One of the challenges that most lawyers face is the sales and marketing rollercoaster. Business slows down and business development picks up. Then new work comes rolling in, and work product takes precedence over business development. And so on.
There’s no getting around the fact that selling is required to sustain and expand existing relationships, and to develop new ones. The problem is that—let’s face it—hardly anyone (especially most lawyers) enjoys selling. But rest easy because there’s a way to sell that doesn’t involve cold calling, glad handing and small talk. At least not in the traditional sense. One of the most important tools that lawyers can use to achieve business development success is content marketing.
Consumers of legal services desire, above all else, expertise. Unless expertise can be conveyed and validated through referral or reputation, it must be demonstrated through thought leadership expressed in the marketplace of ideas (i.e., content marketing). Generating and disseminating compelling content builds trust and awareness, and positions the content creator as an expert. It’s the “long game” with a focus on relationship building, not the hard sell.
The Content Marketing Institute has described content marketing as:
[A] strategic approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience - and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
Content marketing’s purpose is to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating relevant and valuable content with the intention of changing or enhancing consumer behavior. It is an ongoing process that is best integrated into your overall marketing strategy, and it focuses on owning media, not renting it.
Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling.
Here’s how it works. We all have an orbit consisting of people, companies and organizations who encircle us. Content is like gravity. It keeps contacts in your orbit. Those who become aware of you stay aware of you as a result of your content. Those not in your orbit move into it after becoming exposed to your content. Sharing content is also a respectful, thoughtful way to remain engaged with and keep former clients in your orbit during gaps between engagements.
When someone who is in your orbit experiences a problem or has an opportunity in an area that you have written about, you’ll be high on that person’s list as someone who possesses the requisite expertise to help overcome the problem or seize the opportunity. While your reader may not be ready to act immediately, continued thought leadership will keep you top of mind, and when the time is right the relationship will shift from reader/writer to client/attorney.
How Often and How Much
Smart, savvy and skilled lawyers have the ability to crank out lots of great content. The challenge, though, is harnessing these resources. Client work, new business pitches and administrative work often get in the way, and that blog post that needs to be written languishes at the bottom of the to-do-list.
Here are rules of thumb on how much and how often to write.
If you’re maintaining a blog, do at least one post per week, preferably two. One should be original content. The other can be a link to, and bit of commentary on, a news item or analysis that is of interest to you and your audience. Generally speaking, blog posts should be limited to 500 words or less.
For longer pieces, shoot for one per month. Depending on where it’s being published, 800-1,500 words is a good length. Unless your firm provides you with a platform (such as a newsletter or quarterly publication), you also will need to find a place to publish your piece. Fortunately, many websites and trade publications are happy to publish thoughtful pieces.
While I believe that writing is a great foundation for most robust content marketing efforts, it’s certainly not the only way to reach and build an audience. Lawyers are creatively using video, podcasts, information graphics, SlideShare decks and many other content formats to get their messages out. There is no shortage of outlets for good content. The point is to get really good, thoughtful content into the hands, eyes and ears of your audiences to win their hearts and minds - and ultimately their business.
Measure for Success
I’m a huge proponent of the effectiveness of content marketing’s role in legal business development. But at times I feel like I’m asking clients to take a leap of faith on the issue because content marketing can be tricky to measure. Again, content marketing is the “long game,” and there is rarely a direct linear path that can be drawn between a piece of content and a new client engagement.
That said, there are a number of ways that content marketing metrics can be measured. These include website analytics showing page views and time on page, social media engagement and shares, and conversions such as email/blog subscriptions and form submissions.
One of the more overlooked methods for promoting content, and consequently for measuring the effectiveness of content, is to advertise content on social media and other digital networks. For a relatively small investment, content can be advertised on, for example, Facebook or LinkedIn and targeted to niche audiences to whom the content is relevant. In my experience it’s best to advertise content that already has proven popular and shareable on its own.
A considerable amount of data can be gleaned from digital content advertising, including return on investment.
Putting it All Together
Legal marketing is all about consistency of effort directed to a targeted audience. Content marketing is effective because it permits a respectful one-way and, hopefully, two-way conversation with your targets. Over time, as you continue to provide valuable content to the marketplace, you can build a passionate audience that provides work and referrals for years to come.