A new study shows that organizations are paying attention, and buying services because of, thought-leadership marketing.
At this point in the evolution of legal marketing, most attorneys who know something about the topic know they should be writing or speaking frequently about the areas of law they practice.
It’s so obvious: What better way to show current and prospective clients and referral sources that you deserve their business and referrals than to show them how knowledgeable you are about the legal topics you counsel clients on day-in, day-out?
This kind of marketing, generally known as “thought leadership” marketing, has been a mainstay in the legal practice for decades. Long before digital marketing and even the catchy jingles and toll-free numbers brought about by Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, attorneys had been writing and speaking about the notable issues and trends they were seeing in their legal practices.
Today, however, in the face of the drive for ever-increasing revenue and profits, law firms and their attorneys often put thought-leadership marketing on the backburner.
After all, every minute an attorney spends creating thought-leadership marketing content is a minute they cannot bill to a client in need of that attorney’s services at that very moment.
But four statistics from a recent study should change the attitude of those attorneys and law firms who think thought-leadership marketing is unworthy of a consistent investment of time and resources.
LinkedIn and global public relations firm Edelman recently released their third annual “2020 B2B thought leadership impact study.” In late 2019, the organizations surveyed 1,164 U.S. business executives “who are involved in vetting, recommending, and making final decisions on their company’s choice of professional service providers or products” on how their consumption of thought leadership impacts their decision-making. About a third of the respondents were also surveyed on how their own organizations produced thought leadership.
Just so we’re clear, the study defined thought leadership as “free deliverables organizations or individuals produce on a topic they know a lot about and feel others can benefit from having their perspective on.” For the purposes of this study, these deliverables did not include “content primarily focused on describing an organization’s products or services.”
53% of decision-makers spend an hour a week reading thought-leadership content, while 20% spend almost an hour a day doing so.
With half of the people your law firm is targeting through its marketing efforts consuming thought-leadership materials on a weekly basis (at a minimum), you and your colleagues would be foolish to not get into that game and produce that kind of content.
But just because someone or some practice at your firm is producing thought leadership on a regular basis doesn’t mean your firm’s work is done. It’s tempting—but ill-advised—to think that because one of your firm’s practices has established its thought leadership in the markets it serves, other practices at your firm will be considered thought leaders by association.
To really get into the thought-leadership game, your firm must look at the attorneys and practices at your firm that have potential for growth and develop a thought-leadership marketing strategy for them. This includes mapping out the specific audiences you want to reach, how to reach them, and the type of content (both form and substance) that will demonstrate knowledge on a particular topic.
88% of decision-makers said that thought leadership has enhanced their perceptions of an organization.
This 88% figure is actually an average of three inputs. 90% of respondents said an organization’s thought leadership increases their respect for that organization. 88% said thought leadership increases their perception of an organization’s capabilities. And 86% said that it increased their trust in the respect for an organization.
Think about that for a second. By simply consuming content you and your firm have created that demonstrates knowledge on a particular legal or business topic that is of interest to them, almost nine out of 10 past, present, and future clients and referral sources will think more highly of you or your firm.
Through these perception-enhancing superpowers, attorneys and their firms can—and should—use thought-leadership content to strengthen bonds with current clients and referral sources, and ignite relationships with former and future ones.
Assuming that your thought-leadership content is high quality (more on that in a moment), it is virtually a slam dunk that the consumer of that content will view you or your firm in a more favorable light than before they encountered it.
41% of decision-makers said that they are more willing to pay a premium to work with an organization that produces thought-leadership content.
On one hand, this statistic suggests that only about half of the decision-makers whose perceptions of an organization are improved by its production of thought leadership are willing to put their money where their mouths are and pay a premium for that organization’s services. For this segment of the legal-services-buying population, the halo effect created by thought leadership is more likely to lead to longer, deeper relationships than to a willingness to pay higher fees.
On the other hand, four out of 10 decision-makers are more willing to pay a premium to work with a law firm that produces thought-leadership content!
Effective thought-leadership marketing isn’t just a way for attorneys and their firms to separate themselves from their competitors when it comes to the perceived higher quality of their practices. It also gives them an opportunity to play off of that premium positioning and seek premium fees.
17% of decision-makers said most of the thought leadership they read was very good or excellent.
In other words, 83% of decision-makers felt the thought-leadership content they read was “good” or “mediocre to very poor.”
While this survey was not focused on purchasers of legal services, can there be any doubt that those purchasers would report being similarly underwhelmed by the legal thought-leadership content they consume? Of course not. Have you looked recently at the content your competitors are producing?
With such a large number of respondents being less than wowed by the current state of thought leadership, opportunities abound for motivated attorneys and law firms to begin strategic thought-leadership marketing programs focused on producing high-quality content relevant to their target audiences.
No matter what or where you and your firm practice, I’m willing to bet you both are missing opportunities to take advantage of the vacuum created by the lack of quality thought-leadership marketing materials in those areas.
A bonus statistic that serves as a warning: 25% of decision-makers said that they have sometimes not awarded business to an organization after reading their thought leadership.
Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson is credited with saying “anything worth doing is worth doing well.” He wasn’t referring to thought-leadership marketing but his quote applies with full force to it.
There are a number of reasons why thought-leadership content might rub its target audience the wrong way. It might be poorly written. It might be unhelpful. It might be irrelevant. It might be untimely. Whatever the reason, for at least some of that target audience, poorly constructed thought-leadership content can serve as a repellent.
I’ll save for another day tips for creating thought-leadership content that connects with its target audience. In the meantime, and in light of this statistic, attorneys and their marketing and business development colleagues should work together to ensure that all thought- leadership content created by their firms are strategically and substantively designed to appeal to the content’s target audiences in a way that draws them closer to the firm and does not push them away.
Five Stats, but Only One Path Forward
While this survey wasn’t focused on the purchasers of legal services, attorneys and their firms should heed the lessons provided by these five statistics as well as by the survey’s other findings.
If this survey is any indication, law firms that consistently invest time and resources into a thought-leadership marketing program are highly likely to see an impressive return on that investment.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to develop a strategic thought-leadership marketing program in your practice and at your firm.
Reprinted with permission from the March 10, 2020, edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited, contact 877-257-3382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.