Scarlett O’Hara, Michael Corleone, the Titanic, and Your Firm’s Marketing

Scarlett O’Hara, Michael Corleone, the Titanic, and Your Firm’s Marketing

It is a myth that people do not consume long content. They do—but only if it is engaging.

“Gone with the Wind,” originally released in movie theaters in 1939, is the highest-grossing film of all time. The movie raked in more than $7.2 billion worldwide (in 2020 dollars) at the box office. It is a beloved classic (but one that is being reevaluated for its depiction of race and slavery).

When “The Godfather” was released in movie theaters in 1972, it was instantly hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. It took in just shy of $1.5 billion worldwide (in 2020 dollars) at the box office.

Twenty-six years later, when “Titanic” was released, it too staked its claim as an all-time great. It took in more than $2.9 billion worldwide (in 2020 dollars) at the box office.

You know what’s interesting about all three films? They are long. Ridiculously long.

The Godfather runs for 175 minutes (two hours, 55 minutes). Titanic runs for 194 minutes (three hours, 14 minutes). And Gone with the Wind runs for 238 minutes (three hours, 58 minutes)!

Yet people came out in droves to see these three films in theaters. They told their families and friends to see these films. Critics recommended these films to the public. Even today, decades after they were first released, these films are watched year after year by millions of people across the world.

The ‘Short content’ Myth

These films are so engaging, no one seems to mind that they could spend a sizable chunk of a day watching just one of them. These films prove that we humans do not care too much about the length of a piece of content so long as we find it engaging.

And yet, you frequently hear “experts” proclaim that you must keep your law firm’s marketing content, like blog posts and videos, short.

These “experts” declare that you must keep your marketing content brief because the attention span of your target audiences these days is supposedly microscopic.

Those audiences are easily distracted, you are told, so they are not going to stick around to consume your content. And if heaven forbid you create long content, those audiences are likely to abandon you forever and run into the open arms of your competitors.

These “experts” are wrong.

Much like Hollywood blockbusters, if your firm’s marketing content engages its target audiences, it will hold their attention for as long it can keep them engaged.

Think about it. If no one consumes long content anymore why do we still watch two-hour-long and three-hour-long movies? Why do we continue to read 300-page books? Why do we binge-watch hours upon hours of television shows?

Because movies, books, and television shows entertain us in ways that keep us engaged.

A Three-Step Process for Creating Engaging Marketing Content

Unfortunately for you, the legal industry is not Hollywood. Keeping an audience engaged with legal-related content that tends to tackle complex and not-exactly-electrifying topics is no small feat. But it can be done.

Your target audiences WILL consume your law firm’s marketing content for as long as that content keeps them engaged. But engaging content does not just fall from the sky.

It has to be created—intentionally and strategically.

Here are three steps you and your colleagues should take to craft engaging blog posts, bylined articles, client alerts and other marketing content.

  • First, choose a topic that aligns with your audiences’ interests and concerns.

A business owner contemplating suing the co-owner of their business probably does not care about proposed changes to their local jurisdiction’s rules of civil procedure or a recent appellate court’s ruling on a thorny venue issue.

That prospective client will, however, almost certainly want to know how to operate their business while they are locked in litigation with their co-owner.

A key to creating engaging content is to know, before you start, what your audiences are thinking and feeling so that you can address those thoughts and feelings. The more aligned your content is with what’s on your audiences’ minds, the more compelling and engaging your audiences will find that content.

The best way for you to know what’s on your audiences’ minds is to—surprise!—ask them. You will no doubt find that time after time, clients facing similar legal issues tend to have similar questions and concerns about the road ahead. Today’s client concern is the inspiration for next week’s blog post or client alert.

  • Next, create content that is accessible and easy to digest.

If you want your audiences to stay engaged for the duration of your content, they have to be able to digest it. That means speaking in plain English.

Actually, I will go one better. Your content should be in everyday English. It should be informal and conversational. But it must also strike a balance between being approachable and being polished. On one hand, you should not write marketing content in a style that evokes a comments section accompanying an online news article. On the other hand, if you write marketing content like you write a legal research memo to a colleague, your audiences will probably not stick around past the first few paragraphs.

Digestible content is important, but so is a digestible structure. No matter the medium, speak in short paragraphs and short sentences. Use subheadings when you create written content. Explain where you are going before you get there when you create video or audio content. If your audiences cannot follow your logic as they consume your content, they are unlikely to consume it for long.

(You can learn more about writing accessible and digestible content by reading my previous column, The Six Habits of Highly Effective Law Firm Thought-Leadership Content.)

  • Finally, use attention-grabbing headlines and email subject lines.

The headlines and email subject lines that accompany your thought-leadership content and other marketing content must be snappy. They must grab your target audiences’ attention. They should pique your audiences’ interest in a way that compels them to continue reading, watching, or listening.

This is the third step in the process, but it is essential that you and your colleagues nail it. If you are unable to get your audiences to click the links or open the emails that stand between them and your content, they are never going to consume that content, no matter how engaging it might be. Engaging content that does not get consumed will do nothing for you.

Want to learn how to create better headlines and email subject lines? Pay attention to the headlines and email subject lines that got you to click a link or open an email. How were they structured? Reverse engineer them and put them to work for your and your firm’s content.

Beware of Asking Too Much of Your Audience

If you have made it this far, you have consumed a bit more than 1,100 words. Thank you. I hope you are still here because you are finding this column engaging.

As a token of my appreciation, I will wrap this column up shortly. Could I write another 1,100 words on how to make your law firm’s marketing content engaging? Probably. But I will not do so because I do not want to overstay my welcome.

That’s an important caveat to the premise of this column. Just because you could write an engaging 2,500-word client alert or host a 90-minute webinar does not mean that you should. We have all seen movies that went on for 20 minutes longer than they should have.

No matter how engaging your marketing content is, after a while the law of diminishing returns will set in. You and your colleagues should feel free to take as long as you need to get your point across in your marketing content—but no longer.

Stand Out From the Pack

As tempting as it is to follow the pack and create increasingly shorter pieces of marketing content, I suggest you “zig” while everyone else continues to “zag.”

Your peers and competitors are going to publish their 500-word blog posts and 90-second-long videos. They will insist that doing so is what modern legal marketing requires. But chances are good that their content will be too short to be impactful. Worse for them (and better for you), they will likely conflate their content’s brevity with it being engaging.

Do not shy away from creating long content. So long as it is engaging, you have nothing to fear. When you serve your audiences long, engaging content, you will make a better impression on them than your peers and competitors will when they serve them the marketing morsels those peers and competitors swear are required today for their marketing content to be successful.

Moving forward, should you ever receive feedback from peers and experts declaring that your law firm’s engaging marketing content is too long to be effective, I recommend you take a deep breath, smile, and politely say to them, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Wayne Pollock, a former Am Law 50 senior litigation associate, is the founder of Copo Strategies, a legal services and communications firm, and the Law Firm Editorial Service, a ghostwriting service for attorneys and their law firms. The Law Firm Editorial Service ghostwrites Big Law-quality attorney-written thought-leadership marketing content for attorneys so that they can market themselves while staying billable. Contact him at waynepollock@copostrategies.com or 215-454-2180.

Reprinted with permission from the September 1, 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 reprints@alm.com.

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