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One of a Kind

Wisdom Marketing: Building Trust, Loyalty and Respect

By Jay Harrington

“Click.” Did you hear that? That “click” was in your reader’s head. It’s the proverbial light bulb moment when something you wrote resonated and registered with your audience. Someone has taken notice. You’ve just formed a relationship.

That click? That’s the sound of your content marketing working.

How Content Marketing Works

My last three posts focused on the importance of developing (1) a narrow, niche expertise, (2) a compelling brand story and (3) a refined brand experience so that you can become a “One of a Kind” lawyer. Those who execute steps 1, 2 and 3 really well will experience an uptick in market awareness and new business opportunities.

But over time, momentum will slow, inertia will take hold, and there will be a reversion to the mean. Selling is still required to sustain and expand existing relationships, and to develop new ones. But rest easy — cold calling, glad handing and small talk are not required. At least not in the traditional sense.

Implicit in step 1 is the principle that consumers of legal services desire, above all else, expertise. Unless expertise can be conveyed and validated through referral or reputation, it must be demonstrated through thought leadership expressed in the marketplace of ideas (i.e., content marketing). Generating and disseminating compelling content builds trust and awareness, and positions the content creator as an expert. It’s the “long game” with a focus on relationship building, not the hard sell.

Here’s how it works. Content is like gravity. It keeps people in your orbit. Those who become aware of you stay aware of you as a result of your content. Sharing content is also a respectful, thoughtful way to remain engaged with and keep former clients in your orbit.

Content is like gravity

When someone who is in your orbit experiences a problem or has an opportunity in an area that you have written on, you’ll be high on that person’s list as someone who possesses the requisite expertise to help overcome the problem or seize the opportunity. While your reader may not be ready to act immediately, continued thought leadership will keep you top of mind, and when the time is right the relationship will shift from reader/writer to client/attorney.

Writing is not only critical in client generation, but also in client retention. Like in any relationship, at some point the grass on the other side can start to look greener to a client.

Writing in an attorney-client relationship is like romance in a marriage. It keeps things fresh. It keeps things interesting. And it keeps the relationship strong. It’s harder for a client to get a wandering eye if you’re continually adding value to the relationship through your thought leadership.

Generate and share content. Keep people in your orbit. When an opportunity arises, you’ll be top of mind. It’s as simple as that. But it’s not that easy.

The Rise of Wisdom Marketing

Several years ago, content marketing was a trend. Create content, push it out into the marketplace of ideas, and you’d be at the leading edge of marketing evolution. Early adapters of content marketing tactics, like any trendsetters, won style points for simply engaging in the activity.

But content marketing is now ubiquitous. And with ubiquity comes saturation. That’s where we’re at today. Just as the influx of cheap knockoffs signals the end of a fashion trend, today’s saturated and soggy content market heralds the end of “Content Marketing Phase 1.0.”

So what’s next? Clearly “doing” content marketing is no longer enough. Good content is better, but insufficient. “Content Marketing Phase 2.0” requires more. It requires deep insights, education, substance and thoughtfulness. It places a premium on quality. It requires wisdom. Now and in the future, only those who impart wisdom through their content will build relationships on a foundation of trust, loyalty and mutual respect with their audiences.

But these relationships must be nurtured by giving of oneself. If you expect audiences to give you their attention, you must first give them your wisdom. Shallow thoughts and timid analysis are like mindless small talk. To form relationships, one must blaze new ground and inspire audiences. Those who do so will be at the leading edge of wisdom marketing.

An example: For many lawyers, a cornerstone of content marketing strategy is starting and maintaining practice area and industry-focused blogs. Common sources of new content for blogs are appellate opinions and new statutes. Providing content is simply summarizing the opinion or statute. Imparting wisdom, however, involves thinking more deeply about the implications of the opinion or statute, and explaining what actions clients and prospective clients should take to mitigate risks or seize opportunities resulting from those implications.

How to Write Good Content

“Write article for trade publication” languishes at the bottom of far too many lawyers’ to-do-lists. Lawyers can write, so why don’t they? It’s probably for the same reason people don’t exercise every morning — it’s hard and requires lots of discipline. It’s also a non-billable task that is easy to defer (and defer, and defer …).

There’s no secret formula to consistently writing good content. You just have to commit to it. Here are five tips.

  1. Shut down the distractions. Disable email notifications, close Internet browsers, shut the door. Sit in the chair and prioritize your writing time.
  2. Just let it rip. Don’t try to edit as you go. Get words on the page, sleep on it and edit the next day.
  3. Take notes. Write about issues that come up during the course of your day, week or month. Many people agonize over what to write about, blaming “writer’s block” for lack of production. To overcome this hurdle, simply be more mindful throughout the day and take notes as you go. (I use Evernote.) Every interaction you have, every matter you work on and every article you read contain nuggets of wisdom to write about.
  4. Get it out there. Don’t be afraid to compete in the marketplace of ideas. You’re smart and have a point of view, so share it. Use the publishing resources your firm provides — website, blog, e-newsletters. Publish on LinkedIn. Find a trade publication in need of content. There’s huge demand among publishers for good content; it just takes a little effort to find the right fit to reach your audience.
  5. Stick with it for at least 30 days. It’s easy to be habitual for a week. It’s more challenging to plow forward for two or three weeks. Once you can get over that hump, though, it gets much easier. Hang in there and achieve some success (you will), and content creation will soon become an indispensable, inviolate part of your daily or weekly routine. Words will come, then insights, then invaluable wisdom that blazes new intellectual ground and gets you noticed.

How Often and How Much

Fresh content is like a bowl of fresh fruit. It looks great, is easily shared and (with the exception of that occasional mealy peach or mundane article) is a real crowd-pleaser. But content, like fruit, quickly loses its shine. Just as regular trips to the market are required to replenish your fruit supply, fresh content must be regularly generated to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

While this analogy is quickly becoming over-ripe, it identifies a challenge that many lawyers and law firms face — the ability to create a sustained, interesting and effective content marketing initiative across numerous platforms.

Smart, savvy and skilled lawyers have the ability to crank out lots of great content. The challenge, though, is harnessing these resources. Client work, new business pitches and administrative work often get in the way, and that blog post that needs to be written languishes like a rotten banana (sorry — couldn’t resist one more).

Here are rules of thumb on how much and how often to write.

  • If you’re maintaining a blog, do at least one post per week, preferably two. One should be original content. The other can be a link to, and bit of commentary on, a news item or analysis that is of interest to you and your audience. Generally speaking, blog posts should be limited to 500 words or less.
  • For longer pieces, shoot for one per month. Depending on where it’s being published, 800-1,500 words is a good length. Unless your firm provides you with a platform (such as a newsletter or quarterly publication), you also will need to find a place to publish your piece. Fortunately, many websites and trade publications are happy to publish thoughtful pieces.

Once you’ve developed some content, think about how you can repurpose it. Get some extra mileage out of that long article by turning it into a series of blog posts. Does a piece you’ve written lend itself to graphic interpretation? If so, have a graphic designer develop an infographic. Do a webinar presentation on a topic that really resonated with your audience.

Finally, while I’ve focused primarily on writing as a means of doing content marketing, content can be generated and shared across many different mediums: video, podcasts, Slideshare decks. There is no shortage of outlets for good content. The point is to get really good, thoughtful content into the hands, eyes and ears of your audiences to win their hearts and minds. And ultimately their business.

Jay Harrington is co-founder of Harrington Communications, where he leads the agency’s Brand Strategy, Content Creation and Client Service teams. He also writes weekly dispatches on the agency’s blog, Simply Stated. Previously, Jay was a commercial litigator and corporate bankruptcy attorney at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Foley & Lardner. He has an undergraduate degree in journalism and earned his law degree from the University of Michigan Law School. Follow him @harringj75.

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A Proven Path to a Profitable Law Practice

Practical advice for building a more profitable practice. Almost every lawyer wants to command higher rates and attract more clients. But many are stuck perusing ineffective strategies. Others don’t even know where to start. In his new book, lawyer-turned-legal marketer Jay Harrington lays out a path for lawyers to build a profitable practice.

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Jay Harrington 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 and writes a weekly email newsletter. Previously, he practiced law at Skadden Arps and Foley & Lardner. Follow him @JayHarrington75.

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