Branding and Positioning


We are excited to welcome Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D to Legal Marketing Blog; he is the managing partner at Hinge Marketing.

Today we are going to explore how thought leadership marketing works.

Black: When did thought leadership take hold in the world of marketing?
Frederiksen:Although it may seem like it’s been around forever, the concept of “thought leadership” is relatively new. The term first appeared in the 1990’s and was initially used to describe individuals with a reputation for developing ideas that might be considered highly advanced and influential. Today, thought leadership has evolved to include anyone who is an intellectual leader. And as it pertains to business and professional services, has become a powerful marketing tool.

Black: What is thought leadership marketing?
Frederiksen: Thought leadership marketing is the process of promoting specialized expertise and accelerating market influence to accomplish marketing goals, such as building brand strength or generating new business. Thought leadership marketing is powered by valuable, insightful content that positions your firm and key individuals within it as experts in a particular topic or industry. That content is then distributed to your target markets via their preferred channels to make that thought leadership visible.

Thought leadership is often confused with content marketing; however, content marketing is a much broader discipline. It involves using content to attract, educate and close new business. Thought leadership is a specific strategy within the broader concept of content marketing.

For example, a firm might publish helpful content without offering any innovative or advanced thinking. Another firm may offer entertaining or humorous content. Both of these are content marketing strategies, but neither would be considered thought leadership.

Thought leaders are individuals or firms recognized for their specialized expertise and their influence on the development of their discipline. They are both subject matter experts and influencers, driving professional discussion and advances within their field of expertise.

Black: What are the benefits of thought leadership?
Frederiksen: Thought leadership benefits both the subject matter expert and their firm:

Faster growth Thought leaders’ single biggest impact is their ability to drive firm growth. Highly visible thought leadership attracts clients who want or need greater expertise. The leads are more qualified and easier to generate. Prospects close more quickly with less effort and greater success.

Higher billing rates There is a direct relationship between the visibility of a subject matter expert’s thought leadership and their billing rate.

A stronger brand Combining thought leadership with greater visibility creates a significantly stronger brand that will increase value, growth, and profitability.

Better talent The best people want to work with industry leaders. Thought leadership helps demonstrate the quality of your firm and attracts top talent who also want to become thought leaders.

More opportunities Leading subject matter experts not only attract better clients and more talented employees, they also foster better strategic partners and business relationships.

Black: How do you develop thought leadership content?
Frederiksen: While there is no magic formula that can guarantee you will become recognized as an insightful, influential thinker, there are specific steps that will help strengthen your expertise. Deeper, more relevant insights make better thought leadership content.

Narrow your focus Our research on high-profile experts shows that narrowing your focus greatly increases the likelihood of deepening your expertise. The narrower your focus, the faster your ascent to leadership. You’re able to accumulate experience and insight faster, which will accelerate and improve content development.

Do original research Conducting original research on a topic gives you a huge advantage. It is one of the key paths to thought leadership. New research findings are the raw material of thought leadership content. High-quality research produces new insights that can be applied to clients’ challenges and shared with others.

Become a contrarian  A contrarian perspective doesn’t mean being quarrelsome or negative. It means looking at a problem from a novel angle. A fresh perspective is another hallmark of thought leader-level thinking. When everyone is looking at a topic one way, explore the opposite view.

Create a novel expertise niche Sometimes great insight comes from applying the methods and thinking of one discipline to another — putting expertise in two seemingly unrelated fields together. For example, combining a scientific theory approach to legal services.

Play well with other experts Having a good working relationship with other experts provides access to the most advanced and influential thinking. The thoughts and ideas of others will help you become smarter and develop more insightful content of your own. And don’t forget colleagues. They add credibility to you by association. As a member of an “influential experts club” you’ll have access to shared ideas and possible new business referrals.

Black: How do you share thought leadership?
Frederiksen: Unlike promoting a tangible product, promoting thought leadership can be challenging. Thought leadership is invisible so it must be demonstrated to be experienced. Generally, there are three traditional approaches:

Writing Writing the definitive best-selling book on a topic is the gold standard of thought leadership. However, there are other ways to convey expertise through writing. Articles in trade publications, blog posts, white papers and executive guides are excellent channels to communicate your insights and build your reputation.

Speaking For many experts, public speaking engagements are their single best source of new business leads. Live speaking events are also a great way to meet new people and get fresh input — audience questions can be a source of new insights and inspiration.

Direct Interaction and Networking This involves working with people directly, interacting with colleagues, clients, and prospects in meetings, educational settings, or at conferences. The interaction, however, must provide an opportunity for people to sample the thought leader’s expertise.

Thought leadership has become a powerful tool within the realm of professional services. Marketing your thought leadership through your valuable and insightful content positions both you and your firm as experts, ultimately helping you to generate new business.

Black: Generating new business! Isn’t that what we are all looking to accomplish? Thank you Lee Fredriksen for sharing your insight and giving us another tool to help us reach our goals in 2019.


Lee Frederiksen, Ph.D is managing partner at Hinge Marketing. He is a former researcher and tenured professor at Virginia Tech, where he became a national authority on organizational behavior management and marketing. He left academia to start up and run three high-growth companies, including an $80 million runaway success story.

 

Your marketing strategy is the key to growing your law firm. If your marketing strategy is stale (or non-existent) you’re not going to fuel the growth you’re hoping for. On the other hand, an effective marketing strategy will help you bring in new clients, generate more referrals, and even help you justify higher rates. In this report, I suggest some possible “new additions” to help you take your law firm marketing to the next level.

How can you attract the clients and the work that you legitimately enjoy – and free yourself from the economic pressure to take any matter that shows up at your door?

Here are ten ideas to get your wheels turning. Don’t try to implement all of these at once – I recommend focusing on just one or two initiatives at a time. Which ideas resonate with you and make sense for your firm?

1) Launch a podcast. Podcasting has exploded as a media source – iTunes reports over one billion subscriptions, and hundreds of millions of plays per month. Launching a podcast geared towards your target market is an effective strategy that you can use to educate potential clients, keep them engaged, and build your credibility at the same time. The key is to come up with a theme and a direction that provides genuinely valuable information to your market. As a business attorney, you could focus your podcast on legal pitfalls that entrepreneurs should be aware of. A family attorney could focus on preparing for and navigating the divorce process, including how to protect and care for the children involved. The possibilities are endless. What are the most common questions and misunderstandings that your clients have? Chances are, addressing those issues would make a great podcast.

2) Host events. Creating and hosting in-person events for potential clients and referral sources can generate momentum and enthusiasm for your practice. We’ve seen clients take this strategy in many different directions – from hosting monthly informational sessions for individuals contemplating divorce, to holding quarterly VIP parties for top referral sources, to organizing seminars featuring expert speakers on topics of interest to business owners. Get creative and find an angle to host in-person events and build a community around your law firm.

3) Sharpen your referral strategy. Referrals are a primary source of new business for most law firms, and clients who are referred to you are typically among the most pleasant and profitable to work with. Are you doing everything can to maximize these referrals? Start by identifying your top referral sources and invest time and energy into deepening those relationships. Identify other individuals who are strategically positioned to send a high volume of work your way and create relationships with them as well. The potential payoff makes it worth your personal investment in this relatively short list of individuals. But, don’t neglect your current clients, your past clients, and your larger network. Ensure that you’re creating top-of-mind awareness and continually educating them on what a good referral looks like. Consider creating referral incentives or even holding regular referral competitions to keep your entire network engaged.

4) Targeted sponsorships. Sponsorships can be a big waste of money if you take the wrong approach. Do NOT jump on every opportunity that comes your way. I’ve seen firms spend large sums of money sponsoring organizations, events, or publications that have little-to-no relevance to their target market. On the other hand, if you can identify groups, events, websites, or magazines that your clients are engaged with, sponsorship can make a great deal of sense. The best approach is generally to identify a small number of organizations or publications to sponsor, and to engage with them as deeply as possible. Sponsor their events and ask for speaking opportunities or other visibility. Sponsor newsletters and ask if you can also contribute content. Do your best to create repeated touch-points for members or subscribers – repetition and consistency is key.

5) Offer an audit or check-in to past and current clients. Oftentimes there is more work to be done for your past and even current clients. They just don’t know they need it yet, or they don’t know that you can provide the solution. Solve both problems by creating an “audit” or evaluation for your clients. This could be a worksheet they complete on their own, or it may be a sit-down with you or (even better) someone on your team. The goal is simple: ask them questions about their business, their estate plan, their family life, whatever it may be, and help them to see that they need your help in these areas. Be prepared to explain how you can help them address these challenges or take advantage of the opportunities that you have uncovered together. This simple strategy could result in a massive influx of new work.

6)  Publish a book. There’s arguably no greater tool to establish your credibility and your expertise in your area of practice than publishing a book. While it might sound overwhelming, chances are that you have a good amount of content that you have created over the years which could be re-purposed into a book. If you have a marketing person on your team, assign them to organize this content into an outline. Then, create new content as needed to fill holes and create cohesion. There are a variety of companies out there that can help you lay out and publish your book, and some of them can even help you with the content as well.

Once you’ve had your book printed, the marketing opportunities are endless. Give it away at consultations. Offer it as a gift to past clients. Use it as a door prize at events. It’s a powerful tool that will enhance your credibility and build your brand as an authority in your practice area in a very big way.

7) Network smarter. Networking is a valuable strategy for drumming up referrals and new business, particularly when you’re in the “more-time-than-money” phase of your firm. But it’s important to manage your investment well. Don’t simply attend every event in your area. Instead, identify a small handful of targeted organizations that have great potential and get heavily involved. Don’t just attend, get involved in leadership. Speak at events. You’ll get a much better return from deep involvement in a few carefully selected organizations than you will from surface-level involvement in a large number of groups.

8) Speak. Speaking positions you as an expert and an authority. It’s a great way to attract new clients. Look for opportunities to speak in front of your target market – whether that’s a networking group, a trade association, a seminar or conference, or whatever the case may be. Look for opportunities to educate your audience while building your expertise at the same time. This can include presentations on changing laws and regulations that impact your industry, tips and strategies for your market, best practices for avoiding legal disputes, and more. Just be sure that you’re targeting speaking opportunities that make strategic sense for you – opportunities to reach potential clients in a way that enhances your expertise and your position in the marketplace.

9) Launch a joint venture. Who can you partner with and what can you create to reach a new audience? I know a business lawyer that partnered with a banker and a graphic designer to create a “one stop start-up shop” for entrepreneurs – helping them to address the legal, financial, and marketing needs of their new business all in one place. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box here – who can you join forces with to provide a uniquely valuable product or service for your clients? The advantages to this approach are significant – it represents an opportunity to earn additional income from your existing clients, but more importantly it also gives you access to the clients and customers of your partners in this venture. If you’re creative, you may also tap into a whole “new market” by creating a product or service that didn’t exist previously. Many of these people will expand the relationship over time, engaging you beyond the scope of the initial joint venture.

10) Train your staff to recognize and capitalize on opportunities for new business. Finally, get the team involved. Your staff likely knows people that could use your services or will encounter them in their daily life – and they’ve seen firsthand how your firm creates value for your clients. Teach them how to recognize potential clients, how to engage them, and how to connect them with you (or whoever handles the intake process for your firm.) This doesn’t have to be a complicated process and it frankly shouldn’t be hard for your team to execute. They just need to understand who’s a good fit and be able to briefly articulate the value that your firm provides to those clients. You never know who your team knows, so tap into their network as well as your own. You can consider offering some sort of incentive for your team members, if appropriate. Make it a team effort!

We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and hopefully you’ve gleaned a few ideas that could work for your firm. But it’s important to be realistic about this – don’t bite off more than you can chew. I suggest that you identify one (or two at most) new initiatives to start with. Invest the time to get them up and running and carefully track your results. When you find something that works well, make it a part of your ongoing marketing system and then move on to the next new idea.

 

Most lawyers focus their marketing on the wrong person – themselves. Legal marketing, often, is all about the lawyer. His or her experience, qualifications, education, etc.

But the best marketing isn’t focused on the lawyer. It’s focused on the client. 

Instead of talking about yourself, your marketing should show your prospective clients how you are going to make their lives better. How you’re going to help them achieve success and/or avoid disaster. How you’re going to help them become a better version of themselves and achieve whatever goals or objectives they are pursuing.

A couple of examples…

As a business attorney, you’re helping your clients protect their investment and their life’s work. You’re creating a secure foundation for their family and their future generations. You’re helping them avoid legal and financial disaster. You’re enabling them to become confident, secure, and decisive as they pilot their business.

As a divorce attorney, you’re helping your client close a messy chapter of their life and move towards an exciting fresh start. You’re helping them to create that fresh start with confidence, knowing that they have the resources they need to thrive. You’re enabling them to re-discover themselves and live the next chapter of their life without fear.

Here’s a great commercial that illustrates this concept. The advertiser is Procter & Gamble – and they’re promoting diapers, batteries, laundry detergent, and paper towels. (And you thought your law practice was boring?!)

Yet, there’s not a word spoken about how absorbent the paper towels are, or how the diapers won’t leak. Instead it’s all about their target audience – Moms – and how their products enable mothers to become the person they want to be. The rock for their kids, helping them reach for the stars and achieve the impossible, even when it’s tough.

Just try to watch this without tearing up:

Great marketing isn’t about you. It’s about your clients – how you’re going to help them achieve their goals and become the people they want to be. 

Over the past seven years at Spotlight Branding, we’ve worked with hundreds of lawyers across the country. In that time we’ve had literally thousands of conversations with attorneys. And one of the things that jumps out at me, looking back on those conversations, is how often marketing decisions are driven by tools instead of strategy.

Quite frankly, I don’t blame lawyers for getting this backward – it’s our fault, collectively, in the marketing world. So often, marketers talk exclusively about tools with no regard whatsoever to building a cohesive marketing strategy. 

Here are some examples of a tools-oriented conversation:

  • How can I show up higher on Google?
  • How can I reach more people on Facebook?
  • How can I generate more leads from my website?
  • How can I use Instagram in my marketing?

These aren’t bad questions. But they are secondary questions, and too often lawyers and marketers treat them as the primary questions. And as a result, they end up with a disjointed and ineffective marketing strategy.

There are an endless amount of tools that you can leverage in your marketing, and they’re changing every day. Google, Facebook, email marketing, video, direct mail, billboards, radio, TV, third-party apps, PPC ads, and the list goes on. But if you don’t have a defined strategy to serve as a filter and a guide, to create context for these tools, they end up driving you rather than the other way around. 

If you asked me “how can I show up higher on Google?,” I’d ask you WHY you want to show up on Google.

To get more clients? OK – well what if I told you that there are easier, cheaper, and more predictable ways to get more clients? For example, the average lawyer is only capturing about one-third of the referrals that they could be getting from their existing network. Figuring out how to maximize your referrals is a whole lot cheaper and more predictable than fighting for top position on Google! That’s the low-hanging fruit, and that’s where every lawyer should start.

Rather than worrying about Facebook or Instagram reach, first have the conversation about how you want to use social media in general. Are you using it to build your brand, to generate new “cold” leads, to stay in touch with your referral network? There’s no “right” answer, but what matters is that you’ve defined your objectives.

So rather than focusing on the tools that are available to you, or more accurately, the tools that are being sold to you… here are the types of questions you should be considering:

  • Who is your ideal client?
  • Where does your ideal client spend time? What media sources do they consume? What types of events do they go to?
  • What’s your brand – what do you stand for?
  • What makes you different than the competitors in your market?
  • Who are your best referral sources and how can you stay top-of-mind with them?
  • How many new clients/cases/matters do you need to win each month to meet your financial goals?
  • What is your maximum acceptable Cost of Acquisition – aka how much can you afford to spend to win a new client?
  • How are you going to generate leads?
  • How are you going to build your brand?
  • How are you going to stay in touch with prospective clients who haven’t hired you yet?
  • How can you maximize referrals and repeat business?

Do you see the difference?

Once you’ve answered the big-picture strategic questions, you can talk about the tools in a much more strategic and cohesive way.

Strategy drives tools… the tools exist to serve and execute the strategy. Don’t get it backward! 

Want more tips & inspiration for your law firm marketing? Click here for instant access to our Special Report entitled “How Your Internet Foundation Will Make or Break Your Marketing”!