The legal industry is experiencing volatile and dynamic changes as competition heats up and the pace of mergers increases. When it comes to digital marketing trends for law firms, 2016 promises to be an exciting year for anybody who stays up on modern legal marketing trends. Each year, new hardware, new software, new vendors, and new client preferences dictate a host of sweeping changes that either get adopted or ignored by law firms across the world. Early adopters get a leg up on the competition, appealing to emerging markets or cementing their thought leadership reputations in their areas of practice, while those lagging behind miss out on key opportunities to grow their practices and their positions. 2016 looks to be a great year for digital marketing, and I anticipate these eight trends to make a significant impact in the way law firms integrate digital strategies into their business development and marketing efforts:
The Top 8 Digital Marketing Trends for Law Firms
- The focus will shift to social media conversion. By now most law firms are participating on social media in one way or another. While some firm’s have developed sophisticated strategies and dedicated resources (internal and external) to their social media initiatives, the fact remains that most firms are still only using social media as a one way channel for distributing their content. 2016 promises to be the year savvy firms finally develop and execute strategies on social media that helps them engage with their target audience and enable them to generate some sort of “conversion” from their efforts. Conversion does not necessarily mean, gaining new business or clients, although that remains the ultimate goal of most firms. Conversion can also mean achieving “softer objectives” such as getting targets and clients to download an e-Book, register for a webinar or attend an event. Conversion can also focus on other important targets such as recruits or the press. 2016 is the year that firms will go beyond just “doing” social media and focus on generating real business results out of their social media efforts. Social media conversion will surely be one of the top digital marketing trends for law firms in 2016.
- Law firms of all sizes will place a high importance on SEO. Search Engine Optimization “SEO” has long been a key digital marketing tactic that consumer focused law firms have invested in. Law firms focusing on personal injury, medical malpractice, divorce, immigration and criminal law have invested a significant amount of their marketing dollars hiring SEO vendors to improve their rankings on search engines. In the last few months of 2015, I became aware that AmLaw 100 law firms are for the first time starting to focus more of their efforts on SEO and in fact learned first hand that an AmLaw 100 firm had hired a full time employee solely dedicated to enhance the firm’s SEO. I anticipate that as competition continues to heat up amongst firms and practice groups, we will see more and more of an emphasis on SEO across all firms, especially those that are looking to build awareness and generate more leads for specific practice groups. Firms will begin to integrate SEO into their digital marketing campaigns and make sure that their websites, microsites and blogs are optimized for SEO.
- Microsites will become the preferred thought leadership platforms for practice and industry groups. Legal marketers are constantly faced with the challenge of how to properly market the different practice and industry groups within a law firm. Most have learned by now that when it comes to digital marketing, it is not wise to deploy a “one size fits all” strategy for each of the firm’s practice groups. Each practice group within a firm has its unique set of challenges and opportunities. The target audience and the needs of that target audience are different from one practice group to the next. Therefore, I predict that in 2016, practice and industry groups at law firms will focus on developing and executing marketing and business development campaigns that rely on microsites as their thought leadership platform of choice. The reason for this is that microsites enable firm’s to quickly develop digital properties that focus on a specific topic, industry or area of practice. These microsites can then be SEO and social media optimized and used as the hubs for the practice group’s content and activity. Firm’s will be able to quickly and easily launch these sites to support specific campaigns and then be able to monitor their performance in the digital space.
- Mobile will completely dominate desktop. 2015 was a big year for mobile—not only did Google announce that mobile traffic finally overtook desktop traffic in 10 different countries, it was also the year they released the “Mobilegeddon” algorithm update to phase out sites not optimized for mobile. Mobile usage is up 394 percent, and tablet usage is up a whopping 1,721 percent as these platforms now combine to account for 60 percent of digital media time spent. More than 75 percent of all Americans who use the Internet (age 18+) now access digital content on both desktop and mobile devices, which is an increase from 68 percent from a year ago. Mobile-only internet usage is also becoming more common, driven predominantly by Millennials, of which 21 percent are no longer using desktop computers to go online. Meanwhile, the 55-years-and-older consumer segment is actually the fastest growing faction of mobile users, increasing its combined multi-platform and mobile-only share of audience from 60 percent to 74 percent in the past year. As a result, law firms looking to reach their target audience will need to ensure that their websites are optimized for mobile and that their content can be easily consumed or downloaded on a mobile device.
- Intelligent content will replace content marketing as the new content trend. In 2015, content marketing became the ultimate buzzword in legal marketing. Content marketing became the focus of various surveys, conferences, presentations and ebooks. It seemed like everybody was focusing on how to improve their content marketing. 2016 will be the year for “intelligent content”. The phrase was coined by Ann Rockley, one of Canada’s foremost experts in organizing and presenting information online. Intelligent content is content that’s “structurally rich and semantically categorized and therefore automatically discoverable, reusable, reconfigurable, and adaptable.” The Content Marketing Institute, who famously coined the phrase “content marketing” is sold on the importance of intelligent content to the extent that they have created a separate conference and ebook solely dedicated to the concept of intelligent content. Why does this matter to law firms and legal marketers? The reason is that the companies and firms most likely to benefit from the concept of intelligent content are firms that have many services, multiple practice areas, different languages, diverse audiences per service and geographical differences. These firms, face the daunting task of producing content in an extremely complex environment. Therefore these firms are best positioned to benefit from the use of intelligent content methodologies and strategies. Here are some of the benefits as outlined by the Content Marketing Institute on intelligent content:
- Intelligent content can be output to multiple channels, adapting to the needs of the channel and the recipients – with little or no human intervention.
- Intelligent content reduces development, review, and maintenance costs.
- Intelligent content reduces translation-related costs.
- Intelligent content increases consistency and quality.
- Intelligent content frees content creators to add value through innovation instead of rewriting existing elements of content – or copying and pasting them.
- Intelligent content makes content manageable throughout the content life cycle.
- Intelligent content delivers the right information to the right customers in the right format at the right time throughout the customer journey.
- Firms will focus on measuring ROI and actionable insight from their digital efforts. Over the last year, I have spoken to many different law firms and legal marketers about digital marketing and social media. One of the themes that I consistently hear from them is that they have a very difficult time measuring their success. Sure there are a few firms that generate a monthly website and social analytics report and send it to a few partners. However, when I ask them what they do with that data, the give me a blank stare. Its one thing to be able to collect data, it is quite another to be able to analyze it and derive meaningful business insights from it. The truth is most companies and firms don’t really know how to properly analyze and act upon their digital data. That is one of the reasons why data scientist has become the sexiest job of the 21st century. Data scientist are able to manage a company’s data and to extract actionable insights from it. This is an invaluable asset that enables firms to make meaning out of their data and to develop better ways to engage and provided added value to their clients and prospects. It is only a matter of time until one or more savvy law firm realizes this and start hiring staff or vendors who can make sense of their digital and social data and enables them to truly measure their ROI and glean actionable insights.
- Multichannel marketing will become the key to a firm’s marketing strategy. The term multichannel marketing has become the standard in the retail industry. According to Wikipedia, multichannel marketing is, “the ability to interact with potential customers on various platforms. In this sense, a channel might be a print ad, a retail location, a website, a promotional event, a products package or even word of mouth.” The idea behind multichannel marketing is that customers, or clients in the case of a law firm, should have a consistent experience with a company (law firm) at every touch point. Therefore the experience they have at the store should be the same experience they have on the website, across social media, on the phone and at events. This type of marketing strategy is key for law firms that are concerned with their image and how the interface with their clients and prospects. Unfortunately, this is not what is happening in the legal services industry. I have been to some of the most beautiful law firm offices here in NYC where you feel like a king the second you enter, yet when you look at that firm’s website or at their social media accounts, the experience you encounter is vastly different. Law firms need to think like large retail chains and insure that at all times, their client’s experience with the firm reflects the brand of the firm and the type of service their client is accustomed to.
- True marketing automation will emerge. Legal vendors frequently use the term marketing automation as a way to describe their latest offering. Whether it is their latest email tool or CRM system, there is a lot of confusion in the legal industry when it comes to marketing automation. According to Wikipedia, “Marketing automation refers to software platforms and technologies designed for marketing departments and organizations to more effectively market on multiple channels online (such as email, social media, websites, etc.) and automate repetitive tasks.” Companies like Deloitte, PWC, KPMG and EY are big users of marketing automation platforms that enable them to enhance their engagement with prospects and clients. I wrote a blog post in early 2015 that described why marketing automation is the next frontier for law firms. I anticipate that in 2016, large law firms will finally become aware of the huge advantage that marketing automation can provide them and we will see a few firms deploying these platforms before the year ends.
So there you have it! My predictions for the top 8 digital marketing trends for law firms in 2016. These eight trends aren’t the only ones that will emerge over the course of the next year, but they will be some of the most significant. There’s no guarantee exactly when or how these trends will manifest, but for savvy law firms, it’s worth hedging their bets on at least a few of these. The earlier law firms and legal marketers start, the more time they will have to adjust and reap the benefits of these trends and gain an edge on their competition.