Column

Do Less Marketing

That headline sounds like heresy coming from someone who runs a legal marketing agency for a living, but hear me out.

Try as I might to remain benevolently immature until the end of my days, there are some telltale markers of adulthood (nay, perhaps even middle-age) creeping into my subconscious of late. There are external indicia of course – one’s offspring earnestly advising how fat and bald you are, strangers calling you “sir” straight to your face with nary a hint of sarcasm – but I purposely adopt a stance of willful blindness regarding those. No, what I notice now are the internal mental recalibrations that come with the passage of time. The ability to find joy in silence – or solitude. Less focus on the price of something and more on its value. An appreciation for simpler, more enduring things.

Many of us spend a good chunk of the first half of our lives in the rambunctious pursuit of “stuff”. Then a switch flips somewhere along the way and we spend the other half trying to de-clutter. GreenTarget’s 2014 State of Digital Marketing and Content Survey for Law Firms has reinforced my recent thinking that we are collectively arriving at a similar sort of switch-flipping point when it comes to the marketing content law firms produce.

Technology advancements over the last decade – blogs, social media, easily-updateable website content management systems like WordPress – have democratized content publishing and helped level the playing field, so that smaller firms can better compete against larger ones by showcasing their expertise. But as an ever-larger number of firms produce more and more material, it can be harder than ever to capture the attention of your desired audience.

From the GreenTarget survey:

“First the digital era made everyone a publisher, giving marketers and bloggers, advocates and experts a dissemination platform that had long been the exclusive province of the mass media. Then the mobile era brought devices that made all this new content available to consumers anytime, anywhere. Today we are in a new era, one marked by constant access and endless communication. Welcome to the era of information overload.

The legal world is no exception. For years, law firms have been publishing a steady stream of alerts, newsletters, articles and other forms of content. With the advent of digital media, that stream has become an ocean – one that threatens to drown out all but the most compelling voices.

And really that last passage – drown out all but the most compelling voices – is at the crux of my thinking. Because in a hyper-connected, media-saturated world, the relative value of generic content diminishes, but the ability of really great marketing to connect, circulate and reach a much larger audience is enhanced. Real-life example: amidst the usual deluge of corporate holiday well wishes last December, WestJet went miles beyond the ordinary with their “Christmas Miracle” video. Chances are high you’ve already seen it. They set up an interactive video booth where departing passengers in the Hamilton and Toronto airports told Santa their Christmas wish, only to find their dreams realized upon landing in Calgary by a crew of Santa-helping WestJetters who had stormed the malls in a fulfillment-frenzy while the flight was en route.

WestJet had set a public goal on their blog to attract 200,000 views for their video. But when you come up with something this unique, this good, and execute it this well, you create the potential to blow the doors off even your optimistic projections. In WestJet’s case, the video has surpassed 36 million views at the time of writing. That’s more than the entire population of Canada.

Now I’m not saying your next law firm YouTube video is going to hit that stratosphere; without question it will not. But I do believe the underlying premise of striving to do something remarkable is entirely apt. Because the firms that deliver content and marketing well beyond expectation – be it a client seminar, practice group blog, or alumni event – will be disproportionately rewarded relative to those that produce “average” outputs, even when the extra cost and effort required to doing something special is factored in. In baseball terms, firms and their marketers should be looking to increase their home-run count, rather than pursuing increased base hits. In a crowded market, it is the stars at the very top of the game that shine brightest. Bringing that back to the firm level, that means re-examining the state of your current marketing mix. If you’ve only got limited time and budget for your marketing (and you do), focusing on improving your signature stuff – even if that means sacrificing somewhere else – makes more sense than ever.

So make fewer things if you must, but make them better. We must be getting older…

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Comments

  1. Doug,

    As a law student I frequently relied on the publications of law firms for practical and concise summaries of recent decisions. This was especially true where the implications of the decision were somewhat uncertain.

    Some, of course, were better than others.

    With the help of FeeFieFoeFirm, Google, ACC, etc. I would routinely skim through ten or more publications before finding one or two that were particularly insightful and stood out among the others. In retrospect, it’s too bad I couldn’t have registered my preference.

    I’m not necessarily advocating for a Reddit of law firm publications, but I do believe that some form of feedback mechanism would encourage better content to be written. This would also diminish the repetitive, ‘me-too’ content that does not really contribute any value. This would actually be a richer, deeper ocean, but one with buoys and lighthouses to keep client’s from running aground on shallow and repetitive marketing material.

    Going back to your analogy of a viral YouTube video, the viral video phenomenon actually predated YouTube. Remember the “dancing baby” video? It went ‘viral’ through email. Before this, and admittedly before my time, was the chain letter.

    The phenomenon is the same, only it’s much faster now and the end-user navigates his or her own way through deluge of content, aided by sophisticated ranking-algorithms. The process is also leveraged through social media and, increasingly, traditional media.

    As with some other areas of the intersection between law and technology, I wonder if part of the problem is that the way we consume and encourage the consumption of the marketing material is somewhat stuck in the 20th century, while the pace of content is keeping up with 21st century developments. And no, to all you progressive slawyers, tweeting your article or making your website ‘mobile’ friendly does not meritocratize the system generally!

    Regarding the stream-turned-ocean of information, we threaten drowning the clients, not ourselves. We need to offer up a better boat to help client’s navigate to our own deep, thoughtful part of the ocean, not less water. In other words, the ocean of information is not the problem. And in any event, we’ll never turn the ocean back into a stream.

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