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Successful Law Firms Keep Marketing Simple: Lessons from Zoë Chance at the Legal Marketing Association 2017 Annual Conference

Lightbulbs dangling in the sky: a metaphor for legal marketing insights

At the 2017 Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference, legal marketers from around the world gathered to discuss the best tactics for growing law firms. Tech innovations and smart business strategies were bandied about in conference halls (and occasionally poolside). There was no shortage of ideas, but the talk that stuck with me the most was the keynote address by Zoë Chance. Zoë’s message was simple: to keep your clients, keep it simple, and make emotional connections.

Zoë Chance, Keynote Speaker at LMA 2017

At one time or other, we’ve all taken the easy way out. We’ve opted for marathoning our favourite show instead of lacing up the running shoes, tuned out an important meeting, gone with the gut and eaten too much, followed the heart and found ourselves lost. I’m not judging. I’m commiserating. As Zoë Chance, keynote speaker at this year’s LMA Annual Conference, said, “We’re less rational than we think we are.” For lawyers and legal marketers this means one thing: make it easy to hire your firm, or lose out on clients.

Zoe Chance, keynote speaker at LMA 2017Zoë Chance teaches one of the most sought after MBA electives at Yale, Mastering Influence and Persuasion. Her talk at LMA 2017 was every bit as engaging and witty as a TED Talk (and she’s done those too).

“Most of the time, we default to the easy option. Most of the time, our brains are lazy.”—Zoë Chance

This is great stuff, I thought, frantically making notes. Looking around, I saw that, even with paper and pens and coffee provided, very few people were doing the same. Many were sunk into the depths of their phones. The guy sitting beside me was scrolling through show times for Britney Spears. Well, it was still morning, and we were in Vegas. Maybe they hadn’t hit the coffee quite as hard as I had.

What Zoë was saying rang true— if it isn’t easy, it isn’t happening. The point Zoë stressed, again and again, was make it easy. Make it easy for new clients to find you and for current clients to retain your services and recommend your firm. Because easy is the natural choice.

The Judge and The Alligator

This may sound like a no-brainer. Indeed that’s the trick. The less brain required, the better your chance of turning a prospect into a client. Zoë posited that we all have two sorts of brain, the judge-brain and the alligator, cohabitating in our skulls. Our judge-brain is the master of rational decision making, while the alligator-brain is a creature of habit, appetite, and sloth. The trouble is, the judge is easily fatigued. When this happens we default to our alligator-brain.

A lazy alligator lounges in a swamp.

Even professional judges exhaust their “judge-brain” and lose their ability to reason effectively. One study decided to test the saying that “justice is what the judge ate for breakfast”. Researchers examined whether extraneous factors, such as how long it had been since the judge last ate, were swaying the judges’ rulings. It turns out that justice gets mighty grumpy without a break: the study found “that the percentage of favorable rulings drops gradually from ≈65% to nearly zero within each decision session and returns abruptly to ≈65% after a break”. That’s bad news if your parole hearing is before the judge has had time to eat his hoagie.

Behavioral psychologists love showing us that we’re not as rational as we think we are. But the real takeaway from this study, and from Zoë’s lecture at LMA 2017, isn’t that humans are incapable of reason, but that rational thinking is a finite resource. Once the judge-brain gets tired, the alligator-brain takes the wheel, and that’s precisely when you’re most likely to pull into a 24-hour McDonald’s drive-thru. Throughout our day, we exhaust our ability to make logic-driven decisions, until all we feel like doing is flopping down with Netflix and a bowl of chips. Our inclination for taking the path of least resistance is the reason why Amazon is clobbering brick-and-mortar stores, and why more and more people are finding dates while swiping through Tinder on their couch. For consumers and clients, ease is a quality nearly as important as price.

There is a biological explanation for this of course. Like our reptilian cousins, we’re programmed to conserve energy and to look for easy meals. Apply this observation to your law firm’s marketing efforts, and you can see how essential it is to make your firm not just the smart choice, but the natural choice for clients.

As Legal Marketers, Our Job is to Make it Simple

And as legal marketers, we have our work cut out for us. We’re not selling cocktails in Las Vegas or pizza to the after-hours crowd; we’re in the business of marketing a highly specialized professional service. What we’re selling is intangible. We can’t rely on the alluring smell of garlic and melted cheese to close a deal. We have to be smarter than that.

Since we’re marketing a knowledge-based service, we should appeal to a prospect’s rational side, their judge-brain, right? Interestingly, Zoë Chance suggested the exact opposite. She compared advertisements based on rational arguments, with advertisements targeting emotions. The results were clear. The brain is but a thin levy against the heart’s rising tides.

As Hamish Pringle notes in her article Why Emotional Messages Beat Rational Ones, “…emotional campaigns are almost twice as likely to generate large profit gains than rational ones, with campaigns that use facts as well as emotions in equal measure fall somewhere between the two.”

This leaves us with two interesting marketing maxims: 1) Make it easy 2) Make it emotional. These are tricky rules to follow, especially when it comes to marketing law firms, which is more given to complexity and rationality than ease and good-feels. But studies show that easy wins, emotion wins, and, inevitably, the gator-brain triumphs. That’s not to say we should appeal to prospects’ base appetites and create some sort of sexy lawyer calendar. We need to keep it professional.

In past posts, we’ve discussed how lawyers could write a compelling lawyer bio, and tips for building a great law firm website, tactics aimed at reducing barriers for prospects and forming real connections with clients. To make it easy for you, our loyal reader, we here at fSquared Marketing have written a follow-up to this post, pulling together 5 ways to make it easy for clients to choose your law firm. Watch this space for part two or, better yet, get our newsletter.

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