The following is a guest post by Tyler Roberts, co-founder of NOMOS Marketing, based on his presentation on "Debunking Referral Marketing & Networking Myths." We invite you to watch the full webinar here.
My academic advisor in college used to tell me that when it comes to networking and referrals, it’s not about what you know, it’s not about who you know, it’s what people know about you.
I believe this same philosophy applies to law firm marketing (and really any small business).
You could be the smartest lawyer in your market, or have the largest rolodex of business cards, but in the end, it’s reputation and brand recognition that grow your law firm’s referral engine flywheel.
As a legal marketing professional, I will be the first to admit that in most cases, a law firm’s best cases will come from referrals. Sure, you can set up click funnels, run ads, write blog posts, and do everything that you have been told to do to market your law firm. But inevitably, the relationships you cultivate with clients, colleagues, and members of your community are going to be the best driver of business to your firm. In fact, that is how our own agency consistently grows quarter over quarter.
If you neglect marketing at the expense of networking, or vice versa, then you do so at your own peril. In this blog post, we’ll be exploring the intersection of marketing, networking, and brand building as well as strategies to build a strong referral pipeline.
Warning: there are no quick tips, hacks, or black-hat strategies here. Building the referral flywheel takes consistent effort. When done correctly, it is a marketing strategy that will grow your firm’s clientele month after month and year after year.
Let’s start with branding.
The other morning on my run, I was listening to a Tony Robbins podcast, in which he asked his audience three questions:
Overwhelmingly, the live audience came up with the same three answers: Coke, Mercedes, and Apple.
That got me thinking: what if every time someone in your market thought about criminal defense, personal injury, estate planning, or any other legal service, they thought about you?
One thing that all of those companies have in common is a strong brand that has been built and cultivated over the course of decades. Creating a great product, like providing great legal representation, is just the baseline. Many lawyers would argue, for example, that Microsoft computers are just as good as Apple. While that may be true, Apple is still the largest technology company, due in large part to its successful brand building efforts.
We can learn from what makes these brands successful and apply them to law firm marketing campaigns – including referral marketing.
Your brand is built on much more than your logo – it’s your law firm’s identity. While this does include your logo, it’s so much more than that. It’s the colors you use on your website, stationery, and office decoration. It’s the font choices you use when creating presentation slides and brochures. It’s how you talk about your law firm with potential clients and referral sources.
The goal of brand development is to create consistent touch points with consumers and referral sources every time they interact with you or your firm. When someone picks up a brochure, passes by a billboard, or stumbles across your website, the experience is the same.
There is a reason why nearly every lawyer we take through our branding process gives Apple as an example of a brand they like. Every product and service is branded. Each touch point is consistent. Even the packaging of the product provides a unique consumer experience.
You may not be selling computers, but you create a similarly consistent and exciting brand experience by focusing on the basics of good branding, which include:
You can implement these brand elements across marketing channels and communications to build brand awareness and improve your referral marketing efforts.
Once your brand has been built, it’s time to put it to work.
Your website is a natural place to start, but have you considered office collateral? Is your brand reflected on stationery, business cards, and pens?
Go through your firm’s social media profiles. Are the colors, image choices, and captions consistent with your new branding package?
Take a look at any ads that you run, email newsletter templates your business sends, and the signage in front of your office. These should all reflect the brand experience you want.
Consistent branding and messaging across multiple platforms is the basis for great marketing. Using your new branding guide, brand building across multiple channels and platforms will be a breeze. With just a few tweaks here and there, you can effectively grow your law firm’s brand, creating memorable touch points for all who come into contact with your firm.
We’ve covered the basics of brand building and marketing. Now let’s talk about how it helps fuel your referral engine.
Think about how you currently get referrals. Is it from past clients? Other law firms? Former classmates? Whatever the method, your referral marketing efforts will be only half as effective as they could be without a sound marketing strategy.
Since it can be difficult to see how these pieces fit together, here’s an example:
A young lawyer leaves her large law firm to start her own personal injury practice. Stepping out on her own, she creates a distinctive logo and tagline. From day one, she puts her new logo on the window of her firm, which faces a busy intersection. Having represented chiropractors in the past, she sends those offices baked goods with her new logo on it along with several brochures for her office. Her website includes authentic images and weaves her mission statement into each page. On social media, she talks about what makes her law firm different and uses branded posts that use her unique brand colors and fonts. When she is asked to present at conferences, her slides are branded as well and always open with her tagline. Finally, she brands her in office collateral, including client folders, pens, and stationery.
Notice that in this example, we have not talked about competitive pay per click, Facebook funnels, or expensive TV ads, and yet, this example is based on an attorney whose thriving practice handles over 100 cases at any given time.
If you were to ask her where new cases come from, she would simply tell you that they are referrals from past clients, other attorneys, and medical professionals. However, if you were to ask her clients how they found her, they would say that they received a referral from a friend or doctor, went to her website, checked out her Facebook page, read online reviews, and maybe even took home a brochure.
Within 2 years of opening her practice, this attorney created a solid referral flywheel through digital marketing, brand building, and networking.
Lawyers know they need to market their law firm, but how they decide to do so usually boils down to one question: what is the Return on Investment?
For any small business looking to scale, this is an incredibly important question. Unfortunately, law firms’ brand building, social media, referrals, and networking are frequently neglected because determining the ROI is not as cut and dry as other marketing channels, such as pay per click.
This isn’t an ROI issue. Rather, it is an issue of attribution. Without a proper system in place to track where referrals are coming from and the touch points a client has before they contact your firm, you are basically flying in the dark. Below is a graphic depicting how our own business attributes new leads to events, referral sources, and client referrals.
I’m going to give you a pro marketing tip that helps our business calculate ROI on referral marketing:
In your CRM, or an excel sheet if you don’t have one, use tags to identify where new leads and contacts came from.
For example, if you received ten business cards from a networking event, add those names into your CRM and tag them with the name of that event. Then, each time that contact refers a new case to your office (or becomes a client themselves), you can attribute the case back to the networking event where you met.
Another example? Create a specific call tracking number for your marketing collateral, such as brochures left with a referral partner or business cards that you take to conferences, to track the number of leads that come directly from those marketing efforts.
The idea here is finding a way to trace and attribute where new law firm leads are coming from, then comparing the cost, time, and effort of obtaining those leads against the lifetime value of the client.
If you feel as though your law firm’s marketing strategies are not producing the quantity or quality of leads that you would like, I would encourage you to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Again, it’s not who you know, or what you know, but what people know about you.
Creating a consistent brand identity, engaging with people in your circle, and designing marketing strategies to build brand awareness is not easy, but will produce reliable results your law firm can expect for years to come.