​The measure of marketing – then and now

Targeted use of digital media is essential for effective law firm marketing.

A recent article published by The Lawyer online discusses the contrasting experience of two technology law firm start ups in 1994 and 2014 respectively, in order to demonstrate a major evolution within the legal services market. The access to and cost of the technology required to establish an IT law firm in 1994 was vastly different in terms of the costs and challenges involved.

Widespread digitalisation and increased/ cheaper internet access has not only revolutionalised operational developments in the legal services market, but also the way in which firms market themselves. Overarching this has been a power shift between law firms and target customer groups, with the latter now having the ability to base any decision on a wider range of variables than ever before – not simply ‘word of mouth’ which was the main way of verifying the quality of a legal services provider back in the early 90s.

The introduction of alternative business structures in 2007 allowed law firms the ability to offer more diverse services than ever before – so an evolution in marketing has run parallel with a revolution in the way law firms navigate the operational side of the market.

Let’s face it: marketing in 1994 was a pretty basic affair, given the lack of digital tools that were on hand to allow customers to reach a purchasing decision swiftly. The ‘worldwide web’, although in actual existence, was very much in its infancy and far from widespread. Although email was in operation, this was little more than a practical day-to-day tool for business use, rather than being a way for firms to ‘sell themselves’.

This, however, was about the limit when it came to digital positioning. Although a very few law firms had websites, these were little more than holding pages from which to obtain contact details – interaction was hardly a priority and rather than being a digital asset and direct sales channel, a website just sat on the fringes as an ‘operational extra’.

The last 10 years have been a wakeup call – the sheer number of people that have moved online and now use it as a primary information source has mushroomed beyond recognition. Organic searching to ‘check out companies’ at the primary stage of the decision-making process has given customers considerable powers of judgement – businesses can no longer hide behind the word-of-mouth veil and instead have to make sure their digital shop window readily communicates their capabilities.

And this is the tip of the iceberg – online assets now have to be combined with an integrated, pro-active approach to the way capabilities are communicated. Unless a firm does this in a way that ensures digital information is as visible as possible, their messages get lost in the plethora of electronic communication that vies for the attention of consumers.

So what does this mean? Marketing can no longer be a one-way process, but instead has to catch attention in an original and imaginative way. Creating a route where customers, especially consumer  are taken on an engaging journey is therefore vital – in doing this, the most important caveat is to ensure every piece of activity drives online interaction and engagement. Whereas previously, individual marketing efforts were implemented and accessed completely separately, now every single activity has to drive online searches.

And this is only half the story – putting creative marketing solutions in place is pointless if firms are unwilling or unable to get out there and engage in the online conversations that their efforts have created. Widespread use of social media has given consumers in particular an immediate right of reply and firms’ ability to respond directly to feedback about something they’ve put in place is a vital part of the way in which their brand is ‘experienced’ and can more readily influence a purchasing decision.  

While the way in which businesses buy legal services is markedly different – as it takes place in a far more formalised way, for example, via a tendering process – an online presence and concerted marketing efforts all play a role in influencing business-based buyers. Although for businesses (unlike consumer customers) the ‘shop window’ of a legal services brand won’t be the only deciding factor, the role it plays in influencing a decision, once the operational requirements of a tendering process have been met, cannot be disputed.

Reaching potential new customers in an integrated way that demonstrates that their needs can be met has become easier with the onset of the internet and digital communication – as has the ability to measure the effectiveness of a specific campaign or piece of activity. However, there is a vast amount of digital communication vying for the attention of business and individual customers alike who, as a result, now hold the power in an age where the availability of information is everything. Without constantly refreshing online content, creating memorable campaigns and driving ongoing media relations activity that properly positions expertise and drives online searches and conversation, the risk of becoming invisible becomes a real possibility.

Rebecca Scully is managing director at Smarts PR