Adrienne Matt and Meg Charendoff. Adrienne Matt and Meg Charendoff.

Before you hit “send” on your next content marketing piece—whether it’s a blog, email, alert or newsletter—take a moment and ask yourself a few questions:

  • “What business problem will this solve—either mine or a client’s?”
  • “Who will benefit from this communication—and how?”
  • “What do I want them to do next—and will this prompt them to do it?”

If you can’t answer those questions, step away from the send button.

Why?

Because if you don’t know who will benefit from your content, then how do you know who to send it to?

Because if you don’t know what business problem your content is supposed to help solve, it doesn’t have a purpose.

Because it you don’t know what you want the reader to do next, you can’t measure the effectiveness of your content.

Because content without strategy is just “word salad.”

And while your word salad might be a delightful mix of great information and fabulous writing, it won’t help you accomplish your main marketing objective: driving business development.

Word Salad: The 2017 Recipe

Sadly, content without strategy seems to be the norm rather than the exception for law firms.

In their “2017 State of the Digital Content & Content Marketing Survey, Greentarget and the Zeughauser Group report that 96 percent of in-house counsel they surveyed reported that information overload was a problem. That’s a nearly unanimous consensus by the folks that make hiring decisions that there is too much content for them to consume on a daily basis.

On the law firm side, the constant competition to get new clients and keep the ones they have happy has lead law firms to publish more and more content on an annual basis—more blogs, alerts, newsletters, articles, tweets and posts. According to the report, 100 percent of law firm marketers surveyed said that their firms plan to put out as much or more content this year than last year, with 81 percent planning an increase.

Not a single firm in the report planned on scaling back their content marketing efforts.

Yet, when asked about the strategy behind their content marketing, only slightly more than a quarter—26 percent—indicated that they have a documented strategy underlying their content marketing efforts. Another 45 percent have a content strategy of some sort, just not written down anywhere, and the rest either have no strategy (but plan to get one, soon) or have no strategy and no plans to develop one.

The vast majority of the content out there is quality content—in-house counsel rated 90 percent of the content they receive from law firms as satisfactory or better, and 57 percent as very good to excellent (eight or above on a scale of one to 10).

They just can’t—and don’t—read it all.

Which means that much of this great content may be going to waste—along with the time, time, energy and money going into developing and sending it out).

How do you make sure that your content is reaching the right audiences, giving them the right information, or prompting them to take the right actions?

Without a clear, defined content strategy, you can’t.

Without strategy, your content just becomes part of vast and every increasing salad bar of law-firm content, most of which gets left to wilt behind the Plexiglas sneeze guard.

It’s enough to make a marketing professional—or two—lose our appetites.

The Big S and the Small S of Strategy

There are a lot of different ways to talk about “strategy.” What the Greenstret/Zeugheuser report calls “purpose”—one of the five elements it lists as essential to an effective content marketing strategy—we like think of as your “Big S” strategy. Big S strategy is your overarching, brand-driven strategy for your firm.

Your brand is who you are and what you do for clients, and your Big S strategy is how you convey that to the world. It’s everything from your service offerings and how your firm is organized, to the way your receptionist answers the phone and the signature in your email. In terms of content, your Big S strategy determines your audience (who are your target clients and influencers), the substance (what problems do your clients face and what do they need to know to solve them), and the form of your content (where is your target audience looking for information—trade publications, blogs, social media?).

Your “small s” strategy is how you execute on your Big S strategy. You should have a small s strategy for all aspects of your marketing and business development, including content marketing.

Your Big S strategy should not only align with your brand goals and identity, but should also address big business challenges or big business development goals—increasing revenue by deepening existing client relationships and attracting new clients in an identifiable industry or market sector, for example. Your small S strategy is also aligned with your brand, but its tactical in nature—for example, developing a whitepaper on emerging issues of importance to that market sector, and then mining the whitepaper for content to push out across multiple channels: a firm-hosted event with panel discussions including attorneys and clients in the industry; a series of blog posts or 60-to-90 second videos exploring those issues; clients alerts with updates and developments related to those issues; Tweets or direct emails to clients  to keep the conversation going.

Before you create any piece of content, ask yourself: how does this fit my Big S and small s strategies? You should have two different, but aligned answers. If you can’t answer the questions, don’t create the content. You’re just tossing anther word salad.

To Get Where You’re Going, Start Where You Are

Right about now, you might be feeling a little stuck on where to go from here. Do you really need to stop the presses and develop a fully realized content strategy before you create any more content? And meanwhile, aren’t your competitors still publishing and getting read by your clients?

The good news is that you probably don’t need to start from ground zero to build your content strategy. Instead, you can start with a content audit—an inventory of the content you’ve published over the last year or two—and develop your strategy from there. You can do this across the whole firm, or by practice area, industry or even individual lawyer or team.

Your content audit should identify each piece of content specifically: title or headline, topics covered or keywords, author, date, content format (text, audio, video) and length, type (blog post, alert, partner profile, press release, etc.), channel (email, blog, publication, social media platform) and any other unique information (created for a client, created for a trade association, etc.)

Once pulled together in one spreadsheet or other format that you can easily scan and manipulate, this inventory is a treasure trove of insight, ideas and (word) data. You can see patterns that you might not otherwise have noticed: for example, you have 10 blog posts in one topic area, but only only three in another, or that your practice newsletters are published inconsistently and are weighted heavily toward certain subjects.

Does your published content reflect your brand? Your target audience? Your service offerings? Are there gaps in your content—areas where you want to be seen as a thought leader, but no published content to back that up? Are some lawyers in your firm publishing far more than others—and are these the right lawyers to be highlighting for the practice or firm?  You might conclude that your content is pretty much in line with your brand and your Big S strategy—or it might be time to consider rebalancing your topic mix, your channels and where you dedicate your resources. From there, you can create an editorial calendar to address any imbalances and content gaps, which should drive the your content decisions over the both near and far term.

Ideally, you should also be able pull the metrics for each piece of digital content: open, click-through and unsubscribe rates (for emails); visits, bounce rate, calls to action that were initiated and then executed (for website pages), for example. These metrics can help you see what the success rate is for each individual piece of content and identify patterns in what clients and contacts are interested in and how they prefer to receive the information.

The good news is that clients do value the good content that law firms publish. The Greentarget/Zeughauser report notes that 87 percent of in-house counsel surveyed find law firm client alerts valuable; 76 percent see practice group newsletters as valuable, and 35 percent look to law firm blogs as a valuable resource for information. So, in general, content remains an important element of law firm marketing. But it only truly works to help you rise above the information deluge and get noticed by clients and prospects if it’s tied firmly to your Big S and small s strategies.

Meg Charendoff, the principal of CREATE: Communications—Media—Marketing, is a lawyer, writer and marketing professional who works with law firms and lawyers to develop compelling content for their marketing and business development. She can be reached at meg.charendoff@create-cmm.com or 215-514-3206. Adrienne Matt contributes to a digital agency team as a senior content strategist and user experience designer. She can be reached at me@adriennematt.com or 646-470-1595.