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On Sept. 1, 1994, a man named Marc Duke started The Original Pet Drink Co. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. His vision? Provide flavored bottled water for pets, free of the chemicals found in tap water and fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. Two months later, Duke’s company was shipping 175,000 bottles of beef and salmon-flavored Thirsty Dog! and Thirsty Cat! to stores across the country weekly. Business seemed to be booming. And why wouldn’t it be? The company tested the water on 15,000 pets and tweaked the formula about 100 times before arriving at the final product.
But today, Thirsty Dog! and Thirsty Cat! are recognized as among the biggest product flops in history. Some claim this is because dogs and cats don’t care about the quality of their water; after all, they drink out of the toilet. But I suspect the real problem was that Marc Duke considered cats and dogs to be his target consumers. He designed the product for pets, tested it with pets, and sold it to pets. But pets weren’t the ones paying for it. If in all that research and development Duke had asked pet owners what they thought, he may not have even bothered starting the company.
Law practices are no different. If you don’t market your practice to the right people, with messaging they respond to, your business could suffer. Marketing experts call this consumer targeting. Here are some tips to help you with consumer targeting, so you can maximize your return on marketing investment and grow your practice:
Are you an immigration attorney, or are you a lawyer who primarily represents immigrant families? Do you do criminal defense, or do you prefer representing only misdemeanor defendants? Are you a general practitioner, or do you want to only represent women? There’s no need to become highly specialized, but you do need to know the scope of your practice before figuring out which legal consumers might be a good fit.
Defining your scope starts with you, and what you want to do. Why practice in an area you hate? You may need to adjust a little, given the market opportunity (see next two points), but be clear about what you are first, and what you want to be.
Your “market” is anyone out there who is open to buying what you’re selling, and your “target consumer” is a subset of that market: It’s the group of people who are significantly more likely than others to want or need you. For example, the market for anti-aging cream is anyone with a face, but the target market is older women worried about wrinkles. If you specialize in DUIs, your clients will likely be younger. If you specialize in sexual harassment, your clients will most likely be women. This doesn’t mean older folks never get DUIs, or men are never sexually harassed. It just means younger people and women are more likely to need these particular services than others would. So why not focus on marketing to them?
In researching the market, keep in mind that geography matters. Many law practices are local businesses, and different localities have different types of consumers. (Compare a college town to a town of retirees, for example.) Once you’ve decided how far out you want to practice — geographically speaking — you can use U.S. census data to determine the demographic profile of your area by ethnicity, age, sex and the like. The larger your target area, the more diversity you’ll find and the less precise your target consumer profile might be. But it’s still important to learn as much about the demographics of your area as possible so you know who you’re marketing to.
So let’s say you are clear about the scope of your practice, and that you’ve profiled the people who want your services most. Now you have to deliver. This requires understanding your target consumer in a deeper way. It requires knowing specifically what they want so that you can tailor your services to provide it.
For example, research I’ve done at Avvo has found that millennials judge lawyers a lot by their websites, that immigration consumers are much more likely to use online forms, and that small business consumers will do more of their own legal research than the average consumer. This knowledge could be leveraged to decide how much money to spend on your website, whether to offer document review services or whether to start a blog. The more you know about your target, the better you’ll be able to use the right tone and images in your marketing materials.
It’s important to remember that consumer targeting doesn’t mean pushing others away. Targeting is about identifying who comes first, who is a perfect match for your practice and how to give them what they’re craving. Anyone not falling in this group is still welcome. The risk comes from targeting too broadly, or missing your target completely. You wouldn’t try selling country music to metal heads or marketing glitter lip gloss to women over 50. So why market your practice to the wrong people? A little strategizing can make sure you’re on track, and that you won’t go the way of flavored bottled water for pets. No one wants to be on that list.
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