In a country with increasingly diverse demographics, effective marketing must appeal to but not insult any group.
Sticking to One’s Own
People may be most comfortable consulting a lawyer in their own demographic, but that isn’t always possible. The more specialized your practice area, the more important it is for all potential clients to feel comfortable retaining you.
Your marketing efforts may reflect your own cultural biases, sometimes in ways you may not realize. Certainly, you will want to reach out to potential clients who you know will view you as simpatico. But think hard about what you can do to appeal to others.
For example, most offices send “happy holiday” cards in December. But it may make sense to send cards for Ramadan to Muslim clients and for Rosh Hashonah to Jewish ones. Spanish greeting cards are widely available. How about placing on your reception area coffee table a bowl of red envelopes with a crisp dollar inside at Chinese New Year?
By the Numbers
In Western culture, the number 13 is considered unlucky, though not everyone remembers why. That was the number of people at the last supper. This feeling is so pervasive most tall buildings in the United States renumber their floors to omit any reference to a 13th floor. Don’t be surprised if your client protests appearing for deposition on the 13th.
Asian cultures consider the number 4 unlucky and 8 to be lucky. Did you ever notice that the ubiquitous advertisements for personal injury hotlines show phone numbers composed almost entirely of 8’s? If your phone number has 4’s consider whether your marketing plan justifies adding a line with a different phone number that can forward to your main line. (I chose a phone number with three 8’s and no 4’s.)
Every client should feel comfortable with your office. You may get a call from someone who speaks minimal or no English. If neither you nor your staff speak a client’s language, you can use phone translation services for immediate use. Sign up in advance so you can conference in a translator on the fly. Consider hiring a translator to be present for important client meetings.
A Feng Shui consultant can make sure your furniture arrangement does not offend. If you are sending a subliminal message that the client’s case will fail, you will not sign up that client.
Be sensitive to food prohibitions and holiday periods. For example, be careful about offering snacks to a Muslim client during Ramadan. Observant Muslims fast from sun-up to sundown.
Some lawyers subscribe to magazines in languages other than English for their reception area.
Negotiation and Litigation
Any potential client may have a range of motives. Some ethnic groups may have strong cultural biases about what is a fair result and whether to use the court system. A deep sense of honor can be paramount. If you cannot understand this feeling, you will not be able to provide effective representation.
How to Learn
You can research how different ethnicities react to messages. In one study, subjects with Western culture backgrounds initially responded more favorably to positive messages: “This new tax tactic can save you money.” Asian subjects initially responded more favorably to negative messages: “Ignoring this new tax tactic will cost you money.” Notably, when subjects were given time to reflect, the differences disappeared.
Most lawyers who serve an ethnic group not their own started with a single client who came by chance or referral. Leverage that connection. Talk to the client about how to best serve that person’s community. Perhaps you can obtain a referral to a community leader with whom you can meet. Ask about that group’s problems and perspectives.
A charitable donation is a good way to garner favorable attention. Many organizations sell ads in their newsletters or event programs.
Your message won’t appeal to everyone. Subgroups for different religions and countries of origin may interpret information differently. The affiliation hyphenated-Americans feel to their “home” country (even if their family immigrated generations ago) varies within the group.
Cultural marketing doesn’t require you to overhaul your marketing plan, just to tweak it.
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