The Dos and Don’ts of Marketing in the New Normal
2020 was quite a year for everybody. Many law firms saw declining intake calls and business disruptions as they struggled to adapt to the new normal. As the Vice President of Marketing of one of the largest personal injury law firms in the Southeast, I had to re-evaluate and adjust my firm’s marketing – just like everybody else – to try to get a bigger slice of a smaller pie. But that’s my job – whether we’re in a pandemic or looking ahead to the future. And the way I do it, is with data. I’m an admitted data hound – I measure, review, and react to numbers. I make decisions on marketing channels, tactics, and strategy based on data, and I strongly encourage you to do the same. And this reliance on data has served us well – our firm weathered the storm in 2020 exceptionally well. In this article, I will share with you some straightforward dos and don’ts of law firm marketing to help you increase your slice of the pie in the new normal (served ala mode with a scoop of data, of course.)
Do Measure Marketing Efforts
It’s not too surprising that one of the first things I recommend to all law firms is related to data – measure your marketing. You can start slowly and inexpensively by simply asking clients how they heard about you. Measuring top-of-mind awareness (TOMA) allows you to start getting a handle on which of your marketing tactics are having an impact. To measure your digital marketing efforts, you can implement website tracking (if you manage your own website there’s a free version of Google Analytics that can provide web traffic insights) or have your website provider track your web traffic.
Here are the key things to measure:
- How are people learning about you? Track where inquiries (or leads) are coming from. Did they see a TV or print ad, click on an online PPC ad, or drive past a billboard? Perhaps they were referred by a friend? You need to know where your leads are coming from so you can make informed decisions about which channels to continue investing in.
- Which channels are getting results? Track TOMA to see how channels perform over time. Set up conversion events to track things like website chats, form fills, and pay-per-click conversion. Which marketing messages are converting the best? Also measure the ultimate conversion – when an individual signs on as a client.
- How much revenue is being generated? Once you know which marketing tactics are converting leads, measure the income generated from those leads (new clients) and link it back to the marketing channels. This will help you gauge the success of specific marketing activities and campaigns.
- How much are you spending? This is straightforward accounting. How much did you spend on each channel? What did the direct mail piece cost to create, print, and mail? How much did you spend on online ads? These figures should not be looked at in isolation when making decisions – calculate your cost per lead and cost per case for each channel that you can.
- What’s the marketing ROI? The marketing return on investment (ROI) ties it all together by attributing profit and revenue growth to the impact of a marketing channel or campaign. By tracking where leads are coming from, how they are converting, the revenue they generate, and the total cost of acquisition, you will be able to measure the effectiveness of the marketing dollars you spend. Compare the ROI of different channels and campaigns and make informed decisions about your marketing spend. Test adding funds where needed to max out the channels that have the highest ROI.
Don’t Cut Marketing Spend
I’m not telling you to throw money away. If there is a channel that is not working, don’t waste your marketing dollars on it. But make your marketing spending decisions based on data, not emotion or gut reactions. Don’t blindly cut marketing just to cut your expenses. Think of your marketing as a key driver of future revenue rather than as an expense. And future revenue is the long-term goal.
This past year has been very strange, but remember that the pandemic is temporary, and law is lasting. Now is the time to be strategic. You need to ensure that you are doing what it takes to get ahead of other firms by building brand recognition and staying top of mind. Believe it or not, we are seeing competition increase in a number of markets, so maintaining a strong marketing presence is more important than ever.
If you cut your marketing spending too far, or in the wrong areas, you will sign fewer cases, which leads to less revenue, which affects your ability to fund future marketing efforts – it’s an all too familiar downward spiral that is hard to break out of. If potential clients don’t see or hear from you, they’ll forget you, so resist the temptation to cut your marketing and communications efforts.
Do Reallocate Marketing Spend
Rather than blindly cutting marketing spending, use data to analyze if your marketing spend is resulting in new cases. And if it’s not, reallocate those funds to more effective marketing efforts. Here’s where the payoff on measuring your marketing really comes into play.
At my firm, I constantly look at data to determine if we are spending our marketing dollars wisely. Luckily, our GrowPath case management software has marketing analytics which provide data on marketing spend by source, time of day, and specific geographic location – all overlaid with data from our media buys. So I can see if a specific TV ad resulted in an uptick in intake calls in the city where the ad ran, when the ad ran. GrowPath also lets me quickly generate marketing reports showing cost per lead and cost per case by channel, giving me a clear picture of marketing performance. I can tell exactly how, when, and where our clients contacted us. And I use this data to reallocate my marketing spend to those tactics that are working for us.
We are seeing more and more advertising dollars get moved to paid digital, so if you are not there already, you need to be. When investing in paid digital, testing and analysis is really important. As with any marketing channel, track your average case value, cost per lead (CPL), cost per case (CPC), and intake to case conversion so that you can tweak and reallocate among different campaigns and tactics accordingly.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to do direct mail in your state, A/B test your pieces and track the data to see which piece converts better. This should be an ongoing process. Track your CPL, CPC, and cases obtained from direct mail, and use this data to identify if you should increase or decrease your mailing threshold.
Test, test, test. Test marketing channels, test the copy in your marketing, test how much money you put into a channel. And then reallocate based on the results.
Don’t Ignore Your Website
This past year has increased everybody’s reliance on the internet as an information source. Now is a good time to look at the competition to see if your online presence is competitive. Take an objective look at your site also:
- Do you offer multiple ways for someone to contact you?
- Is your contact information easily accessible?
- Do you incorporate graphics and white space?
- Do you have photos of all your attorneys with bios?
- Is the language understandable to your client base?
- Is there outdated information and stats?
- Do you have pages that don’t format correctly or have broken links?
- Do you have a blog or videos?
These are just a few of the things you can work on immediately to improve your website presence.
You should engage your website provider, or whoever manages your website, to see if dedicating time and resources to search engine optimization (SEO) is right for your firm. SEO is a long-term play that requires ongoing maintenance and a constant stream of high quality content, and it does not immediately lead to new cases. However, it can build awareness of your firm and help with organic search.
Do Consider All Marketing Channels
In the new normal, be careful not to keep doing the “same old same old” – open up that menu of marketing channels and really check out your options. I’ll run through the obvious ones that should be considered, but look around and see what your competition is doing, and factor that into your decision-making as well.
If your state allows direct mail, this can be an effective way to communicate with prospective and current clients. At my firm, we use direct mail and email to reach out and touch both new and prospective clients. ROI is measureable with direct mail marketing, and for us, the numbers work. Do the math to see if this is a viable channel for you. Here are some key things to keep in mind with direct marketing campaigns:
- For your email database, communicate regularly. This is a relatively inexpensive way of reaching out and staying top of mind. Can you touch them weekly? Monthly? Don’t let your contacts go cold, and ensure that your content is relevant and provides value – and don’t make each email a sales pitch.
- For your direct mail campaigns, don’t just be another letter in the mail. Do something to stand out. Direct mail has impact and a longer lifespan, and you can use email to complement it after the potential client reaches out to you. Direct mail is great because the individuals you mail are “pre-qualified.” You know they have a potential case. So put your best foot forward.
Obviously this is a big ticket item. If your firm has the budget, advertising on television can reach a large market – and with the right message and the right placement, a TV ad can be an effective marketing tactic. Attribution can be difficult, though. At my firm, I rely heavily on the marketing analytics tools in GrowPath to analyze and then tweak my TV ad spend so that I spend in a cost effective way. For more information on deciding whether TV is the right channel for your firm, check out this guide to TV advertising for law firms.
Search Engine Marketing
Everybody wants and needs visibility on the internet. This is how many potential clients discover, and then research, your firm. Search engine marketing involves gaining website traffic and visibility from search engines through paid and organic efforts.
- Organic Search – is the web traffic earned through unpaid or free listings and involves SEO (mentioned earlier).
- Paid Search – is the web traffic you buy to show up in the sponsored results section of search engine searches.
I recommend that you consider two types of paid search:
Pay Per Click (PPC) Ads
- Ads that you buy from a search engine and you pay for every click on your ad.
- Every ad, keyword, and penny spent on PPC can be tracked which allows for an accurate ROI and easier ad testing scenarios.
- You can schedule your ads and target by age, gender, location, and device type.
Note: there are other payments models, such as CPA – cost per acquisition or CPM – cost per thousand (mille) impressions, but PPC is by far the most common type pf paid search.
Google Local Service Ads (LSA)
If you aren’t using LSA yet, consider it. LSA are for service businesses that have been verified by Google.
- Ads that you buy from Google and you pay for every lead which results in a relatively low ROI.
- You can pause and unpause ads to evaluate spend.
- Ads show up above ALL other search results.
Of all the marketing channels, I believe that organic social media is the least important to a law firm. It’s just not going to drive a lot of business to your firm. Let’s be honest, most people are not following their lawyers on social media. And it takes time and dedication to do it right.
Having a social media presence is necessary because it improves brand recognition, and you can’t afford to not be out there when every other firm in town is. So, set up your firm page on the channels you can maintain and update regularly (for example, my firm has an active presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram) but don’t spend too much time and effort on unpaid social media. The numbers don’t justify it.
There is a case to be made for paid social media advertising (such as Facebook and LinkedIn ads), but it depends on the types of cases you are going after. Once again, look at the data.
- Paid social media advertising may be justified to advertise for clients on the types of cases that the general public is not educated on or aware of (such as mass torts). You can be very targeted to the individual and your message can resonate.
- Paid social media ads generally don’t pay out for marketing to typical personal injury case clients, such as car accident victims or workers’ compensation claimants, because most people already know to consider working with a lawyer if they are going through this type of situation.
Of all the social media channels, the most important are your online client reviews. You must focus on these, especially within Google. Think about it, when you are researching or shopping online for something, whether it’s clothing, a restaurant choice, or a doctor, you look at the reviews. And that’s what your potential clients are doing as well. So, manage your client reviews:
- At disbursal, when your client is receiving a check and presumably happy with the case outcome, ask them to leave you a review.
- When you receive online reviews, respond to each and every one in a positive and personalized manner. Here’s an opportunity to ask for a referral as well.
- Pay attention to any negative reviews…and if there is a problem, fix it. This is valuable feedback. If you are getting less than 4 stars on Google, you have an issue that needs attention.
In addition to driving new clients to your firm, your star rankings are incorporated into Google’s algorithm for LSA placement. This is a no-brainer. I repeat, manage your client reviews.
This channel depends on your market. Look around and see if your competition is advertising on billboards. While it’s difficult to attach direct attribution to outdoor advertising, you can try using a unique phone number on it. As much as I love numerical justification, sometimes it’s just not present. In some of the markets my firm practices in, billboard advertising is prolific, and we feel that it reaffirms our TV ad messaging.
When your law firm provides clients with good legal services, they, in turn, can help build up your brand by telling their
family and friends about their positive experience. Word of mouth is awesome, but it is passive. Take it a step further by actively building a system around generating referrals.
I encourage you to ask your clients for referrals – don’t just hope they’ll spread the word – and create a process in your firm for obtaining referrals:
- Set the expectation from the very beginning. When your attorneys sign new clients, have them tell the clients that they expect referrals upon the satisfactory completion of their cases.
- Empower your clients – the referral is subject to them being satisfied with the outcome of their cases.
- Remind clients of the expectation and ask for referrals again at disbursal time when clients are usually happy and in the right frame of mind.
- Communicate with clients on a routine basis after their cases are completed to stay top-of-mind so that when they or their family and friends have a legal need, you are their first thought. A newsletter or email to current and past client bases can be a fairly easy way to stay in touch and remind people to refer others to you.
- Request referrals in your responses to online reviews.
You influence this, if you don’t ask clients to refer you, you have missed an opportunity.
Use Data to Make Smart Marketing Decisions
I know that’s a lot of information – hopefully not too much. But if you, like many other law firms these days, are facing declining intakes, it’s time to rethink your marketing. Here’s a quick recap of the most important takeaways for marketing in the new normal:
- Don’t cut marketing spending just to reduce your expenses – remember marketing is a key driver of future revenue.
- Step up your marketing analytics. Decisions need to be data driven. Measure where your intakes and cases come from, track the ROI on marketing spend, and then make your marketing decisions.
For more law firm marketing insights and business development strategies, listen to this podcast featuring plaintiffs’ superlawyer James Scott Farrin.