A New Approach to Law Firm Marketing

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  • Editor’s Note: The author of this post is the chief operating officer of a content intelligence platform for professionals. 

    By Mark Hinkle, Co-Founder and COO, Manzama

    I was having lunch with a friend when our conversation drifted to marketing and he brought up an interesting insight. “No one ever goes to Home Depot to buy a shovel,” he said. “They go to Home Depot because they need a hole in the ground.” At first I thought he had helped himself to too much iced tea, but then the idea started to sink in for me. The consumer cares far less about the tool, or the solution, that they are using than the problem they are using it to fix.

    Photo by Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg

    Photo by Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg

    Now, I am sure you are asking yourself what might this have to do with marketing. What my friend was illustrating is the fact that businesses — including law firms — tend to be guilty of talking too much about their particular solution, and not enough about the problem itself. I know it will be hard for law firms to hear this, but no one cares about your shovel. No one cares that you’re the best I.P. firm in Southern California, or that you’ve built a better mousetrap for M&A transactions. What they care about, and think about every day, are their problems. So how can you connect your solution to your customer’s problem — that is, how can you connect your shovel to their need for a hole?

    No one cares that you’re the best I.P. firm in Southern California, or that you’ve built a better mousetrap for M&A transactions.

    In some instances, the customer may not even know they need to dig a hole, in which case an educational campaign is in order. The very first step to solving a problem, as they say in another context, is realizing that you have one. And much like an alcoholic might need an intervention to become aware of his own problem and seek help, your prospective customers might need to be educated about their own business problems. Customers won’t actively look for a solution until they realize their problem exists — but once they do, they will look for answers from the one who made them see the light.

    There are many examples of this phenomenon, but let’s take CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems. There was a time not long ago when CRM systems did not exist. Now, there are systems like SalesForce.com or Interaction in just about every company around the world. The problem that CRM systems address did not just appear ten to twenty years ago. The need to manage customer information and pipelines has been there for ages. What made these companies successful and created a whole new market around “CRM,” however, was their ability to make organization realize that they had a problem. Of course, when the light bulb went on, they had solutions on hand to help.

    There is a fast growing company out of the Bay Area called Marketo, which makes “Marketing Automation Software.” Once again, no one had ever heard of marketing automation software until a few years ago. Marketo is now a public company with a market cap of over a billion dollars. What many people don’t know about Marketo is that it started out as a blog before it ever had a product. What did it blog about? It blogged about the problem that many marketers faced with systemizing and managing their marketing programs and leads. Once Marketo had convinced the marketing community that they all had a problem, and had gained their trust as an authority around the problem, it unveiled its solution and went on to have enormous success.

    Lawyers can be very proud of their Superlawyers rankings, or of seeing themselves quoted in the press, but here’s the hard reality: no one buying their services cares.

    In the legal industry, of course, it’s frequently the case that your prospective clients already know what problem they would like fixed — whether it’s a government investigation, discrimination lawsuit, or asset sale. Lawyers and law firms don’t get the attention of clients with these problems by talking about how great they are. Lawyers can be very proud of their Superlawyers rankings, or of seeing themselves quoted in the press, but here’s the hard reality: no one buying their services cares. Clients only care about the hole they have to dig — and the easiest, best, and most cost effective way to dig it.

    To grab their attention, law firms and lawyers would do well to stop praising themselves from the rooftops and talk more about the common scenarios faced by their clients. Imagine an in-house counsel who would like to ensure that the social media policy she is drafting for her company complies with the latest state and federal regulations. That’s a specific problem. There are many great labor and employment firms that will have the ability to help her, but the in-house counsel is not going to type “Great Labor & Employment Firm” into Google. She will be looking for resources—blogs, microsites, and other destinations—that discuss her specific problem and give useful information about it. And who will be authoring and hosting these blogs and microsites about her problem? Will it be your firm, or will you still be talking about your shovel?

    Stop focusing on your solution, and start focusing on your client’s problems. Your firm builds a great shovel, no doubt. But there are a lot of shovels that clients have to choose from. The key is to place your shovel close to the hole that your clients find themselves in.

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