Five Steps to Use Content Marketing to Grow Your Practice
Once, there was a struggling blacksmith named John. Barely scraping by, he eventually made the hard decision to leave his family in Vermont to head West in hopes of finding profitable work. He settled in Illinois, where he hung a shingle for his small blacksmithing business.
While there, he heard stories about farmers who struggled to drag their plows through the sticky midwestern mud, which was so different from the fine New England soils he was used to. One day, he had an idea: Would encasing the plow blades in steel help them slide more easily through the mud?
He tried it, and it worked. By 1837, John had created the first polished plow, which made midwestern farmers’ daily agricultural tasks far easier.
But John didn’t stop there – he worked closely with the farmers. He listened to their stories, their problems, their struggles. And he constantly worked to refine his product so that it would better address their needs. He went on to become one of the most successful and acclaimed inventors and business owners of all time.
That man was John Deere.
As you can probably tell from his story, John Deere was founded on principles of listening and learning and teaching. Deere himself started by first identifying a problem, and then letting that problem drive his product.
After he passed away, the company continued this legacy. One way they did this was by launching The Furrow – a magazine aimed at educating farmers on new agricultural technologies and how they could be more successful in their farming pursuits. The Furrow was not a catalog. It was not filled with sales pitches or promotions, but valuable information developed by skilled authors, storytellers, and journalists. It is still in circulation today. It is the largest circulated farming magazine in the world and distributed monthly to more than 1.5 million subscribers, in 12 languages to 40 countries. Because of this, John Deere is often considered the very first brand to leverage CONTENT MARKETING as a long-term business strategy.
Content Marketing as a Business Strategy
Have you heard any of these buzzwords?
These terms go in and out of vogue, but they all refer to the same thing: They are different ways of expressing the concept of content marketing that John Deere used in the mid nineteenth century.
So, what exactly is content marketing?
According to the Content Marketing Institute:
“Content marketing is the marketing and business process for creating and distributing valuable and compelling content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.
The lynchpin of content marketing is ultimately connection. You are connecting with people, and through that connection, you are doing a few things:
Setting yourself apart.
Encouraging/persuading people to select YOU as the one to help them address their legal issues.
Let's talk about how you can power connection between your firm and your prospective clients.
Step 1: Define Your Audience.
Most marketing campaigns focus on the end game: making a sale, or in our case as lawyers, gaining new clients. But we have to tweak our thinking just a bit with content marketing – because there are layers on top of that end game that we have to build before we make a sale. And even though it takes work, it is worth it. Because not only are we ultimately heading toward powering connections with prospective clients, we are also 1) making ourselves into thought leaders, and 2) providing a service by giving people useful information.
The point of content marketing is to create subscribers to your brand - to what you offer, as a business. You are turning people from passersby, to followers, to customers. This naturally involves a conversation - a dialogue with your customers. Give them engaging information, and they will show up for more.
Step 2: Define Your Mission.
Think of John Deere: he knew his customers (midwestern farmers) and he knew their problems (sticky soil that made it hard to plow). This drove his mission: to devise a product that made it easier for these midwestern farmers to complete their daily tasks. This also drove the mission of the company magazine, the Furrow: tips for farmers to build profitable and sustainable agricultural businesses.
Similarly, you should devise a customer-focused mission statement for your business AND your content plan. This will guide every piece of content you produce.
First, consider your audience. What are their problems? What are their informational needs?
Second, consider how you are uniquely suited to help them solve their problems.
Finally, condense these thoughts into a one or two line mission statement.
Devising a clear mission statement will ensure that there is a common, cohesive theme running throughout all of your content. This is critical, as it will keep people coming back to your site, as they will know what to expect from you. It will also solidify your relationship with your audience.
Step 3: Select a Medium.
There is variety of media you can use to create your content, from digital versions like blogs, website pages, e-books, and social media, to print versions like books and monthly newsletters. No matter what you choose, what matters most is that your content is consistent and engaging. What fills the pages ultimately matters more than what form your content takes.
Step 4: Tell a Story.
We hear a lot of buzz as small business owners about SEO: how to optimize it, how long our online content should be, what types of keywords to use. Now, though, digital marketing experts opine that SEO is about quality over quantity: about the power of the storytelling within the content, rather than how many keywords are stuffed into it. And more and more, brands are recognizing this, attempting to leverage the power of a good story rather than keyword-stuffing their online content.
Thankfully, lawyers are uniquely suited to tell stories. In a sense, we are natural-born storytellers. As such, we have a leg-up over other brands when it comes to using storytelling in our content.
If you think about it, your day-to-day is rich with stories:
Your own personal story: Why you started practicing law
Lawyers across the country are turning to storytelling in addition to writing about black-letter law to enhance their online presences and to build a bank of engaging content.
“Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.”
Step 5: Be Consistent.
This meme is apt: Writers block is one the primary enemies of consistency. Couple that with our busy workloads and the day to day challenges of running a practice, and it is often the death knell of any content plan. How many blogs do you see that haven’t been updated in three years? It is understandable.
But consistency is critical. Think: you wouldn’t keep ordering your Sunday paper if you never knew when it came, right?
When it comes to your content, consistency is even better than frequency. If all you can commit to is one blog post a week, so be it. What matters is that your audience knows what to expect.
Not to mention, consistency 1) boosts your SEO, and 2) helps you gradually, over time, build a following.
This is a long game. It takes a long time, often many years, to build a large audience. But the only way you will is through consistency. As renowned blogger Seth Godin notes, "it's the constant drip, drip, drip that matters." That said, don't get frustrated if you don't see success overnight. Rather than aiming for quick impact, aim to keep showing up.
If you get to a point where you feel frustrated and wonder whether this content marketing thing is worth your time, it is. And this is the reason why:
Your owned content is evergreen. This means that it will last, even when social media comes and goes, when media recognition comes and goes, when flurries of new clients wax and wane. Like The Furrow, your content can last for years – helping people, inspiring people, educating people. For us lawyers, it is like a form of pro bono service. In addition to helping you stand out in your field and get new clients, you are also serving people with free information about the law, helping them educate themselves.
And this is powerful.