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Photo of the outside of a Costco store.

The not-so-subtle connection between Costco and your thought leadership

Your thought leadership content is a potent marketing and business development tool because it allows clients and referral sources to sample what a working relationship with you might look like.

If you’ve ever walked into a Costco—which you might well have done because as of the date this blog was first published, Costco had 123 million membership cardholders—when you hit the aisles containing food and drinks, there’s a darn good chance you’re going to find people sampling the products that Costco sells.

Costco seems to have been founded and is currently led by some nice people. But the company doesn’t offer these sampling services to be nice. There are business reasons why Costco samples products. 

These reasons are also key reasons why lawyers and law firms need to consistently craft and publish relevant, valuable, and compelling thought leadership content.

Prefer to watch a video about this topic instead? Here you go!

The two main reasons why brands sample products at Costco

Costco works with brands to sample products in its stores for two main reasons.

First, sampling gives members an opportunity to taste a product they (i) have never heard of before, (ii) were on the fence about trying, or (iii) have purchased before. When (i) and (ii) are the case, if the member likes the product, they’ll be more likely to buy it. When (iii) is the case, the member might remember how much they liked the product and decide to buy it again. Whatever the situation, sampling can lead to more sales of the products being sampled.

Second, sampling builds a relationship between Costco members and the brands sampling products. We as humans are wired to want to repay another person when they give us something, especially for free. This is known as the rule of reciprocity. Some members will feel obligated (in a subtle way) to purchase a product they’ve sampled as a form of repayment for being given a sample.

Additionally, by actively putting themselves in front of Costco members, the brands sampling their products can stand out from their competitors because they are increasing members’ awareness of their products—which might lead to sales at Costco or other stores where those products are sold. As members sample these products again in future visits to the store, they might feel more loyalty toward them either for that reason or because of the rule of reciprocity.

Thought leadership is your law firm’s version of Costco’s samples

These reasons why Costco samples products should inspire you and your law firm to ramp up your thought leadership efforts. When you create thought leadership content in the form of a blog, a bylined article in a third-party publication, a podcast, a video, or something else, you are giving a sample. 

You are giving past, current, and prospective clients and referral sources a sampling of various aspects of your legal practice.

For example, when you create thought leadership content, you are obviously giving a sample of your knowledge and wisdom regarding the area of law you practice and/or the industries you serve. You are showing your target audience that you’re knowledgeable and wise because you are thoughtfully commenting on developments regarding that area and within the industry, and (hopefully) communicating the relevance of those developments to your audience.

Additionally, your thought leadership content will include samples of your analytical ability to consider the big picture. When you are tying legal developments or developments in an industry to bigger picture issues affecting your clients and bigger picture concerns your clients could/should have, you are showing off your analytical chops. You are letting your audience know you can analyze a situation and take into account various factors when providing educational information—which will come in handy if they were to retain you for a new matter during which your analytical chops would inform the guidance and counsel you provide them.

Your thought leadership also provides samples of your view of the world. Perhaps you often harp on overzealous prosecutors. Maybe you like to riff on regulators who are not keeping up with the speed of business and technology. Whatever your personal subjective spin is — which is, hopefully, consistent with your clients’ view of the world — you are giving out samples of that to current and prospective clients and referral sources. When you do, you are affirming that you are a lawyer they should consider retaining because you see the world the way they see it.

Your thought leadership also samples your personality. When you inject humor, lightheartedness, or references to pop culture, food and drink, family life, or any other areas outside of the law, you are giving a glimpse of your personality. You are showing your target audience a hint of your personality, which they will see more of down the road if they were to retain you.

Not to be outdone, your thought leadership also builds loyalty. When you are frequently showing up in your target audience’s social media feeds or email inboxes educating them and building rapport with them by demonstrating through your content that you understand the legal and business issues they struggle with and the legal and business developments they need to stay abreast of, you begin to rise above your competitors and peers in their eyes. By being present and providing substantive information your target audience can benefit from, you cement yourself in their minds as an attorney they should turn to. 

Between consistently providing them relevant, valuable, and compelling educational content, and having proven that you are able to do so because you’ve been doing it over time, your target audience will be more willing to take you and your colleagues for a spin.

Follow Costco’s lead and hand out samples via your thought leadership content

Costco is a wonderful place. Whether it’s the cheap food at its “food court,” the large quantities of products you can buy at any given time, or the friendly people handing out those samples, there’s a good reason why Costco has (as of when this post was first published) over 123 million membership cardholders in the United States. But there’s a lesson here for you to take away from Costco: Don’t look at your thought leadership as simply articles, blog posts, videos, or podcasts.

Your thought leadership is more than that. It is a collection of samples, each of which allows your current, past, and prospective clients and referral sources to get a sense of how you might handle their legal problems (or in the referral sources’ situation, their clients’ legal problems), and what working with you might look like.

Your thought leadership content will be the primary way for you to show people who don’t know you, or who only somewhat know you, that the knowledge, wisdom, and character you possess can help them with whatever legal or business issues they might retain a lawyer for. 

That’s because through this content, you will consistently provide them samples of those qualities—a strategy that would make Costco’s executives proud.

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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