The Lie You’ve Been Told About Advertising

It should come as no surprise that, as a lawyer, I have come across many “reformed characters” in my career. You’ve probably also met your fair share of people who made mistakes in their younger years before finding a better path.

man-with-crossed-fingersThere’s another type of reformed character I’ve had dealings with – the reformed advertising sales executive. A number of successful marketers I know or meet at events are reformed advertising executives. They all make the same confession – they used to tell potential advertisers, “It’s not about selling, it’s about image and building your brand.”

No doubt you’ve heard this from someone in sales who is trying to book you for a long run of advertising.  How many times has someone told you that advertising is all about “getting your name out there” and that the purpose of your ad is to “build your brand”?

But the truth is … this is a lie.

I call those sales executives “reformed” because they admit to the lie. They admit that for almost every business – and that includes YOUR law firm – this principle just does not hold true.

I’m a believer in building up your firm’s brand, however that should be done through direct response marketing. Direct response marketing is designed to encourage prospective clients to respond immediately to an offer when presented. It doesn’t have to be a message like, “Call now to hire us as your attorney”. It could be, “Call or go to our website to request our free guide.”

Direct response marketing enables you to generate an immediate return on your investment while also building a powerful brand.  The alternative is to spend vast sums of cash on building a brand  (that may or may not be successful) before you can expect any financial return.

So why does this lie about advertising exist? It goes back to a time when it was the truth. In a small town, if you were the first lawyer, hardware store or hair salon to open, all you had to do was simply let the public know that your doors were open.  Since you were the only lawyer, hardware store or hair salon in town, your publicized opening would create some excitement and capture all of the business.

Times have changed. Competition is fierce and waiting to out-spend you. You have to be smarter.

That’s why I advocate direct response as the preferred marketing strategy for lawyers because it allows you to build a powerful brand as free by-product of profitable marketing.

Those reformed sales executives have, in some cases, gone on to build multi-million dollar brands by replacing the brand and image building strategy with more sound objectives. They’re the same objectives I used to grow my Raleigh, NC law practice:

  1. The goal of your ad should be to increase your caseload. There’s only one thing that an advertisement should be doing for your law firm – getting you more clients. A successful ad is one that brings in more money than it cost you.
  2. Audience is everything. To maximize your return, you should be very focused on where and how you spend your marketing budget. The more narrowly you can focus your marketing at the audience most likely to hire your law firm, the greater your return will be. Determine what common characteristics your ideal client has and create an avatar, such as gender, age, geographic location, income, politics and interests. This will help you determine which media is best suited to reaching your ideal clients.
  3. Use direct response marketing in all of your ads. Direct response marketing enables you to measure the return from every ad by tracking the responses. Your ads can still build your brand but you’ll be doing it in a way that also brings in more business and more income.
  4. Create messages that appeal to your target audience. Forget expensive, fluffy branding ads. What does your ideal client want to hear? What do they want to know? What sort of service are they looking for? What message would make your ideal client say to themselves, “That’s just what I’m looking for?” It could be the promise of a free information guide or they may be looking for someone to help them determine whether they even need a lawyer at all.
  5. Consider your moves carefully. With direct response advertising, every dollar spent can generate a return. That’s simply not the case with brand building. By incorporating direct response marketing into all your advertising, you can build your brand and your caseload at the same time. Your brand can develop into a valuable asset for your practice, so you don’t want to jeopardize its positioning with quick decisions, but it can also be easy to spend too much time on analysis. If you get bogged down with endless meetings about your brand then you’ve lost sight of the primary direct response principle.

Branding goes beyond advertising and direct response marketing. Your brand becomes a part of everything your firm does. Whether it’s a Client Bill of Rights or involvement in a local charity and community endeavors, your brand is the personality of your law firm. To help guide your thinking on the brand you want develop alongside your direct response marketing, ask yourself, “What do I want my satisfied clients to say about my practice that would make others want to hire us?”

The last thing you want to do is develop an image that is similar to others in your market. Make your brand about why your firm is different and not just the color of your logo. Then, when you combine it with direct response marketing, you will communicate your unique place in the market and guide potential clients to your practice.

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Ken Hardison has been in legal practice for over 30 years.

He's learned the hard way, through trial and error, what works and what doesn't work, to successfully bring in new clients and cases while making a return on investment. Ken now shows other lawyers how to achieve this in their own practices.

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One Response to “The Lie You’ve Been Told About Advertising”

  • I agree with you, Ken. Ads are meant to build a firm’ business. Brand building and reputation management is an entirely different practice. While brand building and reputation management may not see a direct conversion quite like an ad would, the pursuits are still entirely worthwhile. Without brand building efforts separate from your ads, your advertisements have no context. A firm’s brand is almost like the pole that holds up the billboard. The advertisement on the top of the billboard has to have a sturdy foundation to be effective. Great post!