Archives for May 2010

We Are All Nerds Now

Although I’ve spent about 20 years in technology marketing, I’ve never considered myself a nerd, geek…name your pejorative. My specialty is creating narratives and marketing programs around use cases and value propositions — not the “feeds and speeds” stuff normally associated with tech marketing. I don’t collect gadgets, and generally don’t get excited about the “hottest” devices and applications.

Yet today I was reminded four times that, like a stone worn smooth by a constant flow of water, over time technology has gradually formed me into a nerd. Not only that — we are all nerds now.

First, I finally answered the Apple altar call and stepped forward to order an iPad. I had dithered for more than two years waiting for the perfect mobile computing form factor for me and my big fingers AND a data plan that wasn’t usurious. I believe that the Kwisatz Haderach has arrived and I am stepping out in faith.

Second, my self-described “Luddite” friend, who will only read the print version of the New York Times and believes that Facebook is undermining civilization, sent me a note gushing over his new Roku setup.

Third, my 70+-year-old mother wrote me an excited note about Farmville. This from a woman who only a few years ago believed that e-mail was not delivered on federal holidays.

Finally, to celebrate my conversion to an Apple fanboi, I drove across town to Bennu for my usual iced drink. Trading pleasantries with the barista about the hot weather, he mentioned that members of his “kinship group” in Canada could not believe it was so warm so early here. I know of only two categories of people who routinely speak of kinship groups: social anthropologists and online gamers.

So I ventured, “What game do you play?”

“Lord of the Rings…I’m kind of a nerd.”

Then a wave of bliss and higher purpose swelled up in me like the Grinch on Mount Crumpit: “Well, we all are. One way or another.”

Yes, Virginia, There Is an Elevator Pitch

It’s a standard but fiendishly difficult component of every marketing and communications plan: The Elevator Pitch. That rarest of gems, it’s a short, persuasive description of a person, organization or group, or an idea for a product, service, or project. In fact, the pursuit of the perfect elevator pitch can seem a quixotic exercise — more aspirational and directional than attainable.

Yesterday I had a very interesting conversation with a marketing and communications executive who is leading a rebranding initiative for her B2B company. Although I was not pitching new business, I found myself slipping into a familiar metaphor to explain how her initiative might benefit from deeper analysis of how current customers perceive the brand, and why. That data could then be broken down further to enable insights into segmentation and differentiated positioning and messaging.

Without thinking about it, I started giving my elevator pitch:

“Shatterbox takes its name from a device used by geologists to crush rocks into a fine-grained powder so fundamental materials can be clearly identified and analyzed.

Similarly, marketing-driven companies and professional firms of all sizes are breaking down their communication programs — public relations, social media and advertising — into component parts, sifting out the most successful strategies and tactics and aligning resources with them.”

“So what?” you understandably ask. I mention this not because I think I’ve nailed it, but rather to underscore the utility of metaphor and storytelling in retaining the elevator pitch and easily incorporating it into conversations. The trick is finding a central image or analogy that feels natural and authentic, and is distinctively yours.

How simple metaphors make the best elevator pitches:

  1. Scripted messaging is usually undifferentiated, formulaic and stilted — and always hard to remember verbatim (e.g. “We are a full-service firm dedicated to our clients’ success…”)
  2. Metaphors are endlessly adaptable to various circumstances; scripts…not so much
  3. Humans process new concepts through analogy.
  4. You can make a pitch without sounding like a pitch

Do you have word picture or narrative device that you rely on to carry your brand message?

Remember PR?: Basic Media Relations Could Be Your New “Secret Weapon”

Law firm PR isn’t dead; it’s just “off trend.”

Social media and networking platforms have hijacked law firm marketing mind share, discourse and resources, with many “experts” proclaiming that social media is the new PR. And I thank them for that misdirection, because it creates more opportunities for good old-fashioned media relations (with a few twists*).

While your competitors are bogged down writing post after post for their own blog on recent circuit court decisions, trusting THIS will be the one to command an editor’s attention, you could be appearing on a local Fox affiliate’s morning show segment about estate planning, or contributing posts on family law issues to a mommy blogger site.

The players and distribution channels (aka “media”) have changed, but not the need for, and effectiveness of, basic media relations: useful information engagingly presented, interesting and credible subject matter experts, and good stories well told.

* The “twists”:

  1. Redefine “journalist” – In addition to reporters/editors/correspondents at professional and general interest media, pay attention to “citizen journalists” (aka bloggers) who a) address the audiences you want to reach and b) have a demonstrated, ongoing interest in subject matter where you can offer unique expertise/insights. For me BlogHer is massively useful for identifying new outlets, conversations and conversationalists.  If you haven’t already, get on the HARO distribution, with matches journalists with subject matter experts through thrice-daily e-mail alerts. And don’t overlook opportunities to cultivate conversations and connections in the WordPress community.
  2. The Rolodex might be obsolete, but it’s still about your contacts – Journalists don’t sit around all day checking various content aggregation feeds for interesting posts. There are lots of great story ideas — and even more subject matter experts — out there to choose from. You still have to make 1:1 connections —  just like engaging with prospective clients — if you want to be memorable and useful to journalists.
  3. Think stories, not “news” – Classic, pre-Internet media relations put a premium on “newsworthiness” because the number of outlets and space/time slots within them were limited, and “hard” breaking or investigative news took precedence over “soft” feature stories. Blogging has turned that dynamic on its head. The bar for “hard” news is lower, and the demand for attention-grabbing  feature content and commentary — most notably of the “Top 10” list variety — is growing stronger daily. So if you’ve written an interesting blog post, don’t be afraid to turn it into a press release and/or pitch it directly to media, too.
  4. Give your press releases an SEO makeover – Almost as important as the information in your press releases is the format and searchability. Affordable services like PitchEngine can help you structure and SEO optimize. You can even set up a virtual “newsroom” so you don’t have to mess with posting releases on your website . And don’t forget to use your most searched-for keywords early and often!

Thinkers AND Doers: Converting “Thought Leadership” Into Leads and Referrals

I’ve started to wince when I encounter marketers talking about “thought leadership marketing” as a lead generation strategy — usually in conjunction with a pitch for blogging.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? You’re smart, and smart people win clients right? Well, sort of…

Unless your objective is to obtain an academic position, sign a book contract, build a seminar company, or become a professional blogger, thought leadership marketing is not the most direct or cost-effective route to success.

Crafting journal-worthy blog posts and white papers with the frequency and consistency required to attain a thought leadership reputation is a time- and resource-intensive endeavor. If you’re going to make that investment, be clear about what you’re doing and why.

If your objective is winning new clients, thought leadership does not drive leads and referrals. Results do.

However, thought leadership builds credibility and helps explain how you achieve your results. It is powerful and valuable because it can close deals.

How “thought leadership” helps win business:

  • Demonstrates insight, expertise and intellectual rigor
  • Demonstrates persuasiveness
  • Imparts third-party credibility
  • Reassures current and prospective clients, and validates their choices

Best of all, thought leaders are more likely to get speaking gigs, and speaking gigs beget more speaking gigs — now THAT’S where you generate leads and referrals…

Could Social Media Expertise Help Law Grads Get a Job?: Four Student Bloggers to Watch

A story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal  examined the less-than-rosey employment picture facing current and aspiring law students.

“The situation is so bleak that some students and industry experts are rethinking the value of a law degree, long considered a ticket to financial security. If students performed well, particularly at top-tier law schools, they could count on jobs at corporate firms where annual pay starts as high as $160,000 and can top out well north of $1 million. While plenty of graduates are still set to embark on that career path, many others have had their dreams upended.

Part of the problem is supply and demand. Law-school enrollment has held steady in recent years while law firms, judges, the government and other employers have drastically cut hiring in the economic downturn.

Allan Tanenbaum, chairman of the ABA Commission on the Impact of the Economic Crisis on the Profession and Legal Needs, who was interviewed for the story, noted that the average law-school debt for students is $100,000, and in the current job market, many “have no foreseeable way to pay that back.”

So while those stats might discourage potential law school applicants, current students are — as they say in poker circles — pot committed. Despite murky prospects, they’ve already invested too much to walk away.

Enter the law student bloggers.

Think about it: Law firms are just now wrapping their heads around online social networking and marketing, and grappling with how to develop those capabilities. In a crowded applicant pool, social media skills are going to be an important differentiator.

Probably the most famous student blawgger exemplar is Rex Gradeless of  the Social Media Law Student blog, who built a large a loyal following through advocacy of technology innovation in the practice of law. I thought it might be interesting and useful to start looking for other student voices and other approaches that exhibit aptitude and passion for the medium.

A few of my picks for “Law Student Blogs to Watch”:

Tax Docket (Joshua Landsman) – Congratulations are in order. According to a May 4 tweet, this week Landsman took his last exam and finished his J.D. at the University of Florida College of Law. A pop culture-inflected take on the dryest of topics. Tax info served up with music and celebrity gossip.

Law Student at Last (Anonymous) – An L1 “non-traditional” law student in Chicago. A candid, readable journal of what it’s like to balance work and family while pursuing a dream.

“Problem is, my husband is not on board.  He, in fact, believes my choices are harmful to our kids and our marriage!  I get that being away so much makes life harder for him and I appreciate all he’s taken on to make this work, but I also believe I am showing my kids that nothing is impossible and it is important to go for your dreams.  My daughter, especially, needs to see a woman succeeding at something that is really really hard!  I hope my marriage can make it, but if it doesn’t, it was going to fall apart without law school.

So, we shall see – it will be an interesting 3 years!!!”

Dennis Jansen (Eponymous) – University of Minnesota law student and urban explorer/commentator. Probably the most progressive blawg I’ve come across — Edgy/interesting graphics. Engaging. Irreverent  but smart. Urban/urbane. Lots of useful links, well organized.

Excerpt:

The problem with my international tax law class is that it is far more regulation dense than my corporate tax law or basic federal tax law courses. Things also tend to get “mathy.” Ick.

The Reasonably Prudent Law Student (Huma Rashid) – Blogs about law school experiences,  fashion and writing (legal writing, critical theory, essays and fiction). Pivots from a post on “Vintage Finds At Tulle for Under $50” to an illustrated pyromania-themed meditation on final exams.

So mad skills, right? (Do people still say that?)

For additional recommendations on student blawggers, check out the winners of Clear Admit’s first “Best of Blogging Awards,” announced earlier this week.

Winning Words: What Do We Mean When We Say “Experience”?

In a post on The Great Jakes Blog yesterday, Robert Algeri made an important point about vague or undifferentiated positioning and messaging in law firm taglines:

A quick glance reveals tagline after tagline of monotony. Here are a few examples from the AmLaw 100:

  • Experience. Creativity. Results.
  • Experience Innovation
  • When Experience Matters
  • Everything Matters

I agree that advertising taglines generally don’t provide value for professional services firms (mostly because they’re not pervasive enough to generate top-of-mind awareness), but a unique value proposition is essential for crafting an effective marketing communications program.

Crafting a pithy, evocative expression of your brand’s essence — whether it’s a tagline, a positioning statement or an “elevator pitch” — is tremendously difficult, but it provides coherence and focus.

For example, “Experience. Creativity. Results.” might not move the needle as a tagline, but could be a powerful editorial blueprint. Think of a blog where every post reinforces one or more of those attributes. Likewise, clearly and consistently incorporating those characteristics into case studies and presentations given by individual attorneys — whatever their niche — has a cumulative effect and distinguishes both the attorneys and the firm as a whole.

Differentiated positioning and messaging are:

Direct – Specific words convey clearer ideas. “Experience” is not an inherent strength, let alone a unique advantage. Also, unless it is contextualized, it can be high-sounding but basically meaningless — consider the Rommelwood Military Academy motto from “The Simpsons”: “A Tradition of Heritage.”

 At base, “experience” only conveys longevity, which is comforting but not compelling. If what you’re really talking about is superior insight or a record of success derived from experience, say that.  Similarly, if you have unique experience in a niche (e.g. international adoptions), lead with that.

Ownable – If you can credibly replace your name with a competitor’s in your positioning and messaging, it’s not ownable. How many times have you seen lawyers touting “We Fight for You”  or “We Have a Passion for Justice”? Unlike all those other surrender monkeys who are indifferent to justice?

What’s your secret sauce? Connections? Creativity? Big-dollar awards? Reassuring manner and pleasant phone voice?

Identify it and communicate it.

Defensible – You can easily and credibly support your claims with data.