompson Reuters survey reported that 38% of clients were “most likely to turn to the internet to find and research a lawyer before hiring them”. Thompson Reuters compared their data to a similar 2005 survey, and discovered that the percentage of potential clients that were most likely to use the internet had increased by 31% over the 9 year interval. Word of mouth referrals had dropped over the same time period, from 65% in 2005 to just 29% last year.
Potential clients are using the internet not only to find you, see what areas of practice you have and get your address – they are using the Internet to vet you. Gone are the days when a client might go to several ‘initial consultations’ to find the right lawyer. Clients’ too, are increasingly unwilling to take a friend’s word for it. Clients want to be able to find informative content on the Internet that will allow them to assess your skill and get a feel for how you work and think. How you relate to clients online will be seen as a mirror for how you might relate to them in person.
How Can I Do Content Marketing?
There are as many forms of content marketing as there are attorneys. The key is to enter into the mindset of helpfulness, and let the marketing take care of itself. If you can do this, your content will shine. There are a few nuts and bolts, however. Here are a few basic steps to get you started down the road of content marketing:
- Choose Your Path: There are two broad paths in content marketing. One path is to position yourself as a “thought leader” in a particular area. (“Thought Leader” is marketing speak for “expert” or “authority”). The other path is to create “brand awareness” by focusing on the firm and its work and associating that work with success. Let’s look closer at each:
Thought Leadership is designed to demonstrate your mastery of a chosen subject matter. To become a thought leader, you must produce or curate relevant, helpful content in your field. The content must be well written and researched and be useful to the reader. When a reader needs help in your area, you should have an upper hand to land the work, as you are already seen as capable, smart, and a trusted source of good information.
Brand awareness is designed to put the law firm’s brand before potential clients as a trusted source of expertise. Brand awareness will focus more on the firm and its work. Client success stories, for example, are a particularly powerful form of content marketing for brand awareness. To be successful, the client success story must be an engaging and informative story (which means there should be a protagonist, a challenge, a series of conflicts, and a resolution). The protagonist is the client (it’s a client success story, not a lawyer success story – that’s traditional marketing). The client must be faced with a challenge and succeed. The lawyer’s help should be implied, and the less overtly the better. You can gauge the effectiveness of a client success story by whether the client shares it. If it makes the client look good, and the client shares it out over social media, you win. The idea here is to associate your brand with success and successful clients.
A law firm does not have to choose one strategy or the other – you can do both and at the same time. The limit is how much time and money you have to devote to the project. It is generally better to do one well than do both poorly.
- Choose Your Focus: Select an area of law for your content marketing focus. You may be a general practitioner who will do most anything, or your firm may have several attorneys who practice in different areas. Fine – pick one area to begin with, then add more later – but have a different content marketing plan for each. Don’t create a content channel (like a blog), and then gum it up with different articles on different areas.
- Define Your Target: Who are you trying to reach? A content marketing plan targeting small business owners is different from a plan targeting people needing divorces or buying houses. If you are a real estate attorney, your target may be real estate agents, or perhaps homebuilders, or relocation services. If you’re an estate planning attorney, you may want to market directly to people who have estate planning questions, or you may want to focus on people who can make referrals, like accountants and business lawyers. You can have more than one target, but don’t have too many to start with – you can add more targets later.
- Pick a Vehicle: There are many forms of content marketing. Start with one. Add more later, if you have time or budget. Here are some of the more popular ones:
- Blog. A blog is a series of short form articles (500 – 1500 words) on a particular topic
- Book. Writing a book is a powerful form of content marketing for attorneys. The book does not have to be long, or a best seller. A blog can grow into a book.
- Podcast. Podcasts are audio programs you record and distribute, through places like iTunes. They can be your opinion, like a blogger, or you can interview others or discuss recent developments, like a curator. The same holds true for a video YouTube Channel.
- Curate. Curators gather relevant information (e.g. recent cases, other people’s blogs, legal commentary, how-to forms, charts or infographics, etc.) and put it all in one place, with a bit of commentary. Like Alec Trebek – the host becomes seen as the expert.
- Client Success Stories. The old ‘tombstones’ announcing recently closed deals are a very basic example of these. To be helpful and engaging, they should have more detail. Remember to run these by your client and get permission before discussing their legal matters in your marketing. This vehicle will be effective only in certain areas of the law.
- Conferences or Seminars. Personal speaking can be really powerful. Are other attorneys your best source of business? Teach a CLE. Are accountants giving you work? Give a free seminar for accountants.
- So many others. Become a frequent guest on a radio call-in show. Participate in ‘ask-a-lawyer’. Do free clinics. Know a reporter? – Be their go-to legal expert and earn your way on air. Be the authority.
- Choose a Channel or Channels of Distribution. There are many, many channels of distribution to choose from. You don’t have to, and shouldn’t, chose just one. You also don’t have to, and shouldn’t, chose them all. Your channels will depend on who you are trying to reach. Perhaps you want real estate closings, and you get them primarily from real estate agents – your content marketing plan may call for you to blog on the Association of Realtors website, or hold free conferences for real estate agents where you give good advice. There may be particular forums on LinkedIn where people who are your potential clients frequently read and post about the topics you have chosen – they will welcome good content, but not advertising. Regardless of your primary channel, you should spend some time on a few social media channels to aid the distribution and grow your platform. The internet is a numbers game – the more people your content reaches, the more effective it is. Even when the content doesn’t reach your target audience directly, it can reach someone who knows someone, and mentions you at the right time.
You have a path. You know your focus. You have defined a target, and have selected a vehicle and a channel to reach that target. Now, produce some great content. Become the trusted expert.