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One of a Kind

Thought Leadership Marketing: Don’t Hold Back Your Best Ideas

By Jay Harrington

Giving away good ideas may seem counterintuitive, but providing free attorney thought leadership is one of the best ways to get new business.

The purpose of creating thought leadership content is to provide answers, make sense of complex information, and chart a future course for a reader, viewer or listener. By consistently generating high-quality content and publishing it to the right audiences, a lawyer will generate awareness, build trust and develop new business opportunities.

Many lawyers don’t realize these benefits, however, because they’re concerned about giving their ideas away. When they do create thought leadership content, they hold back. Their concerns are rooted in a belief that their insights will be put to use, independently, by a prospective client, and thus their efforts will be wasted. This belief is understandable but mistaken.

A prospective client isn’t searching for a solution to a complex legal challenge so they can implement the solution themselves. They’re seeking clarity so they can assess what they’re faced with and identify the right expert to help guide them forward.

A lawyer’s stock-in-trade is providing knowledge in exchange for a fee. It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to generate new business opportunities is to share your best ideas for free.

Free Attorney Thought Leadership Content Is Your Proxy

A very small number of the world’s greatest chefs, such as Grant Achatz of Chicago’s famed Alinea restaurant, can offer a single, unalterable tasting menu for an astronomical price and pack the house every night. For the top chefs, their reputations precede them. They’ve earned such high levels of trust that people will accept what they’re serving and pay handsomely for it, sight unseen. For the other 99.9% of restaurateurs, offering a menu of options with explanations of ingredients and cooking techniques is required to attract customers. People want to know what they’re buying.

The same principles apply when marketing and selling legal counsel and every other category of product or service. Those at the top, with long track records of success in delivering high-quality outcomes for customers and clients, have rabid fans who will buy whatever is on offer. People camp out in front of Apple stores before new product releases. John Grisham’s new books always hit the New York Times bestseller list. Adele’s albums go straight to the top of the charts. Fortune 500 companies turn to McKinsey when it really matters.

Few individual lawyers, however, have such brand and market power. Except for those at the top echelons, who have fought hard for their sterling reputations over many years, more is required — more and better attorney thought leadership content, in particular.

The importance of thought leadership content for marketing legal services is underscored by changes in the ways consumers are searching for and evaluating lawyers. More than ever, buyers are doing their due diligence in digital domains.

According to Gartner research, 83% of a typical B2B service purchasing decision — researching solutions, ranking options and benchmarking pricing — happens before a buyer engages directly with a provider. Instead of in-person interaction, buyers go online, evaluate options, form impressions, and make decisions based on signals of expertise amid the noise.

Practical implication: You may be great in the room, but to get there in the first place you must make a really strong impression in the digital marketplace of ideas.

Your website or LinkedIn bio is not enough — not nearly enough — to make you visible to prospective clients online. Thought leadership content is what speaks for you when you can’t be there to speak for yourself. It serves as your proxy, providing others the opportunity to assess your ability to help them overcome their legal challenges. You need to be visible, from Google to social media to relevant niche platforms, where your audience is searching for answers.

In today’s world, your content, spread across the expanse of the internet, serves as a digital breadcrumb trail for those you hope to serve. Ideally, your online body of work will provoke interest in what you have to say, build trust in your ability to address specific problems, and lead your audience to conclude that you’re the right expert for the job. By helping others envision the solution, you will be well-positioned for the engagement to guide them forward.

Share Your Best Ideas

Unless you’ve already established a top reputation, you can’t hold back in your thought leadership content if you hope to make an impact. Merely offering a taste won’t satisfy your audience when there are others serving up a full meal. You need to put it all — the issue, the analysis and the solution — on the table. Prospective clients won’t trust that the solution is within reach, nor that you’re the right person to help them achieve their desired outcome, unless you address what they really want to know.

If you’re feeling resistance because you’re afraid you’re divulging too much of the answer, that means you’re likely on the right track. Keep in mind that at least some of your competitors, who may also be feeling the same resistance, will push forward in spite of it. As a result, their thought leadership content, and therefore themselves, will generate more awareness and engender more trust.

To get in the right mindset when you sit down to write or record content, envision that you’re sitting down for lunch with a prospective client. This client is representative of your “ideal client” — a decision-maker at a company in an industry you specialize in serving. You’ve worked with similar clients in the past and seen similar situations to the one the client is facing. Thus, you’re more capable of issue spotting and pattern matching than many other lawyers who lack your specific experience. To impress the client, and secure an engagement, you’ll need to provide an “aha” moment to distinguish yourself and make your expertise seem less interchangeable from that of other lawyers.

The odds are that you wouldn’t tell this prospective client over lunch that you have the solution to their problem, but that you will only reveal the solution once you’ve been hired. So why do that when it comes to your digital communication with prospective clients?

Don’t Be Afraid to Go for It

Bottom line: Don’t hold back if you want to generate a return on investment from your attorney thought leadership content. Thought leadership marketing should not involve cliffhangers. It should be an open and transparent process that helps clarify solutions and positions you as a trusted advisor. By consistently showing up in front of your target audience and generously sharing your thought leadership, you’ll be rewarded.

Illustration ©iStockPhoto.com

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Jay Harrington

Jay Harrington is the owner of Harrington Communications, a leading thought-leadership PR and marketing agency that specializes in helping law firms and lawyers build awareness, influence and new business. Jay is the author of three books for lawyers on issues related to business and professional development, including “The Productivity Pivot,” “The Essential Associate” and “One of a Kind: A Proven Path to a Profitable Practice.” He podcasts at The Thought Leadership Project. Previously, he practiced law at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner. Follow him @harringj75.

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