It’s been a transformational few years in virtually every sector, but law firms big and small have had to contend with a particularly interesting confluence of challenges from both the service and lead generation sides of their businesses, all while managing a monumental shift in the way their business is run.
From zoom depositions to paperless contracts and every remote billable hour in between, law firms - especially consumer-facing ones specializing in personal injury or mass tort - are heading into another year full of challenges… and opportunity.
Trends: how is 2023 different for law firm advertisers?
Emerging trends in law firm advertising point to an exciting perspective shift from partners who notoriously considered marketing their firms a necessary - but unpleasant - nuisance. In fact, a recent Reuters report noted that at least 20 Am Law 200 firms are bringing on new chief marketing officers this year, while salaries for in-house legal marketing professionals in major markets have shot up by as much as 20% since 2020.
Why? Because existential shifts in consumer behavior, work culture, and advertising mechanisms are pushing even the most risk averse partners to recognize the need for high level strategic innovation and planning in an industry that has historically “raced to 2nd place,” in the words of a marketing CEO who asked to remain anonymous.
In fact, a recent survey by the LMA (Legal Marketing Association) found this trend to extend beyond Am Law 200 firms: “Marketing spend is expected to surge in the next 12 months, with 58% of respondents reporting plans to increase overall marketing investment, compared with 42% in 2020–2021. This suggests that firms are moving aggressively to gain a competitive advantage and achieve growth objectives.”
Beyond historical investments in marketing resources and initiatives, here are some of the most significant trends shaping law firm lead generation and nurturing this year:
- A dramatic increase in RFPs, as organizations prepare for an economic downturn that will further squeeze budgets. So while marketing investment is clearly an important strategic move, it will be important to keep develop a functional system to handle the demand: “Close to 60% of respondents reported plans to increase marketing spend in the 12 months, with proposed budget allocations on growth-related strategies, such as business development (75%), practice group support (67%), and competitive intelligence (47%). However, as demand grows, so does competition, making the Request for Proposal (RFP) even more crucial, as more organizations rely on this process to select law firm partners. According to 67% of respondents, they complete more than 75 RFPs in a year, and 54% expect the number of RFPs to increase in the next year.”
- SEO is not what it used to be. It certainly needs to remain a part of any comprehensive campaign, but it does not wield the same influence it did just a few years ago and SEO best practices have changed quite a bit. This means it’s more important than ever to run omni-channel campaigns across devices (which explains the rush to hire marketing professionals who can run and track those types of campaigns.
- Remote work and zoom client calls are not showing any sign of slowing down even though the threat of severe COVID infections has diminished. This means client expectations and overall work culture are going to remain challenging. Market leaders will need to ensure they recognize and address emerging client concerns like data security and maintain a cohesive company culture that can translate into a coherent and compelling brand messaging.
- Overwhelming signal loss brought on by Apple’s ATT (App Tracking Transparency) framework, GDPR policies in Europe, and Google’s 3rd party cookie deprecation deadline have led to exciting new developments in ad tech, notably the meteoric rise of CTV advertising, in 2022. Law firms aiming to differentiate themselves in crowded consumer-facing fields would do well to open their campaigns - and budgets - to new channels. CTV ads are not just a branding or consumer awareness play. They can work together with other forms of digital marketing to make your overall marketing campaign much more successful.
- Settlements are much lower before a lawsuit is filed. Accordingly, most firms are now litigating 70% more cases than they did just ten years ago - a reality that needs to be effectively communicated to clients who may have very different expectations.
Challenges: why is 2023 different for law firm advertisers?
One of the most interesting challenges facing advertisers this year will be to authentically and emphatically address shifts in client priorities. For the first time since launching their annual marketer survey, the LMA found that external client pressures aren’t driven by cost this year, but by operational concerns, such as cybersecurity and a firm’s culture, brought about by remote and hybrid working.
Virtual work styles add obstacles to creating a strong firm identity: law firm leaders who put significant focus on marketing strategy, and centralize the tactics behind it, will be in a much better position to stimulate growth, forge greater client partnerships and keep pace with — if not be ahead of — the competition.
Meanwhile, as mentioned earlier, hyper-competitive SEO (keyword phrases for law firms are costly because so many lawyers compete for highly-competitive search terms) and cookie deprecation are pushing advertisers to diversify their campaign mix and zoom out from last touch attribution to more holistic customer journey tracking. Easier said than done! Specifically, personal injury SEO is considered to be one of the most competitive verticals in all of search engine marketing. If you are one of the estimated 93,000 personal injury attorneys in the U.S., the increasingly fierce competition for Google rankings probably comes as no surprise to you.
Finally, while RFPs will remain a major source of business for most firms, advertisers will need to build enough brand recognition and client nurturing strategies that their firms won’t be beholden to clients willing to shop every case around.
How to successfully capitalize on a shifting landscape
Marketers have been preaching the merits of a diverse marketing mix for years, but it can be hard to convince clients to put in the work when digital channels have so readily yielded results for so long. Well, the digital chickens have come to roost and today a firm that doesn’t diversify its marketing efforts is a firm with a dwindling client roster.
Thankfully, new digital channels like CTV (Connected TV) advertising are opening up new avenues for impactful innovation. Here are some of the ways it can help:
- Hyper-targeted campaigns. Since CTV delivers content digitally, it allows organizations that have never been able to afford several TV campaigns at once to develop several targeted strategies - by case type, by geo-location, by demographic - at a fraction of the cost.
- Testing and flexibility. Easily and inexpensively refresh your creative assets to reflect the new reality of zoom depositions, paperless contracts, etc. and showcase timely testimonials and wins.
- Customisation. Speaking of creative, it’s important to leverage inexpensive video editing tools for maximum impact. Did you know that 80% of consumers are more likely to purchase a service from a brand that provides a personalized experience? Small tweaks that make your audience feel directly spoken to can lead to a serious increase in qualified leads.
- Tracking. While innovation always sounds like something one should do, it’s not always something entrenched leaders want to do. Partners will be expecting a reliable (and rapid) return on investment from marketers pushing the boundaries of traditional law firm advertising. This is where picking the right partner will be especially important. Look for CTV platforms offering GA integration, pixel tracking, and target-specific reporting.
- Simplicity. Work with a platform that your whole team (remote or not) can understand. Vibe.co’s dashboard, for example, allows teams to easily access all video assets, budgets, targets, and reports in one spot