This article appeared in Marketing the Law Firm, an ALM/Law Journal Newsletters publication reporting on the latest, and most effective, strategies for Chief Marketing Officers, Managing Partners, Law Firm Marketing Directors, Administrators and Consultants.
I was quite sure I would progress through my entire career without the need to use an altered version of a Madonna song lyric as an article title, but life is all about surprises. And, for those unfamiliar with the reference, thanks for making me feel older than I already am. If there is one thing Madonna has always understood rather well, it is branding. That is the focus of this article. Well, digital branding to be exact.
When was the last time you Googled your law firm name, one of your firm’s lawyers or an issue on which your firm claims extensive knowledge? Did the results surprise you or were they what you expected? A digital presence can — and will — influence decision makers. In our world of legal marketing, such decision makers include in-house counsel.
As with traditional branding, a digital brand is simply the perception individuals have of a business or organization online. Digital branding is a brand management technique that uses a combination of Internet branding and digital marketing to develop a brand over a range of digital venues, including Internet-based relationships, device-based applications and media. The objective is to establish and build trust with potential clients, especially while they are in the decision phase of the selection process. As a legal marketing professional, you have the ability to influence what people find when they search for a firm or lawyer (or to help people find a firm or lawyer when they are searching for specific expertise or content).
To enhance the reputation of your firm and lawyers, you are being challenged to stand out. Here are some ways to make that happen in our increasingly digital world.
Lawyers should recognize that, from a client’s point of view, they are often indistinguishable in their ability to provide legal services. Therefore, the place to stand out is through industry knowledge and contacts. If you find a highly specialized area that fits your firm well, then your chances of “owning” that niche become much more likely.
Finding this niche allows you to establish a reputation, and Web presence, built upon a solid foundation. While this approach is one any new firm should seriously consider, it’s also one established firms should think about. People want to work with specialists. A generalist approach to your Web presence means that it’s going to be much harder to convince leads that you are actually the best at addressing their specific needs and concerns.
When you find a niche that meets your criteria and seems like a viable business focus, make sure that is reflected in everything you do to promote that practice. Emphasize it on your website, in your social media campaigns and in the content you generate. You want to establish yourself as a real thought leader in that space. You should look for opportunities to demonstrate your expertise in your niche field — speak about it, write about it and educate others on it. It might not be easy at first, but persistence and long-term focus will produce results.
Generate High-Quality Content
In the past couple of years, a big shift has taken place in the content marketing world. Most Internet marketers used to adopt a quantity over quality approach. Times have changed. Google is no longer impressed by dozens of little pieces of uninspired content that no one cares to read. Google wants websites to feature strong, authoritative pieces of content that can serve as definitive explanations on topics. As a result, you should try to develop weighty pieces of content that your audience would find immensely valuable, as opposed to developing volumes of lightweight, barely interesting posts. In addition, work to ensure that each piece of content has the ability to rank well by providing more engaging materials to site visitors.
As part of your firm’s efforts to showcase plenty of engaging, authoritative content across its website, having larger pieces of downloadable content, such as eBooks, checklists, how-tos, etc., can position valuable, branded content in your leads’ hands. Through this type of content, you have the ability not only to establish yourself as a true thought leader in your niche, but you also have the ability to immediately get your leads’ contact information. That allows you to deliver some custom, automated email content to open up a line of communication and begin to develop some trust with your leads.
Use Social Media to Foster Professional Network
While attending industry events and meeting people in person will always have its place in networking, putting effort into networking online can be easier and, perhaps, just as effective. In the digital era, the Internet enables lawyers to build their personal brands with ease via professional social media profiles.
To do this, ensure you utilize those platforms effectively. Become active in LinkedIn and Facebook groups comprised of attorneys who either practice in the same market or in the same practice area. Once you are active in those groups, do not be afraid to reach out to the attorneys in those groups individually to help foster professional relationships.
Leverage Media Relations
Digital media outreach is one of the best ways for law firms and lawyers to generate and enhance brand awareness. By becoming a trusted source for the media or actually becoming the media through specific behaviors, firms and lawyers can get their messages out to the public and help establish themselves as thought leaders with existing and potential clients.
Online media involves anything that can be used to establish a presence in the online arena and can include magazines, newspapers and other websites that report on specific industries. Being mentioned as an expert in the media provides important third-party validation. Outlets would not quote lawyers if they did not see those sources as go-to contacts on specific issues.
Another approach to increase brand awareness is to author articles for various websites and media outlets. When a lawyer writes a guest post, he or she will receive a byline from the site that publishes the article. Everything within that byline is the lawyer’s own brand, and it should be used as such. By getting authorship status across various publications, one can rather quickly become known as an expert or authority on a particular subject.
To maximize efforts in the media relations arena, results must be fully leveraged across digital and non-digital platforms. Quotes and articles should be integrated into a firm’s website, syndicated through social media and distributed with the assistance of content aggregators. They can also be incorporated into client and prospect mailings, used for a variety of marketing collateral and highlighted for future media pitching activities.
Embrace Search Engine Optimization
When we discuss law firm search engine marketing initiatives, the focus is usually on individuals looking to contact an attorney at that exact moment. While that is certainly a large part of the equation, it is also worth focusing on ways to reach people before they are ready to retain an attorney.
For example, many early-stage legal-related Web searches are focused primarily on information gathering. If you can find a way to provide these individuals with valuable information at this point, it can be a big step toward establishing some early trust with them. Why? Because you are helping them understand and evaluate their situation, and they appreciate that assistance. This is the heart and soul of content marketing. You provide value before you even know a lead’s name, hoping that the value you provide for free generates a feeling of trust, and that this trust results in clients who retain your firm to represent them.
While many firms, especially large firms, have embraced content marketing and developed a consistent, ongoing strategy, it is still an area where most firms are lagging behind. This discussion usually comes back to the time-consuming nature of developing and promoting high-quality content.
In our technology-driven society, digital marketing platforms continue to be a growing source of information for consumers and businesses. They provide lawyers (and law firms) with additional strategic vehicles to manage and maximize their online footprint and overall brand presence.
After careful and strategic thought about goals and objectives, it’s all about spreading the word across this complex and ever-changing digital landscape — an approach with which I am sure even Madonna would agree.
David McCann, J.D., is senior manager of marketing and communications at Snell & Wilmer, a full-service business law firm with locations throughout the U.S. and in Mexico. He can be reached at 602-382-6517 and firstname.lastname@example.org.