Several decades ago, law firm advertising was taboo. Today, many attorneys are feeling the pressure to become marketing pros in order to stay competitive. Unfortunately the legal marketing environment has become more complicated driven by rapid changes in media consumption, new technology and increased competition. This creates opportunities for law firms willing to navigate the new media landscape in search of new clients. The following brief is intended to be a
status check for attorneys and law firm advertisers to help them make smarter marketing decisions.
Throughout this paper, we will highlight key predictions and trends.
Back in the day, marketing your law firm used to be much simpler. Attorneys relied mostly on referrals and word of mouth and it was less common for firms to buy
media like radio, print and billboards. Today, many law firms are heavily invested in the traditional channels mentioned above and in ones that did not even exist 20 years ago like social media and search engine marketing. Media consumption habits have changed dramatically, driven by new technology such as mobile phones, social media, and streaming audio and video services. Today, firms are investing more in digital than ever before and for good reason.
“According to a survey conducted by Lexis-Nexis Martindale-Hubbell, the vast majority (76%) of consumers are finding attorneys online today” [1.]
A lawyer trying to market his/her firm now has the ability to reach potential clients on social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram organically and with paid ads. Recently launched ad networks on top of Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, and Apple provide even more media buying options. Hence, in 2019, a law firm marketer must be familiar with many more marketing channels in order to build brand and drive
client acquisition. This is not easy for a practicing attorney with a full caseload so many are turning to marketing firms for help.
The Rise of Social Media & Privacy Concerns
Of all of the new channels, the growth of social media, and most notably Facebook, is impossible for any legal marketer to ignore. Over the last few years, law firms across the country have started to use Facebook and their advertising products to promote themselves in a variety of ways. Just as firms were moving budgets over to social media, the headlines of alleged data misuse and violations of user privacy began to dominate the newswires.
In 2019, the implications of increased scrutiny by regulatory agencies of social media platforms like Facebook will continue to surface. In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook announced sweeping changes to their advertising terms and conditions and stepped up their enforcement of policies. Since the language in many law firm ads is similar to political ads, it has been documented by LawyerMarketing that ads for attorneys are being rejected more often. Up to 20% of law firm ads are restricted when they are flagged by Facebook [2.] Further, the social media giant has restricted certain partner categories previously
available for ad targeting and tightened up policies and features that allow advertisers to build targeted audiences with third party data. Social media will continue to be an important tool for legal marketers in 2019 but expect more changes in reaction to privacy concerns that might lead to more restrictions to their ad products.
These platforms still enable lawyers to connect with potential clients with engaging content. Many great examples exist of law firms using social media without paid promotion.
A Few Players’ Digital Dominance
The rise of digital has also given birth to several giants in the legal marketing world. They are Google, InternetBrands and Justia. Every lawyer reading this has probably gotten tons of sales pitches from SEO firms that promise to get their firm on the first page of Google. Some of you are probably obsessing about your SEO rankings right now. In addition to Search, Google owns Adwords, Display Network, YouTube and many other products that integrate with many people’s daily lives. This makes them uniquely positioned to be a great marketing solution for just about every type of product and service including law firms. Some firms have budgets of well over a million dollars per year just for Google. It’s likely they will continue to be a dominant force in digital marketing for years to come.
Also, every attorney has most likely heard of AVVO and maybe Nolo Martindale too. Both belong to the holding company InternetBrands. If Google owns search for law firms, InternetBrands along with another family of websites named Justia owns content and reviews. These companies have successfully executed an acquisition play to create a portfolio of websites that churn out tons of keyword rich blog content and user generated reviews. Firms trying to rank high on Google find they’re extremely difficult to compete with and they dominate the coveted top results of legal search terms. Not surprisingly, they’ve built an extremely profitable business selling leads to law firms generated from their c
pretty good job providing high quality leads to law firms. However, it could be argued that their business is basically on referrals that are unethical and perhaps illegal. Some regulators agree, for example, AVVO was fined in 2018 by the Attorney General of New York for their lack of transparency about advertising relationships [3.] In the aftermath, they shut down AVVO marketing services and relaunched a slightly different offering under a new name, Martindale-Avvo. Google, on the other hand, has been more successful in the United States avoiding issues with state Bar associations by putting restrictions in place well before online privacy became a huge news story.
Digital Dependency Issues
Influenced by the highly motivated sales teams of the companies above, many firms have become dependent and addicted to digital performance-based marketing. This is at the expense of building a strong brand with tried and true tactics. Take search for example: many firms pour lots of resources into SEO competing with the biggest LeadGen sites mentioned above in the rankings, however, it’s only one tool in the modern legal marketer’s swiss army knife. It seems counter-intuitive,
but direct mail and outdoor (billboards, bus shelters, benches) still provide great value. In 2019, firms will continue to fork over lots of money to the big players like Google, Justia and InternetBrands for leads but the smart ones will diversify into channels that are less saturated and/or build their brand.
Our point? LeadGen sites, SEO and PPC are great but susceptible to growing competition, environmental and regulation issues that could make them less viable. They also have already become increasingly more expensive and taxing on marketing budgets. Every law firm is getting as many SEO, lead gen and PPC pitches as yours therefore we think these channels will provide diminishing returns as they get even more saturated.
Non-Lawyers & Questionable Tactics
Over the last few years, we’ve seen more competition from non-lawyers in the form of tech firms and marketing agencies. Consumers today have easy access to inexpensive legal services online through providers like LegalZoom. Even government agencies have gotten much better at streamlining and digitizing legal processes so average people can handle certain matters themselves. Growing competition for legal work doesn’t stop there. We’ve seen large amounts of media bought by attorney referral services in certain states such as Florida. These experienced advertisers exist solely to drive leads for attorneys in their network.
Non-lawyer marketing plays have become big competition in legal areas such as personal injury and even traffic tickets. In other states such as California, inexpensive Online Trial By Declaration services have popped up and are stealing business from real law firms that fight traffic citations. While attorney referral services are regulated to a degree, they are subject to looser advertising restrictions, often making misleading claims about their questionable business practices. Some have recently come under scrutiny and been sued by insurance companies for these reasons. Many attorneys argue that these services are not in the best interest of the client and operate within unethical legal advertising grey areas.
In summary, all of the non-lawyer competition is creating less work for real lawyers. It has also created a need for lawyers to become more deft at marketing.
MOVING ON AND UP IN 2019
In 2019, it’s important for a firm to take an omnichannel approach to marketing that incorporates online and offline media channels. To some degree, firms must deal with the big players for search and discovery but what else is out there and how can it be used to attract clients in 2019?
Invest In Brand & Performance Marketing
With the rise of digital, firms have started to depend on performance marketing tactics like PPC and started to neglect more traditional brand building tactics like media buys and sponsorships. The truth is that both have a crucial role in building a successful law practice; performance marketing definitely works but has diminishing returns.
Companies that think longer term and invest in their brand see great dividends in the long run. Having a strong brand is what keeps your firm top of mind and
remembered when a client needs your firm’s services. While it’s much harder to track than PPC, it can be a firm’s strongest marketing asset when in it for the long
Revisit Old Tactics That Deliver
Older tactics previously commonplace such as direct mail have almost been forgotten in the age of digital. However, thanks to advances in data mining, it’s better than ever before. Today, we have access to more data than ever before and the ability to analyze data quickly in order to capitalize on timely marketing opportunities. For example, most legal filings are public information which are available to download and analyze. Here you can look for signals such as court orders, foreclosures, live events, property purchases, divorces, traffic accidents, speeding tickets and criminal arrests. Using these signals you can then find
and deliver mail to potential clients with a timely need for your legal services. Finally, with new advances in attribution analytics we’re able to understand the ROI
of mail campaigns. The conversion rates are surprisingly high and the costs are low when compared to digital ads. Want to know more about the return of Direct Mail? Ask us.
In recent years, we’ve heard attorneys express that “TV is dead.” Our position is that statement depends on your 2019 definition of “TV.”
According to eMarketer’s forecast, TV ad spending was expected to decline half a percent in 2018 to $69.87 billion, less than a third (31.6%) of US ad spending. However, over-the-top (OTT) platforms are starting to take up more of media budgets [4.] Spending on Hulu is anticipated to rise 13.2 percent to $1.1 billion while spending on Roku is expected to increase 93 percent, to a total of $293 million. It’s likely we’ll see some other big players, like Amazon, generating revenue from streaming video and gaming soon. Could there be a sleeping giant in this space? Apple also has a box that sits in many people’s homes next to their TVs.
The law firm commercial is certainly not dead. It is still a great brand building tool for law firms but it no longer lives on just TV. “15 seconds is the new 30 seconds” and these spots are now on YouTube, Hulu, Amazon and more. New tracking and targeting features available through digital/OOT platforms are much better than any TV ratings. Legal marketers in 2019 must understand TV2.0’s new performance metrics like YouTube’s brand lift and awareness scores because views are just part of the equation.
Age of Attribution
As the amount of marketing channels has increased so has the demand for tracking solutions that prove the ROI from campaigns. For example, a large firm might have investments in TV, OOT, PPC, Social Media Ads and outdoor media and radio. Up until recently it was very hard to track how each of these channels generate new business leads. Today, we have sophisticated call tracking technology that helps us identify the source and quality of calls. Through a process called dynamic number insertion, unique phone numbers can be automatically applied to track digital channels with more detail than ever before. Having clarity into the ROI of marketing campaigns is extremely valuable for planning and validating all marketing tactics. These solutions are affordable but require some technical knowledge to set up. Interested in attribution solutions for your firm? Ask us.
Automation, Apps & Bots
In the last few years, apps that carry out simple legal tasks such as contesting a parking ticket or bots that screen candidates to see if they’re qualified for a class action started to get some traction. In 2019, this trend will only continue to grow. Law firms are also building their own tools to attract and retain clients. For example, using a data-driven approach similar to direct mail, it’s possible to deliver timely emails and text messages when previous clients need legal services. All of this is done by bots with no human resources required except for answering leads and responses. This too can be automated or forwarded to answering services so potential clients get answers when they want them. In the digital age people expect instant responses so firms that integrate this into their client experience will succeed.
Our crystal ball says the world of legal advertising will continue to grow and become more complex. Firms have many more media channels at their disposal;
however, none have the performance capabilities of Google and lead gen services owned by InternetBrands. This has lead some law firm marketers to believe that other channels and brand building does not work. Our position is that brand building, diversifying into non-digital channels and having proper attribution analytics are essential for successful law firm marketing. This is becoming even more important as the digital advertising giants are changing their products in response to privacy concerns. Law firms fed up handing huge chunks of their marketing budgets to the big players should be willing to experiment with new tactics like OOT video and revisit old ones like direct mail to continue to grow in the long term.
In 2019, competition will only heat up. Is your firm ready?
SnapLeads powers data-driven marketing tools for law firms, professional services providers and other businesses. Founded in 2014 and headquartered in Miami, Florida, the company focuses on technology that streamlines prospecting for new clients and retaining old ones.