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Marketing Gets Technical

In one of my recent columns I discussed the idea of measuring marketing effectiveness. As an adjunct to that piece, I want to comment this time out on a trend I’ve noted in the marketing industry that I think is noteworthy for law firms – the rise of the digital marketer.

In-house marketing roles in law firms have historically focused largely on “the classics” of professional services marketing – business development (co-ordinating RFP responses and assisting with client pitches), event management (client seminars and firm receptions) and brand identity projects as well as oversight of firm print collateral (brochures, folders, cards, etc.). Websites eventually made their way into this mix, but the firm website was typically seen as “a project” to be built by outside vendors, with finite start and end dates, recurring every 3-7 years. In-house web-related skills were not prioritized.

More recently, as the firm website evolved into the flagship of most firms’ marketing efforts, the recognition has set in amongst many firms that the website is a publishing platform requiring steady, ongoing attention – more analogous to producing a daily digital newspaper than to a static firm brochure of years past. As a result, some firms have started building more in-house web and digital proficiency.

Outside of the legal industry however, marketers with an understanding of the digital realm have already flourished, and moved significantly up the ranks. As one presenter I recently saw bluntly stated it: “in the battle between digital and analog, digital has won.”

From websites and blogs to social media, CRM systems, analytics, AdWords and apps, there is no question that the role of a modern marketer is increasingly focused on the effective use of digital tools. Prognosticators are now pointing to the rise of the “Chief Digital Officer” or “Chief Marketing Technologist” – marketers at the most senior levels of their organizations who have a deeply entrenched understanding of the digital realm and play a key strategic role in how the organization shapes and runs its business.

Increasingly, the digital marketer’s role involves using technology to focus on and better understand the customer – identifying client types, analyzing usage patterns, determining preferences, targeting audiences and segmenting prospects, all backed up with real-world data. Senior digital marketers then apply this knowledge against the existing business to identify areas of real-world opportunity for their companies. A great example of how disruptive this data-driven approach to understanding your customers can be is NetFlix, which has started developing original series into hits by taking out the guesswork about what their audiences might want and replacing it with extensive knowledge gleaned from customer usage data, and putting the traditional Hollywood content development model of instinct, experience and arbitrary hope & pray decision-making to shame in the process.

Legal marketing has historically been overly inward looking, as firms consistently over-emphasize characteristics perceived as interesting by the partners (age of the firm, reputation in the legal community) rather than focusing on information clients consider important (cost certainty, responsiveness, understanding of client’s business etc.) Technology will help to reverse that myopia as smart firms delve deeper into better understanding their customers – which types of clients access which kinds of services, how often, how extensively, how time and price sensitive they are, what other barometers of satisfaction they use in their decision-making – and use that information to more effectively promote themselves in a crowded legal market.

For firms, it is important to recognize that digital marketing requires a different skill-set than most in-house law firm marketing staff currently possess. Law firms will need to start building more capacity in this realm. Digital natives who have grown up on a steady diet of google analytics, coding skills and social media and can’t imagine a time before the Internet will be at a distinct advantage in many ways over digital immigrants (i.e. those of us of a certain age) for whom the digital space is a hard-learned second language rather than an instinctual first.

Your law firm’s future Chief Digital Officer is likely to be a Frankenstein-ish inter-disciplinary strategist who patrols the murky border zone between the marketing, IT and accounting departments with aplomb and can hold their own weight in the partners’ meeting. A rare bird indeed, but one with considerable value for the fortunate few firms that recognize the value of such a person and bring this skill-set into the fold.

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