Think of what new platforms have become available for marketing in the past ten years —social media sites (including YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn) and the smartphone/tablet with mobile applications and paid search tools, such as Google AdWords. It makes it hard to imagine what innovative technology will be available in the next five years, let alone by the end of the decade. Plenty of gimmicky technology with a significant “cool” factor will be developed by the year 2020; however, the more important trends to watch involve the transformation of legal marketing staples.
CRMs Will Be Easier to Use
Not only will CRMs be more useful, attorneys will be required to use them! By the year 2020, there will be no more excuses as to why attorneys cannot use their firm’s client relationship management (CRM) system to support business development efforts. The most common complaints I hear about our CRM are the following: “It’s too hard to use;” “The process of entering and maintaining my information is too cumbersome;” or “I don’t have time to learn it.” However, I’ve noticed that since the economic downturn (which necessitates working smarter and harder on business development) it has been a lot easier to get the late adopters on board. However, these users still struggle with the functionality of the product.
Over the past decade, software providers have made great strides in improving the user interface of CRM products, and they have gotten smarter by incorporating it into what attorneys do every day — check email. The leading CRM providers in the legal market now allow attorneys to access their products via their email client. Companies like CRM4Legal developed their product with this in mind while others, such as LexisNexis InterAction (with version 6.0), have finally integrated the majority of their main product functionality into Outlook. This integration will make future CRM versions much easier to use. Over the next decade, these companies will take this trend a step further. Not only will using the product be more intuitive for attorneys, but the amount of information automatically pulled into the system will be greater than ever before. In addition to looking up who at your firm “knows” a client, you’ll be able to see what the client was billed in the last year, what practice groups were utilized, where the growth opportunities are and which of your other non-internal contacts have a connection to the client. There may even be access to “personal” preferences for the client (like music and food), and best of all, attorneys will not have to enter this information into the database themselves. Firms have used portal technology to facilitate bringing information into one place, but CRMs will differ from portals by tapping into third-party resources, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and news sources, to deliver unprecedented, one-step access to information that can be useful in pitching a prospect or servicing a client.
The Demise of Email Marketing
In the year 2020, firms will have shifted their efforts from mass email marketing campaigns to other online distribution channels. The effectiveness of email marketing is already on the decline, and over the next decade email clients will become even stricter about the types of information they allow through their spam filters. Compounding this issue, users are now relying on tools like social media, RSS feeds, blogs, search engines and other resources, rather than email, to find the information they need. Firms will no longer have the luxury of knowing they can inform their clients of emerging legal issues just by sending a monthly newsletter or weekly alert. They will need to find new ways to get this information to clients and prospects, preferably through a myriad of distribution channels. To prepare, firms should concentrate on using search engine optimization (SEO) for their websites (especially on pages that tend to get a majority of visitors from email distributions) and encourage attorneys to use social media to proactively share their articles and experience in specific practice areas.
Also, targeted online advertising, such as on LinkedIn and paid search, can be used to promote practice groups and help supplement the lack of exposure for these groups through email alerts. For example, firms can advertise their healthcare practice group to LinkedIn users in the healthcare industry, who have General Counsel as a title and live within 50 miles of the geographic area to which that practice group targets. Another paid search tool that may be useful is Google Remarketing, which allows firms to target ads to users who’ve previously visited their websites. Through this technology, users that find healthcare articles on a firm’s website through Google would later see an ad for the firm’s healthcare practice as they visit other websites or check their Gmail accounts. Legal alerts will still be written, but firms will rely more heavily on searchable syndication services, such as Martindale.com’s Legal Library or The National Law Review’s searchable database. Firms would be wise to prepare themselves for the inevitable by scaling back now on the amount of information they send to contacts through mass email messages. They should start tracking article clicks, opens and other performance data and use it to eliminate contacts from mailing lists. For example, if a contact only opens healthcare alerts or clicks on healthcare articles, a firm should only send them email distributions having to do with healthcare. In the future, if a firm wants anyone to open their email messages, they will need to condition their recipients to expect relevant information in every distribution.
Design for Mobile First
Mobile devices are everywhere, and they are fast becoming people’s primary access point to the Internet and email. In the past five years, although mobile devices have been a consideration when firms design websites and email messages, it hasn’t been a necessity to design for them first. By 2020, mobile devices (including tablets) will play the role which PCs do today. It’s important that firms start preparing for that shift now by creating a pared-down mobile version of their websites if all the pages of the site are not already mobile-friendly. Firms working on a website redesign should make sure they are giving mobile devices and PCs equal consideration. For example, if there is a search section for articles, more search buckets with dropdown choices should be created so that mobile users will have to rely less on typing in search terms. If Flash is utilized to emphasize important information on the website, there should be an alternative way to get that information across to iPhone users, who cannot view Flash animation. Although designing for mobile may inhibit creativity, it is better for mobile users to be able to see and use a highly functional website than to become frustrated by (or unable to view) a beautifully designed website. Mobile apps (currently a hot topic in legal marketing circles) will also be important, just not the way we think of them today. Many firms that have taken advantage of this new technology have focused on providing information that is already accessible on their websites and in other places. In the future, successful law firm apps will have two purposes: to aid users in things they are doing every day and to provide better service to clients. For example, Latham & Watkins has already realized this trend and released a useful app that allows people to search a glossary of legal, business and financial terms. How will apps help firms better service their clients in the future? They may allow clients to view hours billed and balances due, or search a firm’s attorney experience database based on specific criteria for a new matter. As firms develop ideas for apps, they should keep usability in mind so they don’t end up with an app that clients download out of curiosity, but then fails to entice them to come back again.
Websites will be vastly different by the end of the decade —not only will they be designed with mobile devices in mind, but they also may incorporate technology that delivers a different homepage experience to each user based on past visits. For example, tailored article and event feeds might display, based on previous visits to practice group descriptions, attorney bios or the user’s past site searches. Other website areas that will be affected will be attorney bios, practice group descriptions and resource centers. Firms should begin thinking about attorney bios more like social media profiles (maybe even connecting LinkedIn profiles with attorney pages), because the lines between websites and social media will be even more blurred. Video will be as important as text in getting marketing messages across on practice group pages, and firms will use articles and descriptions of experience to show practice group expertise rather than just “say”they have it in a lengthy practice group description. In the resource area of the website, firms will add more information that is useful to visitors. CLE webcasts may be a way to drive users to the website, much as articles do today. However, the trick to adding CLE resources will be figuring out how to give people their credit and comply with ethics rules for each state. Firms need to start preparing for what is to come in marketing technology — by 2020, tactics and processes will have evolved into a connected, mobile machine. To embrace this technology of tomorrow, firms should keep an eye on trends involving CRM systems, email marketing, mobile technology and websites, while maintaining caution from being distracted by a high “cool” factor that may not deliver real value to the firm or its clients.
This article was first published in ILTA’s June 2011 issue of Peer to Peer titled “Law2020TM: One Year In” and is reprinted here with permission. For more information about ILTA, visit their website at www.iltanet.org.© 2013 International Legal Technology Association