During the first morning session of the conference, the attendees were treated to a presentation by Andrew Zolli, founder of Z+ Partners, curator of PopTech, and exploration fellow at National Geographic. His Z+ Partners bio says:
“Andrew Zolli is an expert in global foresight and innovation, studying the complex trends at the intersection of technology, sustainability and global society that are shaping our future. His firm, Z + Partners, helps senior leaders at some of the world’s preeminent companies, institutions and governments see, understand and respond to complex change. Andrew is alsothe Curator of Pop!Tech, the renowned thought leadership forum and social innovation network. Andrew serves as a Fellow of the National Geographic Society, where he is leading development of a global initiative to envision new scenarios for a sustainable world in 2030 and beyond. He was also recently named the first Business and Society Fellow of the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship.”
In a presentation that was “engaging, clever [and] funny,” according to Lance Godard, Zolli focused on future trends affecting us both personally and professionally. Using demographics as evidence, he showed the audience that by 2025, there will be more elderly people and children at the same time than ever before in history. Additionally, the “Boomers” will be in the workforce even longer, which will cause “intergenerational chafing” between them and Generation X. Those who were born after 1970 are likely to take care of their mothers longer than their mothers took care of them. We are also seeing a shift in education, with statistics showing that the most educated man in the United States is 56, while the most educated woman is 28. These ambitious women are having a hard time finding ambitious men, and there are more single women buying homes.
This personal side of demographics is important to marketing because knowing your audience is key – their culture, ethnicity, and generation matter. Zolli pointed out that as legal marketers, we are selling risk insurance and its our job to put a face on that risk that motivates clients to buy. He said that we’re living in a “sea of sameness” in terms of companies and what they offer and how they offer it. This is the “Tyranny of Choice” – as an example, Zolli said that we can only pay attention to 160 choices in the grocery store and everything else is just noise. As you add more choices, there is a certain point at which satisfaction does not continue to increase. Zolli added that because of this, it’s possible that you can get exactly what you want, and hate the people who gave it to you. So it’s equally important to look at what consumers say no to, not just what they say yes to.
Obviously from what Zolli said, the key is differentiation, as it has always been – how do we keep our companies and firms from being just “noise” to potential clients? And how can we tap into our customers to find out who they are and what they really want? One tool is social media, but Zolli said that although we have the ability to go after the right people through digital tools, we’re getting it wrong because we’re “change blind.” We don’t understand who the critical people are that we need to talk to, and though social media is “out of the lab,” very few people understand networks. Zolli used a graph to illustrate a network and asked the audience who they would choose in the network to deliver a message to everyone if they could only talk to one person (this graph is an approximation, not an exact copy of the graph that Zolli used):
Almost the entire audience chose #4, the person in the middle of the circle who appears to be the most connected, but this wouldn’t be the most effective. It turns out that it would be person 9, who would only have to tell person 3, 4, and 8 to spread the message to everyone quickly and efficiently. Understanding your network is one piece of how to effectively communicate your message.
In addition to knowing how your network works, experience is important. Zolli used the example of flying Jet Blue versus United Airlines. Jet Blue has created an enjoyable customer experience, with big leather seats for everyone and slightly more leg room. This has made flying their airline so appealing that even after they had an issue with their landing gear on a flight, resulting in the landing gear catching fire during the emergency landing, people would still rather fly Jet Blue than coach on United, with its limited room and uncomfortable seating. He left us with the idea that experience, behavior and communications are equally affecting companies’ brands today, whereas in the past, one or two of those factors would have greater importance than the others.
After Zolli’s presentation, he was joined by a panel of law firm experts to give their thoughts on the future. It included Bruce McLean, the Chairman of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, Bruce James, CEO/Managing Partner of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP, Katherine D’Urso, Chief Marketing Officer for King & Spaulding, and Peter Zeughauser, Chairman of the Zeughauser Group, and moderated by Ashby Jones, the Legal Editor for the Wall Street Journal. The panel started with discussing differentiation, saying that 15 years ago, marketing a firm as “full service” was the strategy to use. Today, however, there is a greater focus on marketing core practices instead, though it’s a fine line, because firms still want their clients to know that they are full service. The panel emphasized the importance of firms talking to their clients to ask them why they see their relationship with the firm as special, and why they hire one firm over others. They agreed that having the skills to handle the work is a requirement, but doesn’t differentiate a firm – how a firm handles the relationship is what differentiates them. Again, it’s all about relationships.
The panelists also agreed on the notion of the “customer experience” for clients, saying that lawyers haven’t been able to align what they do with what the firm brand says its customer experience is. Part of this is because lawyers value independence and trust their own experience over conforming to a firm brand. Bruce McClean commented that “there is a DNA defect in lawyers to get them marching in the same direction” while another panelist said that it is hard enough to get lawyers to agree on what day it is, let alone a brand strategy. Law firms are facing a T-shaped branding challenge, having to market vertical industries as well as general broadness. The panel was asked if they thought the recession had made this harder or forced marketers to reinvent the way they market and think about marketing. They agreed that it had, in a few key ways. First, they said they believe that firms will only be able to grow by taking market share away from their competitors. One of the ways that they can accomplish this is to use social media, which is a more economic way to get specific in your marketing. Firms need to adopt low-cost, high value communications vehicles and can change the industry by understanding how content flows today. Firms should build competency in these new tools now so that they don’t lose the “first mover” advantage of using them – Nancy Myrland addresses this more fully in her post here. The panel felt that there are social media “stars” who are “bubbling up” in every industry, and that law firms should follow suit (John Byrne presents some interesting thoughts on why law firms might be slow to adopt these new tools in his post here). The panel cautioned that those who don’t understand Twitter and Facebook now need to know that in the future, decision makers will rely more on social media and Peter Zeughauser commented that if you don’t position yourself, the market will position you. Like any other tool, it’s necessary to learn about social media and how it might apply to the firm’s strategy or risk missing out on opportunities that are available. For smaller firms, social media can help to level the playing field with larger firms because it is so inexpensive.
Another way to compete is to understand that opportunities for growth are not in the United States and in Europe, but in emerging markets. Firms need to be more multicultural, though the panel cautioned that this didn’t mean necessarily opening up an office in Shanghai. It’s more that the client face will change, and firms should be more open to opportunities coming in from these new markets. The panel also pointed out that smaller firms can expand by industry domestically, because they are more nimble and able to re-orient practices to meet the changing needs of their clients.
Two final important thoughts from the panel included advising firms to talk to their clients – to ask how firms can help clients solve their problems and not how clients can help firms; and that consistent, customized and creative experiences for the client will help to distinguish the law firm brand, not just marketing communications.