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Six ways law firms can stay out ahead of competitors’ content marketing efforts

The content arms race among lawyers and law firms isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Here’s how to stay ahead of the pack.

Today, there is a fair amount of would-be buyers of legal services and would-be referral sources who are content-driven. When deciding where to purchase legal services from and where to refer potential purchasers of legal services to, they are putting an increasingly higher value on the content lawyers and law firms produce. 

The amount of buyers and referrals doing so is only going to increase as younger generations purchase legal services more often. Younger generations, having been raised on online and social media content, as a first step in the vetting process will check out a firm’s content to determine whether that firm and its lawyers have the knowledge and wisdom to help that potential buyer or potential referral source with their legal or business issue, or their client’s legal or business issue.

As more and more purchasers of legal services and people who can refer those purchasers rely on content, especially thought leadership content, as a primary driver of their purchasing decisions or their referring decisions, law firms need to shift more resources toward the content they create, whether that is doubling down on current content efforts that are successful, or testing new content efforts.

Here are six ways law firms can stay ahead of their competitors’ content marketing and thought leadership marketing efforts as those firms ramp up their content creation efforts.

See what’s working at your firm 

When legal services purchasers and referrers are content-driven, lawyers and their firms can’t afford to dilly-dally with ineffective, mediocre content. They have to double down on content campaigns that are working and cut loose or reduce the campaigns that aren’t working.

Some content efforts might produce a direct ROI by bringing in prospects and clients, such as a popular blog post or recurring research report. 

It will be easy for a firm to determine whether these efforts should continue as is or receive more resources.

But of course, sometimes content can produce an indirect ROI, like when an article attracts the attention of a conference organizer who asks the article’s author to speak at a conference. Then, after presenting at the conference, the author is greeted by an audience member who would like to discuss retaining that author and their firm as counsel.

To find content creation efforts that have provided an indirect ROI, a firm and its lawyers should analyze how new-ish clients have been introduced to the firm and if those introductions can be traced all the way back to particular content marketing or thought leadership marketing efforts.

Talk to your current and prospective clients and referral sources about the content they want to see

You’ll always have one leg up on your competitors when you are giving your target audience exactly the kind of content they want. 

How do you increase the chances that you do this? Talk to current and prospective clients about what kind of content they want to see and how often they want to see it.

Do they want to see written content, like blogs and articles? If so, do they want quick hits or longer form content?

Do they want podcasts? 

Do they want videos?

Do they want a mix of all three?

When you have a sense of your audience’s content preferences, albeit from probably a relatively small sample size, you can build your content efforts around those preferences. 

Obviously, different people will have different preferences, but that’s okay. Obtaining some visibility into your audience’s preferences is a heck of a lot better than operating blindly.

Keep an eye on what your competitors are doing with their content marketing and thought leadership marketing efforts

If you want to stay ahead of your competitors in the content marketing arms race, you’ve got to know how fast they’re moving. Thus, you should be tracking their content marketing and thought leadership marketing efforts.

Are they regularly publishing content? If so, in what forms? 

Is the content timely or is it evergreen?

Are they producing content on a consistent schedule? 

Are there many authors/creators, or only a few?

Does there appear to be a strategy behind the content, or is it a hodgepodge of topics, authors/creators, and mediums?

Perhaps most importantly, is there an opportunity for your firm to swoop in and execute some aspect of a competitor’s content strategy better than they have themselves?

Look beyond your competitors for inspiration from within the legal industry

With that being said, there’s a good chance you won’t find much inspiration in your competitors’ content marketing and thought leadership marketing efforts. Too few lawyers and law firms create content that’s worthy of being emulated. The ones that do are unlikely to be your competitors.

That’s why you should keep your eyes and ears out for interesting content marketing and thought leadership marketing programs across the legal industry that are outside of your substantive practice and geography.

You might be surprised by the inspiration you find from the content marketing programs executed by firms that differ from yours in size, practice groups, and/or geography.

If you’re at a small direct-to-consumer firm like a plaintiffs’ firm or a family law firm, you should check out firms with similar practices that are across the country from you. Likewise, you should also check out what criminal law firms and family law firms are doing. You should even look at what larger corporate defense firms are doing.

Same thing goes if you are at one of those larger corporate defense firms. What are local direct-to-consumer firms doing? What are boutiques doing? Are they doing anything that you can adopt and modify for your practice and audience?

The point here isn’t to find a copy-and-paste-able tactic that you can implement seamlessly. If you stumble upon one, good for you. But more realistically, you’re simply looking for inspiration from lawyers and law firms who aren’t your competitors.

Look for inspiration and trends from outside the legal industry

There are many companies and organizations outside the legal industry that are running best-in-class content marketing and thought leadership marketing campaigns.

Find them and study them.

Travel companies, food and beverage companies, health and beauty companies, and non-profits are the kinds of companies that are in cut-throat industries, which means they need to have content programs that are memorable because they are either executed flawlessly, outside of the box, or off the wall.

Of course, many of these companies will have different target audiences than your firm will (but not always—you don’t think general counsel at large companies purchase makeup or alcohol?). Or, they will be able to get away with more creative or envelope-pushing content based on the kinds of products or services they sell. And, none of these companies are subject to attorney rules of professional conduct. 

But, again, you’re not looking for a campaign to rip off blindly and start implementing at your firm. You’re looking at what’s working for these companies, both in form (like short-form videos or interview-style podcasts) and substance (like light-hearted content).

If you prefer to stay firmly in the professional services realm, many consulting and accounting firms have stellar thought leadership programs that could inspire you and your colleagues to aim higher with your firm’s thought leadership programs.

Stay abreast of the latest technology

Want to employ content marketing and thought leadership marketing programs that run circles around your competitors? Make sure you and your firm are using, or are at least aware of, the latest and greatest in content-creation technology so you and your firm can create high-quality content cheaper and faster than before.

Whether it’s equipment like microphones and lights, or software like video and podcast editing software, the right technology can make a law firms’ content look like it was produced by a massive and expert content team from a Fortune 500 or media company—in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the price the firm would have had to spend just a year or two ago to create it.

When your content looks polished and professional thanks to the equipment and software you’re using to produce it, clients and referral sources will give it more credibility (at the expense of your competitors).

In a content-driven legal world, your firm should aspire to be the pace car

Today, the purchasers of legal services and the people who can refer those purchasers to you are increasingly making their decisions about who to buy from or who to refer to based on law firms’ content, especially their thought leadership content.

The content arms race has been going on for some time, and it’s only going to intensify. As artificial intelligence plays a larger role in content creation, and non-lawyer owners of firms begin pouring money into their portfolio law firms’ content creation efforts, the legal content marketing landscape is sure to get more crowded.

If your firm wants to continue to grow and be seen as the go-to firm for its practices, it needs to make sure it’s proactively taking steps—like the ones I suggested above—to get out ahead of, and stay out ahead of, its competitors in the content marketing and thought leadership marketing game.

Thinking about bringing on an outside writer to help your law firm strategize and create compelling thought-leadership marketing and business development content? Click here to schedule a 30-minute Content Strategy Audit to learn if collaborating with an outside writer is the right move for you and your firm.

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 content strategy and ghostwriting service for lawyers and their law firms. The Law Firm Editorial Service helps Big Law and boutique law firm partners, and their firms, grow their practices and prominence by collaborating with them to strategize and ethically ghostwrite book-of-business-building marketing and business development content.

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