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Legal Marketing Trends 2020 – predictions on the future of marketing for law firms

In this article, we’ll examine some marketing trends and technological developments on the horizon and predict how these might impact law firms.

We’re paid by our clients to generate business, but also to predict what will be happening in the months and years to come, to help them future-proof their business. With that in mind, here (in no particular order) are our ten predictions on how marketing trends and technology will shape legal marketing by 2020.

People First – Lawyers will use more personal branding

Lawyers will finally start to realise that people buy from people. Clearly, purchasing something online is a leap of faith as we can’t see the tangible object or interact with the seller. Thus, online transactions rely on trust. Building that trust requires an up-to-date online presence that satisfies the modern web user’s expectations, but it needs more than that. It needs reviews, recommendations, and other evidence of your experience and expertise. 

On any law firms’ website, the people pages are always among the most viewed. In 2017, those without robust biography pages will lose business. The ones that will really thrive are those who take this a step further and design their sites to put their solicitors front and centre.

We wouldn’t buy a TV without seeing pictures of it, so why would we instruct an anonymous lawyer?

Lawyers will stop marketing themselves as “Lawyers” and “Solicitors"

The ‘brand resonance’ of the terms ‘lawyer’ and ‘solicitor’ are 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 wait and then 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 needs than remaining brand loyal.

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 springing up. These organisations use pseudo-qualified staff (paralegals and legal executives) 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.

Mobile First, Desktop Second

Late last year, Google began to roll out its “mobile first” algorithm. This now means that it is crawling the web and basing search results on the mobile version of the site, not the desktop. This might seem a subtle and insignificant change. It now means that firms with dated, non-mobile-friendly sites are at risk of sliding down the rankings.

Today, around 55% of all traffic to law firm websites comes from a mobile device. Google recognises this and is moving to rebalance its rankings to reward fully mobile-optimised sites. With this in mind, web design trends will change, and sites will be designed for mobile devices first, and desktops second. Currently most websites around the world attempt to shoehorn the full desktop experience into a mobile, leading to a poor user experience.

In 2017, designers will create the mobile experience first, and then expand that into the desktop. Sites will be designed to work intuitively and natively on tablets and phones, almost like apps rather than traditional websites.

Greater focus on lead nurturing & relationship management

One of the opportunities we see lawyers miss time and again is failing to market to their existing “client base”. When we speak to law firms, each one claims to have “thousands of clients, and that’s how we get our work.”

“Great”, we say. “How do you market to them?” *blank stares all round*.

Nowadays, relying on the strength of loyalty from the traditional client-solicitor relationship is short sighted. Granted, there are some areas where a trusted provider will maintain a relationship with their client (crime and commercial law, seem two obvious examples) and word of mouth will still be huge (and your online presence is a massive part of that), but for most modern web users using legal services throughout their lives, their journey will take them from specialist to specialist.

Injured at work? Search for a specialist workplace injury lawyer. Moving house? Search for a solicitor in the local area. Moving again? Do likewise. Been offered a Settlement Agreement? Search for “settlement agreements lawyers in…”

Clearly, establishing a web presence to capture these terms is vital, but what is even more important is maintaining the relationship once it’s made. Simply relying on your ‘client’ to decide to return to your firm the next time they need a lawyer is naïve. We’re all infatuated with ‘new business’ – and I say that as someone who is involved in the selling of Moore Legal Technology’s services.

In 2017, lawyers will begin proactively cross-selling their services using “demand generation” platforms.

Google’s ecosystem will grow – pixel, voice search and so on.

Google want to move from Search engines into every aspect of our lives

The four domains they aim to conquer are in direct competition with Apple – Phone, Watch, Car & Home. What Google have in their favour (aside from almost limitless R&D budgets) is that they provide an unparalleled service – their search engine. Even if you are in Apple’s ecosystem, you are probably using Google search (and maps) rather than the Apple equivalent.

When Google released Android in 2008 it made its move into mobile software now, with its well-reviewed Pixel phone it’s moving into hardware. Shortly, LG will release a watch built on Android.

My prediction is that between Pixel, Google Now, Voice search and its already market-leading search assistant (?), Google will become even more embedded in our lives than it is now. What this means for law firms is that search engine optimisation will become increasingly important.

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.”.

This year, 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. This week, it was announced that no major manufacturer was producing 3DTVs.

Among the reasons cited are the use of “clunky and annoying glasses”. Virtual reality takes this poor experience even further. While virtual reality will continue for niche pursuits like video gaming, it won’t influence how lawyers practice or do business this year.

Lawyers will flock to trusted advisors for marketing

For too long, the majority of lawyers have attempted to market themselves using an array of marketing providers or solutions not fit for purpose. A general lack of understanding of marketing & BD on the part of lawyers, coupled with a focus on their budget has seen too many firms try to generate business on the cheap, or in the wrong way.

We regularly pick up clients who have had their fingers burnt by a ‘cheap’ marketing supplier. This usually falls into one of two categories: an acquaintance of one of the lawyers who has some skill in building websites, or a DIY job by someone at the firm.

Like instructing a cowboy tradesman, the usual way to fix this is to instruct a genuine (if more expensive) firm to fix the damage.

2017 will be the year that the majority of firms awaken to the possibilities that a trusted partner 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.

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. 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?

Not only that but there are 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.

Social media marketing will die out as users shut out marketing

The signs are already there. The companies that succeed on social media are those that use it to listen, to assist, to empower, to inform, to respond and to connect to people as individuals. That just can’t be outsourced, automated or pre-packaged. While 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, which falls squarely into the “no sh*t Sherlock” category, 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 the majority of 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 it 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 – particularly LinkedIn for business purposes. 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.

Online Marketing & Digital Marketing for Lawyers, Law Firms & Solicitors

To learn more about how we can help your firm generate more business online, please give us a call on 01413548862 .

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