Legal digital marketing is exploding – but don't forget: it’s a relationship business

Visits to law firm websites and engagement with digital content skyrocketed during the pandemic

Judith McKay

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, digital marketing (like e-alerts) educated clients and positioned law firms as thought leaders. But it was one-to-one conversations that usually sealed the deal to work with clients on their most important issues.

Then everything went digital overnight.

Visits to law firm websites and engagement with digital content skyrocketed as clients sought information to help them through the new normal. The relationships that law firms and clients valued– formed through personalized conversations – shifted. Interactions between law firms and clients became more about doing the work since virtual social relationships suffered from ‘Zoom Fatigue.’ The biggest tell for this was the staggering increase in the volume of proposals seen in 2020-2021.

The pandemic changed how we all consume news, interact online, and make buying decisions. While face-to-face interactions are returning in a big way, research shows that RFP volume will increase and many top legal decision-makers still prefer to meet outside counsel virtually. Clients continue to spend a significant amount of time online learning about their law firm lawyers through LinkedIn and online searches. Law firms and their lawyers’ online identities are more important than ever.

So, what does the evolving way clients and law firms interact mean for digital marketing strategies?

  1. A digital marketing strategy must connect to client needs

A typical legal digital marketing toolkit includes articles, blogs, social media, websites, lawyer biographies, industry publications, and multi-media education (including webinars and podcasts). These tools help law firms build a profile, establish credibility, and engage with clients outside of the one-to-one relationships with lawyers.

For these tools to be meaningful to clients, they must speak to what clients care most about. What keeps them up at night? Where do they expect growth? What trends present opportunities for their businesses?

In the past, law firm lawyers were the primary holders of information on what is of interest to clients garnered through personal relationships. While this is still true, research teams and legal marketers play an increasingly important role. They can:

  • Understand the market and identify emerging industry trends through modern market intelligence tools
  • Engage the right experts within and outside the firm to share this intelligence through information hubs and flush out the potential impact on clients
  • Identify the proper communication channels and strategies, including sharing content through multiple media, so clients have different ways of absorbing the information
  • Rally the right lawyers to develop meaningful and relevant content
  • Develop a regular cadence of content based on client relevance

The role of research and legal marketers has shifted from one that executes on requests to one that proactively identifies opportunities and makes things happen. To facilitate this shift, integrated task forces where cross-practice lawyers and marketers work collaboratively to monitor trends and catalyze content development can ensure clients receive relevant content that helps them see around the corner.

  1. A curated client experience is the future of legal digital marketing

Information consumption has changed. Client preferences for what they want, when, and in what format constantly evolve. Clients frequently speak about an overabundance of digital information, which means it will be seen as low value, or worse spam, if firms don’t do it right.

Analytics can play an essential role in meeting clients’ information needs:

  • With the right aggregated data analytics (e.g., readership stats), you can see what content hits the mark and test why, such as timing, format, and frequency. This approach empowers law firms to hone their messages to what resonates best with a broader cross-section of clients.
  • With advanced marketing automation platforms, firms can factor in explicit client preferences (e.g., subject matter that clients have selected to be of interest) with implied client preferences (e.g., individual client behaviour as they interact with digital content). These tools enable firms to curate a unique client experience – clients will influence what they receive from a firm, mirroring their experience with other purchases (e.g., clothing, books, etc.).

Combining aggregated data analytics and user-specific behaviours offers the potential to ensure that clients receive the most relevant content for their interests and needs.

  1. Digital marketing strategies are not adjacent to one-to-one relationships; they support them

Legal services delivery is a relationship business. Clients choose their law firms based on their confidence and trust in the lawyers at the firm and are not likely to buy services based strictly on online presence. So how can your digital strategy support the relationships needed to build the confidence and trust of clients?

  • Provide lawyers and business development teams with access to client-specific data to better understand each client’s needs/preferences. An advanced client relationship management (CRM) system is ideal for supporting this approach
  • Frequently connect the dots between what clients are engaging with online and what individual clients need in terms of information and services
  • Equip firm lawyers with the digital tactics and insights needed to support proactive, individual client outreach in ways that are helpful and informative for clients

Law firms offer personal services, including expertise and advice. This means that while digital marketing is more influential than ever before in the buying process, relationships are still of paramount importance. However, designed with clients in mind, the right digital marketing strategy enhances client relationships by helping them get the critical information they need when they need it. The firms that are constantly adapting to the evolving digital marketplace of ideas and learning from real-time client data will continue to add real value to clients.

Vidya Ledsham assisted with this article. She is Director, Clients & Markets at McCarthy Tétrault LLP and oversees many important client and business development initiatives.

Judith McKay will be speaking about “Enhancing your brand and marketing ‘toolbox’ in the digital era” at The LegalTech Summit Canada on June 12.

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