Before we start to talk about what law firm marketing is, and what the best ways to market your law firm, it's crucial to establish the right mindset.
The Internet is rife with misconceptions about legal marketing and firm growth, and it's essential to sift through the noise.
Most advice will start by jumping straight into the tactics. That’s because the people writing it only know tactics. They’re foot soldiers too close to the ground to see the big picture.
And foot soldiers don’t win wars.
So let’s level set, zoom out, and view things from the right vantage point.
A Winning Law Firm Marketing Strategy Starts with Market Orientation
Start by thinking from the client's perspective, rather than focusing solely on your services.
This shift in focus may sound simple, but it's a stumbling block for many firms.
Getting this right is your first step into marketing like a professional and not like a self-taught digital marketer who just repeats everything else they see people saying.
At the heart of a successful marketing strategy is a winning aspiration—a blueprint that outlines what success looks like for your law firm.
The goal is straightforward: to win in a specific market in a unique way. Anything less dilutes your resources and wastes time.
Understanding your market landscape is key to defining what winning looks like.
To do that, you have to orient yourself toward your market and avoiding the common pitfall of becoming too self-absorbed, focusing more the services you offer, than on solving the problems your clients face.
It’s immediately clear when a firm views the world from their client’s perspective.
Take the law firm Cordell & Cordell as an example. Their winning aspiration is to level the playing field for men in family court. They argue that the system is often skewed, perpetuating an unfair status quo. Their firm is structured around challenging this imbalance—not out of malice, but in the pursuit of fairness and justice.
Use Market Research to Segment Your Market
Your competitors keep marching in the wrong direction.
But not you.
While they continue to focus on what they want, you already have an unfair advantage by focusing on what the market wants.
The next step is market research. Legitimate market research. The kind that replaces assumptions and biases—what we call hearsay marketing—with truth directly from your target audience.
There are two primary ways to approach market research: quantitative and qualitative.
Each have their own merits.
Qualitative methods like ethnography and one-on-one surveys help you understand the 'why' behind consumer behavior, while quantitative methods like online mass surveys provide the 'what' through numerical data.
Conducting full-scale quant research can be expensive and time consuming, costing upwards of $12,000 dollars for even the smallest of markets and take weeks to compile.
Advantages of Quantitative Research
- Higher statistical validity and representative of target markets and audiences based on sample size and composition.
- Relies on numbers and, as such, tends to give more absolute findings, while qualitative data is based on human interpretation.
Disadvantages of Quantitative Research
- Not very flexible.
- Less detail or description.
- Can be a high-cost project when samples are not easily available, for example, in new target markets.
While firms operating in multiple cities or countries benefit a lot from quantitative research, small firms are better off focusing on ethnographic research if they’re just trying to gain a foothold in the market.
Advantages of Qualitative Research
- Generates ‘below the surface’ responses, underlying reasons about why people do things, not just what they say in public.
- Explores thoughts and experiences.
- Helps answer the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions.
- Detailed, rich description and context/in-depth feedback.
Disadvantages of Qualitative Research
- Insights are not likely to be representative of a population segment and therefore statistical inference is not possible.
- High cost per respondent.
This isn’t to undermine the benefits of qualitative research for larger firms either—in fact, they often need it more than smaller firms because the the size of a firm directly correlates with the distance between leadership and the people they built their firm to serve.
Start with qualitative research, then conduct quantitative research. To get the best understanding of your market, you need both.
The effectiveness of your research hinges on how you divide your audience into panels—what we call market segmentation.
Segmentation is essentially the identification of subsets of people within a market who share similar needs and demonstrate similar buyer behavior.
There’s no sugarcoating it. Breaking down segmentation would take an entirely separate article to do it justice.
It’s a time-consuming process that attorneys don’t want, and shouldn’t have, to do on their own. It’s one that’s best left to experienced marketers who can do it for you.
Backwards Marketing Research
You can streamline this process by doing Backwards Market Research.
In Backwards Market Research, you start by defining the desired outcome you aim to achieve for your clients. From there, you work your way back to identify the market segment that would most value this outcome. This segment becomes your focus, and you validate your insights by interviewing individuals from this group.
This approach dramatically increases not only the validity of your research, but also the likelihood that what you discover will be useful and actionable.
The data and feedback you receive, especially the concerns raised and the specific language used by the segments you target later will prove invaluable for crafting your messaging, branding, and even how you provide your service.
Firms that invest the time to truly understand their clients—rather than making assumptions—find long-term success.
Balance Segmented Targeting with Mass Targeting
Okay. After spending several weeks conducting market research and doing a proper segmentation, you’re ready for targeting.
Targeting isn't just a marketing buzzword; it's a decisive factor that can make or break your client acquisition efforts.
There are a three common approaches to targeting.
Classical Market Targeting
The first approach is what we call classic marketing targeting where you choose to focus on a segment your potential clients based on their makeup—including cross sections—of demographics, geographics, psychographics, and even firmographics depending on the type of firm you run (e.g., corporate law, tax law, immigration law, etc.).
For instance, if your firm specializes in personal injury law and you're entering a saturated market, survival is predicated on picking a narrow segment to win. You stand no chance of gaining a foothold against entrenched incumbents without doing this.
Don't make the mistake of thinking classical targeting is only something you can do with digital media either.
Classical targeting is characterized by any focus on a segment of your market. Choosing to place a billboard where a particular segment of your market is most likely to see it is classical targeting.
Mass targeting is a little oxymoronic because it’s characterized by the lack of any meaningful targeting beyond what’s required to be considered in your total addressable market.
The idea with mass targeting is to cast a wide net, making your firm's name known to as many people as possible (i.e. brand awareness) in the hopes they remember and choose you later on when they need services.
This is not cheap. And the results you get will not be quick.
That’s not to say it isn’t effective, though.
It just takes enough time, consistency, and capital to before the dam breaks and you never have to worry about demand again.
Our recommendation is allocate budget to both approaches using a hybrid model.
Market newcomers should spend more on classical targeting and less on mass targeting. Over time, as you gain purchase, begin shifting that budget to lower your case acquisition costs.
Now, there’s no perfect ratio to follow here. But I know everyone wants one and won’t take action if I don’t draw a starting line. So here it is: take a 60/40 approach between classical and mass targeting, respectively.
Position Your Law Firm to Win the Market
This is where we define what our business stands for, what we want it to represent, and what we want it to be for our target segments.
We need to think about three things; what do they want, what can we offer, and who and what are our competitors offering.
This will help us find the correct position for our services, and ultimately our firm, to be successful.
Two Ways to Position Yourself to Win
In the business landscape, standing out from the competition is paramount.
There are two general paths to achieve this: Differentiation and Operational Efficiency.
Differentiation: The Unique Selling Proposition
The first approach is differentiation. Setting yourself apart in such a way that the people you serve remember you and have no doubts that you’re the firm for them.
The key question to ask yourself is, "What can I offer that my competitors either can't or won't?"
For example, consider the law firm Cordell and Cordell we discussed earlier. While the majority of family law firms position themselves generically, Cordell and Cordell make it unambiguously clear that they represent fathers going through divorce.
Operational Efficiency: The Cost-Effective Approach
The second strategy is particularly relevant in markets where people view you as a commodity. Here, the focus is on serving your market more efficiently than your competitors. This involves optimizing your cost structure, perhaps through automation or streamlined processes, so that you can offer value without engaging in detrimental price wars.
The 4Ps of Marketing Aren’t Dead
Once you've defined what winning looks like, identified the market segments you aim to capture, and outlined your law firm marketing positioning, the next step is to ask: What must be true for me to win how I want to win, where I want to win, the way I want to win?
There’s a time-tested concept in marketing called the 4 Ps.
Now, this isn’t something the sophomoric community of digital marketers writing on the web talk about because they never took a real course in marketing.
So get ready to learn a really radical concept first year marketing students learn before their first midterm.
The 4Ps of marketing are: product, pricing, placement, and promotion.
Let's start with the first: product.
Use Messaging Your Market Will Understand to Explain Your Service
Your product is your service.
Ask yourself, What must be true about my service to meet client needs? One key aspect is how you present your service to the market.
For instance, what you call your service can significantly impact how its perceived.
People don't think about mass torts; they think about class-action lawsuits. Even if you and I both know they’re different.
People don’t think about spousal maintenance; they think about alimony.
Adapt your language (what we call messaging) to what your target market understands.
Once you've nailed down the terminology, the next step is to validate your service offerings.
Ask yourself, What services am I not providing that the market wants?
If you find a gap, one of your "must-have" capabilities will be to find a way to offer that missing service.
Use the Van Westendorp Price Sensitivity Meter to Get Your Pricing Right
Pricing is important. Pricing is also something most businesses set based on the competition, their own margins, or from gut instinct because they don’t know there’s any other way.
Getting pricing wrong is one the primary reasons businesses never achieve a meaningful profit.
Whether you’re still selling your time for money or have learned to package what you do into fixed-cost services, consider using Van Westendorp’s Price Sensitivity Meter (PSM) to determine your optimal pricing range so you don’t unknowingly sacrifice the profit you deserve.
Create a Google Form and send it to both former clients and clients who have a reasonable sense of what it costs to hire an attorney for legal services.
- At what price would you consider the product to be so expensive that you would not consider buying it?
- At what price would you consider the product to be priced so low that you would feel the quality couldn’t be very good?
- At what price would you consider the product starting to get expensive, so that it is not out of the question, but you would have to give some thought to buying it?
- At what price would you consider the product to be a bargain—a great buy for the money?
Then you plot the responses on a graph and identify the intersections that suggest optimal pricing zones. The intersections of these curves often yield four prices:
- Point of Marginal Cheapness (PMC)
- Point of Marginal Expensiveness (PME)
- Optimum Price Point (OPP)
- Indifference Price Point (IPP)
Businesses frequently underprice themselves. Don’t do that. Charge what the market is willing to pay and earn as much profit as you ethically can.
Don’t Limit Promotion to Digital Marketing Channels
If you’ve ready any of the other blog posts about law firm marketing, this is the section they all focus on but it’s only ⅛ of the bigger picture.
Promotion is how you get your message to your market so they’re aware you exist, what you do, and why they should hire you.
There’s a ton of channels to choose from. Here’s a list:
- Organic Search
- Paid Search (PPC)
- Paid Search (LSA)
- Organic Social
- Paid Social
- Email Marketing
- TV Advertising
- Radio Advertising
- Billboards/Outdoor Advertising
- Direct Mail
Which channel should you choose?
How do you know which is the best one?
The answer is: all of them.
Your goal is to make an impression so people remember you when an event happens in their life and they need legal representation.
You have to test channels to figure out which will work best. But if you want to narrow things down to work within a limited budget then the best thing you can do is to talk to your market. Ask them what channels they use on a day-to-day basis.
No matter what channel(s) you choose, don’t be surprised if they don’t immediately start flooding your office with cases.
Getting traction on a channel follows what’s known as a Sigmoid Curve (S Curve). Things will start slow, gradually begin picking up momentum, then rapidly accelerate before leveling back out once you achieve saturation.
The key variables that determines the success of a channel are your strategy and your creative. Create the kind of content people would want to consume on that channel.
For example, people don’t get on social media to see ads from businesses trying to sell them stuff. They’ll scroll right past it because they don’t care. What do like, are stories, things that entertain them or educate them.
Here are some examples of attorneys who do this effectively:
Again, it’s about how—not where. You’ll see plenty of marketers out there saying digital marketing is better than traditional marketing.
They have no idea what they’re talking about.
It’s all just marketing.
I blame Mark Zuckerberg for this whole debate between digital marketing and traditional marketing. He used and promoted this false dichotomy when Facebook launched the advertising component of their platform back in 2007.
And it turned out that Facebook ads are just ads. They’re just digital billboards people see fleetingly as they scroll through their feed.
That doesn’t mean they’re not effective—there’s just nothing of substance that warrants the “traditional vs digital” divide.
Placement Applies to Services Just As Much As Products
Placement may seem a little out of place here for services.
But it’s not.
We like to look at placement as the entire experience of the client from the moment they start looking for an attorney to the moment their engagement with one ends.
You want to optimize the experience every step along the way.
Make it easy for them to find you (i.e. have a website). Make it easy for them to contact you for a consultation. Make intake easy for them without sacrificing quality.
Make their experience throughout the legal process as pleasant as you can—that means keeping them informed, being easy to get a hold of, and making them realize you actually do care.
And lastly, make it easy for them to pay you. That’s good for them and you.
All of those combined touch on the core essence of placement in marketing.
Build the Enabling Management Systems Required to Establish and Maintain Your Competitive Advantage
You have all the ingredients to marketing your law firm the best way possible. But none of this will ever get put in place, or last very long, if you don’t implement a set of enabling management systems.
You may feel like this isn’t as important or exciting, but this is the one section you do not want to skim.
Every company needs management systems and support the distinctive capabilities needed to win in their market.
For these system to be effective, they have be unique to you. They have to help give you a competitive advantage in the market.
While the systems may vary, they generally fall into one of three categories. They’re either:
- Systems that enable an asymmetric resource investment.
- Systems that enable the distribution of decision-making authority and/or responsibilities.
- Systems that enable a unique method for gathering and tracking data.
To explain them, I’m going to use a type of competitor every personal injury law firm knows all too well: insurance companies.
Asymmetric Resource Investment
Progressive Insurance aims to gain an edge by settling claims so swiftly that attorneys get bypassed. Progressive knows that when you get involved, they’re going to pay out more money. Progressive wants lower costs, not higher costs.
Note: I realize some of this may sound overly simplistic. That's on purpose. Things are never too complex to go back to basic logic, break things down, and test for coherency.
To maintain the financial capability for quick settlements, Progressive’s investment portfolio strategy heavily favors short-term liquidity, even if it means sacrificing higher investment returns.
Distribution of Decision-Making Authority
Progressive Insurance sets itself apart, in part, by empowering their field agents with the authority to issue pay outs on the spot without having to go through management channels.
This ability to take action and directly provide funds to clients, helps them reach a settlement faster, eliminating the need for legal intermediaries.
Unique Methods for Gathering and Tracking Data
Besides gaining an edge by quickly delivering settlements to clients, Progressive also aims to gain a competitive advantage through underwriting practices that leverage predictive analytics.
With an extensive database, the company can formulate tens of thousands of pricing categories, giving them broader range of variables that reduce their risk.
To sustain this database, Progressive employs a management system through their snapshot tool that facilitates the continual gathering and analysis of big data.
You know, because big brother wants to Reward People for Good Driving.
Now ask yourself, are you approaching your strategy for winning the same way as Progressive?
Key Takeaways To Remember About Law Firm Marketing
A lot of folks try to make marketing more complicated than what it needs to be.
Effective law firm marketing requires a strategic approach. It starts with understanding your target market and their needs, and then positioning your firm to meet those needs in a unique and valuable way.
Market research, segmentation, and targeting are the fundamentals that ensure your marketing efforts are focused and effective.
The 4Ps of marketing aren’t dead and apply to the legal industry just as much as they do consumer packaged goods.
And it’s all made possible and held together by enabling management systems.
If you want your law firm to achieve long-term success, just remember, marketing is more than just tactics, no matter what the internet marketers say who still can’t write a single article about law firm marketing without mentioning the need to make your website mobile friendly and responsive like it’s still 2016.