Many years ago, we were working on branding for an oncologist. This oncologist’s story had an unusual, resonant component: Within a very short time, during his formative years, he lost both his father and his uncle to cancer. It shook his world. That was when he vowed to become a cancer doctor. And as a cancer doctor, one of the things he wanted his patient to know is they weren’t alone. He was there to be a partner in this treatment. And if the patient ever felt alone and in need of a conversation, they had the doctor’s personal cell phone number.
This doctor’s brand was magnetic to someone experiencing the emotional upheaval of a cancer diagnosis. The reason is not because this doctor was the best in the nation, or was oncologist to the celebrities, or that he was a media personality. His brand was magnetic because he understood something integral to human nature: people want relationships.
This is not an exhortation for you to hand out your personal cell number willy nilly. Hardly. Instead, it’s a recognition of a fundamental truth about hiring a lawyer. As you know, nobody really wants to do it. Instead, they feel they must hire a lawyer. Often, they feel this way under duress. It might not be as serious as a cancer diagnosis, but it’s serious enough that they feel a loss of control.
So, how do you persuade this person under duress that you’re the lawyer they need? One way is to let your prospect peek behind the curtain. The oncologist was good at it. He had a personal story that implied not just sympathy but empathy.
We know an employment law attorney who was once employed by a big litigation firm. She defended corporations against charges made against them by employees. Eventually, she stopped feeling good about her job. She went out on her own, and began representing the plaintiffs. And her story resonated with her base of prospects. This made her appealing, and made the prospect feel that this would be a worthy relationship.
Another client, an estate planning attorney, had a personal story of loss that resonated with her prospect base. Her own father had died without an estate plan, and her mother was left bereft and destitute. She dedicated her life to making sure what happened to her family didn’t happen to others. Her prospects immediately felt this was a professional with whom pursuing a relationship was a worthy idea.
People don’t want to hire attorneys, but they do want relationships. And the more you can bring to the table about the intangible benefits of having a relationship with your firm, the more likely you are to be magnetic to the person who needs your service. Your personal story matters, especially when it has relevance to the prospect who might want to hire you.
I've spent a great part of my career working in the voiceover industry. There's a popular “branding” exercise undertaken by a lot of radio and voiceover people. They go find a font for their name. Then they dig up a graphic of a microphone. They put them together and use it as a logo.
It’s a branding exercise designed to make the prospect say, “So what?” It says zero about who they are, what they sound like, what their attitude is, or anything else that matters. When you're hiring a VO guy, a microphone is the price of entry.
It’s as if you’re a carpenter, and your branding is a hammer. Or if you’re a writer and your branding is a quill pen. Or if you’re a lawyer and your logo is…
Scales of justice.
If anyone who does what you do can change the name and use your brand, it’s not branding. It’s whitewash. It’s indistinctive and meaningless.
Does that sound harsh?
For your law firm, your brand is the one way your core client should feel about the firm. “One way” because focus is essential. It’s the same in your practice. Without focus, you can't do your job. Same with branding. You identify your “core client” because once you define the person to whom you’re speaking, it becomes possible to speak in a way that resonates. And “feel” because decision making is an emotional process. Influencing a decision is difficult without appealing to the correct emotions.
Does this sound like salesman hoohah? Consider the words of famed neuroscientist, Dr. Donald B. Calne: “The essential difference between emotion and reason is that emotion leads to action, while reason leads to conclusions.”
The job of marketing is not to lead the prospect to a conclusion. That’s the job of a legal argument. The job of marketing should be to inspire action. And in our case, we want to inspire the right client to feel like you’re the right lawyer. The desired action is a request for consultation.
There are various ways to do this. But the foundational effort, the background app, as it were, is your brand. You don’t need to brand yourself like the PI attorney who rocks or the DUI guy who's the top gun. But you do need to distill your personality into an identifiable persona that is evocative for the right prospect. Just like the Firm Appeal brand does not appeal to a lawyer who wants a $500 website, your website should appeal to a prospect who wants something better than the best price on law by the pound.
You may not have a logo and a fancy slogan. (Both are elements of brand, but not branding in and of themselves.) Nonetheless, you require brand definition. Call it your legal persona. Everything in your marketing plays back to that persona. When properly defined and conveyed, your persona helps the right client make the decision to call you.
“I’m not interested in getting found on Google. I just want a place to send people when they ask about my website.” In all the years we've been working with attorneys on their websites, this is the most common refrain we hear.
Isn’t that crazy? Why on earth would you not want to get found on Google? Well, it’s pretty simple: The lawyers saying this don’t need the kind of business Google is going to send them. They don’t want tire kicking price shoppers who see lawyering as a commodity. “I’d like half a pound of divorce law, please. What’s your best price?”
Many of the lawyers we serve thrive on referrals. And at this time in the 21st century, even for a referral, having no website means you don’t exist. It’s the problem Descartes didn’t have to grapple with: "I have a website, therefore I am."
Also, a lot of these lawyers know the cost of competing with the 600-pound gorillas of law-firm SEO. “I can spend six figures on SEO, or I can buy a house in Belize. Hmm. Decisions.” They know that spending a quarter million bucks to compete with a big firm in a market like New York or San Francisco is a losing proposition. Much smarter is to put fewer marketing dollars into more tactical media.
When a referral does come their way, they want a website that improves the odds of converting that referral into a client. Also, they want to have the same appeal for the prospect who finds the website through other avenues, like social or video or blogging or traditional advertising. They want a website that makes it clear who they are, what they do, and how a client should feel about them.
That doesn’t mean there is zero SEO. There are SEO fundamentals. For instance, when someone searches your name, your website should appear in the search. That’s Website Building 101. But at the end of the day, you are not Baker McKenzie. Your game is about being efficient, nimble and cost effective. There’s no reason to try and compete in the SEO arms race with the superpowers. You are a marketing guerrilla. Approaching it that way is how you thrive.
IT IS PRESENTED AS A TRUTH THAT "Without SEO, lawyers die." What if you defy this ostensible truth? In a business where referral is king, SEO is useful. It just isn't a silver bullet. Instead, be human. Be evocative. Be the best part of you. A search engine can't understand that. But your client can.
Blaine Parker writes good words for good lawyers. Learn more at Firm Appeal.