Oct. 5, 2011 – Many lawyers and law firms produce client alerts, newsletters, and other online content to keep existing and potential clients informed on important changes in the law, and to promote the brand of the firm or lawyer. But is this investment paying off?
Alan Vitberg, owner and chief marketing guru for Vitberg LLC in upstate New York, says lawyers are incredibly proficient at producing valuable online content to build brand awareness. But most aren’t leveraging the content to obtain new leads, and they should.
“There’s been a huge marketing transformation in the last couple years,” said Vitberg, who formerly served as director of marketing for a top 100 accounting firm. “Professional service firms should have the capability to produce online content and the mechanism to leverage it.”
Greg Linnemanstons, president of the Appleton-based marketing agency Weidert Group, agrees.
“Understanding what your audience is looking for, and then doing everything you can to really dominate on search engine optimization is crucial,” he said. “Professional service providers must be thinking about how they can be found when someone needs their help.”
And it’s not in the yellow pages, Linnemanstons says. It’s online.
Lawyers and law firms that produce valuable online content in the form of articles, white papers, or newsletters, must have the tools to get credit for the work produced.
“If you are already putting the resource into content creation, there must be a strategy in place to make that content visible,” Linnemanstons said. “Consider in-house counsel looking for an intellectual property lawyer. What will they find when they start with a Google search? If they find your credible and useful information on the issue they’re searching for, you’re in.”
That’s where the concept of inbound marketing comes in. The founders of HubSpot, a software development firm, pioneered the concept of inbound marketing less than a decade ago.
Now marketing agencies, like Vitberg LLC and the Weidert Group, use HubSpot software to help professional service firms implement inbound marketing campaigns.
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In general, inbound marketing responds to the transformational shift in the way customers and clients obtain and act upon information. Search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing allow potential clients to take control of the information they want to receive.
That means it’s crucial to have a relevant and credible presence in the online spheres where potential clients are searching for information. The value they receive from this information can lead to new business, marketing experts have found.
The transformation is characterized by greater availability of free information online, says Ari Kaplan, a lawyer and nationally recognized author of several books on business development.
“As a result, law firms and their professionals must be more targeted in what information they are providing and with whom they are sharing it,” Kaplan said. “Timing, relevance, and accessibility are key components of a successful distribution system.”
Inbound marketing applies technology – like web and blogging tools, search engine optimization, analytics, and lead nurturing software – to turn static websites into active market participants.
It also allows solo and small firm practitioners to compete with bigger firms, and can help practitioners develop niche practice areas.
“Big firm websites are already high traffic performers,” he said. “The solo and small firms need inbound marketing to improve traffic scores and visibility, otherwise they will never be found by anybody. This can really work well in niche areas.”
How does it work?
For instance, a law firm website may have an online blog offering labor and employment updates or articles on new legislation. Inbound marketing tools help that content “get found first,” and direct the interested reader back to the law firm’s website.
Once there, landing pages can capture information about a reader – name, email, or phone number – through lead capture technology before the law firm’s valuable content is released. It’s a trade-off to get the lead, one the reader is often willing to make.
The capture tools include lead nurturing and tracking technology that help law firms automatically follow-up with those people and entities that are interested in the firm’s content.
“Many firm websites organize content by different practice areas on trends and changes in the law,” Vitberg said. “But very few of the law firm websites I’ve visited have implemented the technology tools necessary to generate new leads from this content.
“The ability of a law firm to move into inbound marketing really starts with their ability to package, promote, and use their thought leadership to generate leads,” Vitberg said.
According to a HubSpot report, inbound marketing-dominated entities experience a 62 percent lower cost per lead than ones that focus on outbound marketing efforts – print ads, direct mailings, etc. That’s after the initial investment, anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000, to develop and maintain an infrastructure for an inbound marketing campaign.
But are there strategies attorneys can implement without the costs involved in a full-blown inbound marketing campaign?
“You can’t exclude certain aspects of inbound marketing, but you can certainly move at a slower pace based on budget considerations,” Linnemanstons said. “Part of what we do is look at the marketing budget to determine what’s going to be most effective.”
Linnemanstons says inbound marketing has not caught on with law firms, largely because law firms are less likely to take the marketing risks of other entities like corporations. Entering a new opportunity zone forces law firms to leave their marketing comfort zone, he says.
With or without inbound marketing, Ari Kaplan says online business development largely hinges on the ability to produce content, attract readers, and repurpose the effort through different channels.
“Professionals should always be thinking of using content in at least three ways: newsletter or client alerts, published articles or blogs, and within social media groups like Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn,” Kaplan said. “Producing the content is like making an initial phone call or sending an initial e-mail. Distribution is like following up on those initiatives.”
By Joe Forward, Legal Writer, State Bar of Wisconsin