At Client.ID, we’re paid by our law firm clients to help them generate more business in the here and now, but also to predict what will happen in the months and years to come to help them future-proof their business. With that in mind, (and in no particular order) here are our predictions on how marketing trends and technology will shape legal sector marketing by 2020.
Greater focus on marketing automation and lead nurturing
Underpinning your law firm’s website with a marketing automation platform such as Client.ID allows you to build relationships with potential clients, and clearly identify when these prospects are ready to buy. This type of activity takes the guess work out of marketing and allows you to create a pool of engaged prospects that you can nurture until they are suitably interested in your offering, allowing you to take full advantage of new business opportunities ahead of your competition.
Drip-fed email campaigns, with content sent that is relevant to the prospect's level of interaction with each missive, allows for targeted, specific and long-term nurturing of leads. Not only that, but these platforms 'score' prospects based on what they do on your site and (here's the beautiful part) let YOU contact THEM when they might be ready to buy.
This type of demand generation activity will ensure that your pipeline remains healthy and that you are having the right conversations with the right people at the right time. Your time is valuable. You don’t want to waste it speaking to people who aren’t ready to instruct. Marketing automation can help.
Lawyers will flock to trusted advisors for marketing
For too long, too many law firms have attempted to market themselves using an array of marketing providers or solutions not fit for purpose. A general lack of understanding of marketing and BD on the part of lawyers, coupled with a focus on their budget has seen too many firms try to market their services on the cheap, or in a manner not aligned with their business objectives or target audience.
It’s not unusual to come across law firms who have had their fingers burnt by engaging with cheap marketing providers or those not fit for purpose due of a lack of legal sector specific expertise, for example. Like instructing a cowboy tradesman, the usual way to fix this is to instruct a genuine, reputable, trusted supplier to fix the damage.
Going forward, law firms will awaken to the possibilities that a trusted supplier can provide. As a result, law firms will loosen the purse strings to get the right team in to get things right first time, saving a lot of expense and frustration in the long run.
Lawyers will stop marketing themselves as “Lawyers” and “Solicitors"
The ‘brand resonance’ of the terms ‘lawyer’ and ‘solicitor’ is fading. The traditional lifelong solicitor-client relationships of the baby-boomer generation simply don’t exist for generations Y, Z and Millennials. Generation Y, those born post-1980, are more sophisticated, discerning, and technology-savvy than previous generations. From a marketing perspective, they have grown up with a constant stream of intrusive marketing and have become inured to it. As such, they are more likely to proactively seek out the services they need online than respond to ads.
Growing up in a fast-moving, flexible, content-rich environment where fashions and trends change rapidly means they are much more likely to seek out specialist legal advice for each of their specific needs than remaining loyal to a single brand.
What this means is that their recognition of the solicitor as the gatekeeper to certain services has been eroded. Later generations (particularly millennials) are preoccupied with their needs. They’re not as focused on the standing, status or qualifications of the person delivering it.
As we’re all aware, more legal services providers are popping up. These organisations use pseudo-qualified staff to deliver advice, backed by a small team of qualified solicitors. The corollary of this is that they market themselves based on services and solutions.
Put another way, does someone who wants to write a will, buy a house or wind up an estate know they need a solicitor? Do they care? The answer is increasingly no. A competent, affordable, transparent service and experience which is akin to the service provided by other institutions – banks, insurance companies, healthcare providers is sufficient.
The effect of this will be more marketing of firms based on what they provide, not who they are. This is already evident in the marketing of major personal injury firms.
Our prediction is that more firms will drop the words “lawyers”, “law firm” and “solicitors” and anachronistic designations like “LLP”, “& Co” and “Partners” from their brand name and marketing entirely.
Social media marketing will die out
The signs are already there. Businesses that succeed on social media use it to listen, to assist, to empower, to inform, to respond and to connect to people as individuals. That, in our opinion, just can’t be outsourced, automated or pre-packaged. We urge those lawyers who enjoy social media and who use it in interesting and meaningful ways – to connect with peers, to post interesting insights and to engage in debate, to continue to do so. It isn’t social media that will die; it’s social media marketing.
So, why is social media marketing dying? The University of Maryland conducted research into social media usage which casts some light on the reason why. In a study it found that 60-80% of US social media users admit to using Social Media solely for entertainment or to kill time. That is to say; they have no intention of using social media to do anything of consequence.
Social media, Twitter, in particular, is a firehose of information. Law firms tweeting articles are competing with an ever-more-discerning audience for their ever-diminishing attention span.
Social media, for many SME’s, isn’t a marketing channel. It’s not even “new media” anymore. It’s just media. Posting an advertising message on someone’s Twitter feed is now no different to placing an ad on a billboard. With the one caveat that social media users can block, mute or unfollow you
Let’s be clear – social media isn’t dead. It’s very much alive and thriving. Networks will come and go: Bebo, Myspace, Friendsreunited, Google+ and others have been supplanted by other platforms. The signs are that Twitter is on the decline too. Indeed, overuse of the platform by marketers is regarded by many as one of the main factors in that.
Using social media for its intended purpose – being social – still has its place, even for law firms. There are many lawyers (and firms) on Twitter and LinkedIn who use those platforms to debate issues, connect with their peers, share interesting takes on the law, share, discuss and debate their personal interests and we wholeheartedly think that’s a brilliant idea. But the inescapable conclusion is that outsourced social media marketing for law firms just doesn’t contribute to their online success like it used to.
'Voice Search' will become commonplace
Until now, there have been inherent weaknesses in voice recognition and speech-to-text software that have slowed adoption. Inaccuracy, inability to recognise uncommon words (particularly problematic for lawyers) and an almost stubborn refusal to cope with regional accents have meant voice recognition programmes have been a sideshow rather than a serious business tool.
Even Apple, the undisputed Champions of identifying tech niches and engineering magnificently intuitive solutions, wrestled with the problem of voice recognition for more than 20 years before getting it right.
However, Apple and Microsoft, with their Siri and Cortana programmes and Google’s “OK Google” TV ads, (the three technology companies with the most impact on SEO), have managed to make voice recognition work. My Windows 10 laptop now implores me to “ask it anything”, Google search on mobile is built around a microphone icon and Siri has been an integral part of our iPhones since 2011. Facebook is also rumoured to be developing its own voice search app.
As users begin to trust voice search, and these platforms become more sophisticated, we’ll see the share of search traffic from voice searches grow and grow. At a recent Search Engine marketing convention, Google’s head of “Conversational Search” stated that their voice recognition error rate was down to 8% from 25% just two years ago. The result is that we are more comfortable using natural sentences and asking questions like “What’s the weather like in Madrid tomorrow” rather than a more perfunctory typed equivalent like “Madrid Weather Forecast”. When typing, we use the most direct query that will generate an answer, and those staccato bursts of keywords don’t feel ‘right’ when spoken.
Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella says that one day, “human language [will be] the UI (User Interface) layer”. Traditionally, websites are designed around the existing UI of the keyboard, mouse, screen and, in recent years, touch screen and smaller devices. Now, however, we must also take account of how people think and speak when building online business generation platforms”.
Going forward, law firms will build their sites around natural, conversational, human language.
...but virtual reality won’t
2017 has been touted as the year of virtual reality in many fields. Indeed, some firms are using virtual reality as a means of knowledge transfer for clients and their employees. However, my prediction is that virtual reality won’t be commonplace in society just yet, and it won’t have any meaningful impact on the business of law.
The reasons are threefold: high barrier to entry for consumers (most decent-quality headsets cost £300+), high software development costs and, most fundamentally, the user experience isn’t intuitive, comfortable or enjoyable for long periods.
While virtual reality will continue for niche pursuits like video gaming, it won’t influence how lawyers practice or do business in the immediate future.
The Internet of things will die out
There are objects which have worked for aeons just fine that aren’t enhanced by an internet connection. For example, one man recently spent 11 hours attempting to make a cup of tea using a Wi-Fi kettle.
Light switches have been around since the first lightbulb went off above Thomas Edison’s head. Since then, some aesthetic upgrades aside, they remain pretty much unchanged. Sure, your Wi-Fi connected lightbulb might let you turn the light off without getting off the couch, but what about when the tech is underpinning it becomes obsolete, needs to be updated or is turned off by the company, as was the case with Nest’s REVOLV hub?
There are also security implications. If hackers get into your lightbulb, thermostat, cooker or another device, then they could potentially hack into everything else. One hotel was recently the victim of a ‘ransomware attack’. Hackers accessed their hotel door system and locked guests out. Ransomware programs are used by hackers to lock out all or part of a system and force the owner to pay to have access restored. By demanding relatively minor payment (€1500 in the case of the hotel) they can get paid relatively quickly and easily.
If you returned home after a day’s work and were asked by a hacker to pay, say, £50 to be able to turn the lights on, turn the washing machine on, cook and use your TV, there’s a fair chance many of us would just stump up.
In short, unless having an internet connection actively improves the objects ability to perform its intended function AND provides an improved user experience, then users simply will not engage with it. Wi-Fi connected speakers (such as the Sonos system), Smart TV’s and home media hubs like PlayStation are actively improved by being connected to the internet. Hairbrushes (seriously) kettles, fridges and washing machines are not.