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The Only Bad Marketing is No Marketing

By Kim Proxmire
November 5, 2012
The Only Bad Marketing is No Marketing

Marketing takes many shapes, especially in the legal profession, but generally speaking, even in a compromised economy the only bad marketing is no marketing. And the next level of bad marketing is marketing without a strategic plan, particularly when resources are less and competition is more fierce. Every firm can benefit from a well-designed marketing strategy. The ever-increasing levels of competition, specialization and buyer sophistication have made it essential for firms to do a better job of forecasting and planning for their future. Studies show that firms that set goals, determine priorities and develop written plans consistently outperform those that do not. But it still seems that some (ok, many) still aren’t undertaking marketing and business development in a systematic or strategic manner. With the whiplash many firms experienced from the recession, there isn’t a better time than now to engage in the process of discussing and setting goals and determining priorities to more effectively guide the firm’s limited resources and to better insulate the firm’s future.

The Importance of Strategic Planning

A firm’s strategic marketing plan becomes the framework for building a stronger future and more successful marketing program, not to mention that it ensures that the firm’s limited resources are used wisely and with ROI in mind. Operating without a strategic marketing plan is like constructing a building without a blueprint. Possible, but not likely to be cost-effective or efficient and the final results are almost impossible to predict. With a blueprint, the builder knows whether it will be a shed or a cathedral. Likewise, with a well-defined strategy, the firm moves forward confidently knowing what kind of future it is building and where the dollars are being spent. And there isn’t a law firm I know that doesn’t like to know a little something about ROI.

Firms always retain the right to execute random acts of marketing or to follow a defined course of action leading to a specific destination (increased profitability, enhanced reputation, stronger market position, revenue growth in practice area A, client retention). A strategic marketing plan allows the firm to explore and understand the direction it wants to go, determine the actions necessary to follow the course as well as the impact and consequences of those actions. If the firm wishes to deviate from the plan, it certainly can, but it does so consciously and with rationale. And bottom line, it’s much cheaper to participate in this exercise on paper than in mid-stream execution. Essentially, your plan becomes a template for effective and quicker decision-making for high-level issues as well as routine details. It provides the context within which decisions can be made and allows a sense of certainty that every decision made represents the best interest of the firm and its individual members.

The ultimate goal of the strategic plan is to help ensure every detail and every person begins to move in the same direction, that the marketing budget transforms from an expense into an investment and that every dollar spent yields more than a dollar’s worth of value.

The Process of Strategic Planning

No, the Planning Fairy does not arrive and place the plan before you. And strategic planning is a process, not an isolated activity. It allows the firm to explore and fill the gaps between where it stands today and where it wants to be, between what the attorneys think is important and what the clients really want.

The strategy outlines plans at the firm level, practice/industry group level and individual attorney level. For the visual thinkers, picture a pyramid with the firm at the top, the practice/industry groups mid-tier and the individual attorneys at the bottom tier – or the strength and support to the achievement of the plan (you could also call this the “boots on the ground”). The strategy must become specific, measurable and aligned with the firm’s overall vision and position (and at the very least, business goals) and should take the following into account:

  • Client retention
  • Cross-selling services to existing clients 
  • New business generation 
  • Developing new referral sources 
  • Providing internal resources and programs to improve client relations and business development 
  • Enhancing firm, attorney and practice capabilities, reputation and image 
  • Market penetration

While the specific tactics in a strategic marketing plan and program will vary from firm to firm, depending on the firm’s practice(s), clients, business goals and objectives, there are certain elements that are universal. Whether the firm has a single marketing professional, an administrator responsible for these efforts, or partners a marketing consultant to help define the strategy and priorities, the strategic marketing plan should:

  • Identify what is unique about the firm, its offerings, and its position in the market 
  • Establish firm-wide marketing goals (aligned to the firm’s business goals, of course) and identify high-value tactics to help achieve those goals 
  • Define the firm’s desired client base and appropriate methods for reaching them, which may include advertising, media relations, networking in trade, legal or community settings, public speaking, direct mail, website, social media, newsletters, etc. 
  • Provide budget reviews and suggestions for financial resource allocation or re-allocation 
  • Make recommendations for necessary modifications to key messaging, consistency of identity, appearance and image, and effectiveness of collateral materials 
  • Recommend effective marketing department structure and roles based on the firm’s needs and future marketing-related goals

At the end of the day, strategic planning may easily be the difference between holding ground and gaining ground. It should not be optional within the firm’s marketing program, but rather imperative to market responsibly, thrive and gain traction over today’s aggressive competition.