Getting the edge over your competitors

Life is becoming more challenging for generalist law firms seeking to compete in a shrinking market.

According to Jon Roberts, Director of One Rabbit, the solution is to find and articulate your firm’s unique identity, then attract a pool of prospective clients by showcasing your expertise online.

Jonathan Roberts is a director and co-founder of specialist professional services marketing agency One Rabbit. Why One Rabbit? “Because the man who chases many rabbits catches none,” says Roberts.

A digital marketing veteran, Roberts says his team had been working with professional services firms for 15 years when it became increasingly obvious that generalist offerings were no longer working in the evolving digital marketplace.

To test this hypothesis, Roberts and his team analysed the marketing activities of over 100 firms, and saw how difficult it was for anyone to stand out. More than 64% of firms used visually similar branding, and very few had a clear proposition for potential clients. “They would list 20 different areas of specialisation on their website,” he says. “So as a potential buyer of professional services, how do I determine who to work with?”

The challenge for One Rabbit was to help its clients cut through in an increasingly crowded market. Their solution was based on the unofficial edict “specialise or be lost”. Because, says Roberts, “when people are buying professional services, they’ll select the firm they believe has the expertise in the single area they’re looking at. If everyone else is the same, they'll go with the firm that can prove or show the greatest specialisation … it’s as simple as that.”

Finding your firm’s unique voice

To help each firm develop a unique identity, the agency guides them through a nine-step process. It starts with identifying a client’s core position or positions in the market — whether as family law experts, litigation mavens or regulatory gurus. Then One Rabbit works with them to develop content marketing tactics, showcasing the client’s areas of expertise by sharing insights online. “It’s a way that clients can impart their intellectual property or knowledge to the market — that's what people engage with, they want to learn and educate themselves,” says Roberts. “They're not engaging with your list of services, or your good customer service or your nice offices. They're actually engaging with your expertise and insights.”

Data analytics are also critical in helping to articulate a firm’s unique voice, because they can show which digital assets achieve the greatest level of interaction from prospective clients. One Rabbit advocates using content-rich, individual landing pages for individual practice areas or areas of specialisation, driving traffic to each page via targeted advertising and engaging content. “For example we can go and find very specific target audiences by location, firm size, title, years of experience and messages within people's LinkedIn feeds,” says Roberts.

Robert says that’s important, because firms can no longer rely on referrals alone to generate new business in a shrinking market. While referrals can still be a viable lead generation approach, firms need a strong online presence to capture those leads and reach out to a wider audience of prospective clients. Prospects need to feel they’ve discovered a firm’s offering, rather than being marketed to, and will often look for a second opinion online even after a colleague or peer has personally recommended a firm.

That’s where timely and relevant online content can play an essential role — especially when clients are looking for answers on a single, specialised topic. “In a perfect world, they would land on a blog article by a partner in the firm on that topic,” says Roberts, “That's how the digitally-empowered buyer decides who they want to work with. Not through ads or marketing or retargeting — but by getting a taste of the expertise that person has around the issue.”

The future of marketing for professional services firms

Firms who are successful with this approach tend to share many traits. An entrepreneurial attitude is essential, with partners willing to dedicate resources to explore different options, and the patience to test tactics in the ever-changing digital space. Roberts also says partners need to be willing to invest time in writing (or engaging and collaborating with writers) and a desire to be different, as well as a willingness to narrow the firm’s focus to its most successful areas of specialisation.

Roberts encourages professional services firms to make the transition to a specialised offering as soon as possible. “The sooner they start the journey, the sooner they'll be ahead of their competitors, because 90% of the market is too busy cranking out billable hours,” he says.

“These small, nimble firms are starting up all over the place and biting at the heels of the bigger, more traditional firms. That will continue to grow and develop, so don't sit on your laurels.”

Three tips for partners looking to re-engineer their firm’s positioning:

  1. Dedicate resources to understand what’s possible by reading blogs, watching webinars and attending conferences.
  2. Cultivate an agile mindset to make the most of changes.
  3. Start small if you have to. Even one step into the under-utilised digital space can give your firm an edge over competitors who are yet to act.

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Unless stated otherwise, this material has been prepared by Macquarie Bank Limited ABN 46 008 583 542 AFSL & Australian Credit Licence 237502 ("Macquarie") for general discussion purposes only, without taking into account your personal objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on this general information, you must consider its appropriateness having regard to your own objectives, financial situation and needs. The information provided is not intended to replace or serve as a substitute for any accounting, tax or other professional advice, consultation or service.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the relevant speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Macquarie Bank.