As I’ve mentioned, the LMA NE conference was full of really meaty, thought-provoking content. One of the excellent sessions I attended was “Lead Nurturing Ecosystems – Moving Legal Marketing from an Art to a Science.”
The panelists for the session were:
- Robert Algeri, Co-Founder, Great Jakes
- Melissa Croteau, Chief Marketing Officer, Nixon Peabody
- Linda Pepe, Director of Business Development, Murtha Cullina
- Jasmine Trillos-Decarie, Chief Business Development Officer, Stoel Rives LLP
The description for the panel told us:
A confluence of new technologies and market forces will be ushering in a new type of law firm website. We’re calling it the lead nurturing website, and it sets itself apart from previous generations of law firm websites in three remarkable ways:
- It uses new, powerful analytics to track website visitors, by name.
- It generates and nurtures new business leads.
- It quantifies success.
As lead nurturing websites catch on, law firms will inevitably begin to think of their websites very differently. Websites will be considered proactive business development tools whose performance can be measured and optimized. And this has the potential to revolutionize the field of legal marketing by shifting it from being an art to a science.
This spirited panel discussion will focus on the tremendous potential of lead nurturing—as well as the challenges to making it work. The panel will touch on a variety of highly debatable topics, including:
- Fear – Will law firms be willing to adopt ‘scary,’ ‘Big Brother’ tracking tools?
- Technology – Will firms be willing to make the necessary technology investments?
- Staffing – Do marketing departments have the right people to analyze the data?
- Content creation – Lead nurturing requires a consistent stream of provocative, high-quality content to be written. Are firms ready to become publishers?”
The presentation began with some comments from Robert Algeri, who acted as a moderator for the session, and then he engaged the three other panelists to argue and debunk the claims that he’d made during his opening remarks. Algeri referenced a whitepaper (behind their firewall!) that provides additional information on this paradigm shift.
The Lead Nurturing Ecosystem
That sounds intimidating, so what IS the lead nurturing ecosystem? According to Algeri, it’s a “constellation of marketing technologies.” It’s your website working together with other technology (email, CRM, content), all held together by marketing automation. The ecosystem engages prospects by sharing content, tracks them by name, and then identifies which ones to pursue.
So where to start? Well, there are over 1,900 marketing automation platforms, such as HubSpot. Yikes.
Having a steady stream of good content is the lifeblood of the ecosystem. The data provided by marketing automation helps provide confidence in the business development process.
This data can also tell us who NOT to call, because we know who is looking at our website, and what they’re looking at. Without it, we don’t know what attracts someone to our firms, and so we can’t formulate where to focus our efforts going forward.
The panelists predict that once legal marketers get their hands on this data, it will revolutionize what we do. Marketing automation allows you to track people by NAME on your website – that helps you to identify top leads and quantify success (a la marketing as a “science”).
But there are, of course, challenges to this new system, and that’s where Algeri brought the other panelists in.
Challenge One: It’s Creepy
The first challenge – is it creepy?
Some people like the idea of having a unified online experience, and have come to expect it. But for others, the thought that someone is tracking your every move through cookies is unsettling. In the room, the general sense was that it’s both, but the value in the data and experience will soon outweigh any “creepiness” factor.
We can pretty much all agree that people come to law firm websites to look up an attorney bio or to see how the firm/lawyer can help them with a problem. Cookies will help to enhance the user’s experience of the website. Overwhelmingly, people are opting in to get those cookies – it’s not a huge barrier. In Europe, they already have to disclose that cookies are being dropped on your computer.
Right now, we’re forcefeeding our audiences what we think they want to see. But we’re not giving them what they want – we’re just guessing. Using analytics can change that.
Firms not wanting to use website cookies is an extension of lawyers being risk-averse. It’s our job as legal marketers to push the envelope. Most people see the use of website cookies as an opportunity to get the information they’re looking for, not as something intrusive.
Trillos-Decarie talked about the idea of change taking time in law firms – it sometimes seems as if change will never happen, but she said we can look at where we are today as proof that it does. What was “unthinkable” at one time is now happening at law firms.
Challenge Two: The Technology
Another challenge firms face is the cost of the technology – it’s not cheap. Does marketing have the resources? Do we have the content?
Croteau made the excellent point that it’s a technology discussion, but not a technology ARGUMENT.
Pepe added that a lot of firms are doing content right, but for many, it’s still a new initiative, this idea of pushing content out. So Pepe recommended starting with test groups – use practice groups, younger attorneys, etc. to get buy-in first, and then show their success stories.
Don’t try to boil the ocean. Start small.” — Robert Algeri
Algeri asked whether marketing has the clout to get the firm to buy into this concept (we’ve all been there). Pepe emphasized that there’s a need to partner with firm leadership to get them on your side – to do that, use data to show them that it’s working.
The challenge is the mindset – you’ve got to think of this as an e-commerce site. This isn’t a “set it and forget it” website anymore. Someone has to be thinking about it every day, and that’s a big shift.
Challenge Three: Staffing
And that brings us to the third challenge – if someone has to be thinking about it every day, who is that someone?
The next stage may be including analysts and data crunchers on your team to handle this directly. But if you’re not there yet, Croteau suggests starting with the finance department and creating a team to crunch data (this can be hard for smaller firms to do).
Challenge Four: Content Creation
Of course, one of the biggest challenges is content creation itself. Content has to be quality in order to get someone to fill out a form to get
it – it can’t just be a client alert. It has to be compelling.
There were some in the room who feel that lawyers aren’t capable of writing this compelling, valuable content themselves (to be clear from the outset, I strenuously disagree with that). Those who feel this way see ghostwriting as a legitimate alternate option.
I’m really against ghostwriting, unless the content is being pushed out as generic “firm” content. Here’s why: Regardless of your goal in content marketing, taking someone else’s words and passing them off as your own is disingenuous (and possibly unethical).
- If your goal is enhancing your reputation, you’re doing so with someone else’s expertise and prose.
- If your goal is to credential yourself as an expert, there may actually be ethical implications in having someone else write your content for you, under your name.
- If your goal is to build relationships with clients and potential clients, you’ll need to incorporate that engagement into your posts, which, if done by someone else, is under false pretenses. And you’ll then be engaging with people based on content that isn’t your own.
Content is designed to offer a window into who you are as a lawyer so that people get to know, like and trust you – either to do business with you directly, use you as a source for news stories, use you as a source for conference presentations, use you as an example of thought leadership in the space, etc. Imagine what happens when any one of your audiences finds out that you’re not, in fact, the author behind your work? Trust is immediately broken. So yes, I disagree with ghostwriting.
I would agree with those who suggested that firms need someone in an editor-in-chief type role, who can help those lawyers who are producing content, but not write for them. A content marketing editor at a law firm can:
- Issue spot and share post/alert/article ideas with the relevant lawyers that will be doing the writing.
- Edit the final product before publishing.
- Manage the editorial calendar.
- Work with each lawyer author or group of authors on their goals and action steps to meet those goals, as they relate to content production.
- Distribute the finished product to the firm’s publishing channels.
- Work with the lawyer content creators on how to repurpose each piece of content for greatest impact.
In short, the editor does all the legwork outside of writing the piece itself (and subsequently distributing and engaging with the lawyer’s individual goal audience members). It’s a support role, but not an author role.
A Big Question
Even outside of the content authorship debate, there’s another ethics question to be asked –
Can a lawyer pick up the phone if they know someone has been looking at their website?
Is that ethical? The short answer is that we don’t know yet – there haven’t been any rulings, but it will be worth keeping a close eye on.
We can all likely agree on the premise that no one usually comes to your website without first being referred there, so it’s not a cold lead. There are ways to subtly use analytics to reach out to prospective leads without “outing” yourself as doing so. But it’s still a very grey area.
Law firms do lag in the analytics tracking world, as compared to other industries, and we need to catch up. Coming up with a great campaign is nice, but is it effective? That’s what we need to know, and that’s what analytics will tell us.
The important closing point is that it takes time to engender change at law firms. A LOT of time. So hang in there! And manage expectations.