In Aesop’s fable The Hare and the Tortoise, the hare dashes off from the starting line but becomes complacent and takes a nap, allowing the patient, plodding tortoise to overtake him. ‘Slow and steady wins the race’ could also be adopted as the motto of good content marketing. After an initial flurry of blog posts and social media activity, all too often we hit the snooze button and leave the field open to competitors.
The challenge with content marketing is producing relevant, high quality content not just for a few months but indefinitely. After a few months, it’s easy to lose inspiration and output becomes stale and dull.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Like most things in life, content marketing benefits hugely from planning, preparation and strategy.
What is content marketing?
Traditional marketing focuses on communicating a message about a product – the tastiest chocolate bar, the most effective washing powder. Content marketing takes a softer approach, providing ‘content’ such as a blog post, white paper, infographic or video guide, that demonstrates a brand’s credentials without pushing a sales message about the product.
It’s all about credibility. Quality content attracts a wider audience, showcases knowledge, experience and the ability to communicate clearly, as well as building goodwill. If you provide a helpful guide to a topic you will be more easily remembered and trusted. We all prefer to engage with people rather than an anonymous brand; allowing your audience to get to know you will build a bond.
Of course, none of this will work if the content is weak. Choosing the right topics, format and channels (for example, social media, an email campaign, a guest blog post) are crucial to ensure that content marketing is time well spent.
Could content marketing enhance your career?
Barristers and chambers trade on their reputations. Nowadays, online brand is part of that reputation. When you meet someone at an event, chances are they will look you up online before enlisting your services. If a client finds you online, their choice about whether to engage you may be wholly based on your web presence.
Content marketing gives you the ability to display your credentials and legal interests to anyone looking to find out more about you. It is also a way to signpost your interest in a particular niche area of law. Attracting clients in that field will help you gain more knowledge and experience, boosting your reputation as a specialist. Content marketing can open doors and bring fresh opportunities.
Plan for the year ahead
One of the big mistakes people make with content marketing is taking a haphazard approach in which the activity is seen as low priority and squeezed in when time allows. A recent survey by Greentarget found only 26% of law firms have a documented content strategy. By taking the time to form a strategy for the year ahead, you can build a calendar of content which is likely to be much more effective and help you spot opportunities.
How your calendar will look will depend on your audience. If you work with property developers, you might want to plan some content around a new piece of legislation, a key industry event or landmark ruling. If you know your clients are high net worth individuals who spend the summer months abroad, you might choose not to release content then as there will be no audience for it.
This strategic approach will give you the benefit of consistency. Marketing is about fighting for your audience’s attention, so one or two blog posts will not do the job. You need a steady stream of high quality content, targeted to your audience, to have the best hopes of being noticed.
Find a format that works
Content marketing requires you to think about clients a little differently. If you can understand how your typical client moves through the world – what their daily routine is like, how they access media and the web, what the context might be for them searching for your content – you can choose formats that will have maximum impact.
Our brains are built for visual information. We process images 60,000 faster than we process text. Unsurprisingly, content with a visual element – such as an image or a video – attract 94% more views than a pure text piece. The least successful format for your content is likely to be a big block of text – breaking it up into chunks and adding images, video or graphics will boost performance.
The same content can also be reformatted for different channels. You might write a blog post on a recent legal precedent, for example, then develop this into a series of LinkedIn articles looking at the most interesting aspects in turn, or a series of tweets spelling out your take on the subject and linking to your piece. Or you could film yourself presenting the blog post as a video.
Writing for the web – make it snappy
Barristers are used to dealing with granular detail, being comprehensive and highly accurate. In creating marketing content, the level of detail can usually be reduced substantially. Your powers of persuasion and rhetorical flourish will be invaluable, but this is an area where focus is everything.
The reason for this is that you are battling for the attention of an audience which is under no obligation to read or view your content to the end. Your reader might be accessing the content on a mobile phone on a crowded train, or flicking through your blog over a sandwich at their desk. If the title is dull, they will not read on. If the first paragraph is unclear, they are unlikely to reach the clarification in paragraph five.
It is important to remember that you are creating content to be useful to clients and potential clients, not to impress your legal colleagues with knowledge of obscure areas of law. Depending on your clients and their level of familiarity with the law, it might be that broad overviews of a topic will be more useful than delving into the detail.
In addition to using images and graphics, you can make your content look more interesting by breaking up a block of text with subheadings, pull-out quotes and box-outs. For instance, you might create a box-out setting out criteria for a legal test, or with an overview of key case law.
Collaborate for greater impact
Building an audience is an important aspect of content marketing. Collaboration can be a powerful tool in helping your message travel further. It might be that your chambers co-ordinates a campaign bringing in multiple barristers to produce content on a particular topic, giving a more considered and wide-ranging view than lone voices.
Alternatively, you may wish to link up with outside organisations to give you further reach. This could take the form of guests blogs, joint campaigns, interviews or events with associated social media activity. Even retweets and likes can be valuable in boosting your audience. Use professional networks for mutual benefit by linking up.
For example, if you are planning to produce content on new planning regulations, you might link with a property developer or environmental specialist to give a unique take on the subject.
Content tools – giving the tortoise a lift
If you don’t want to do all the content marketing legwork yourself, there are many ways to make life easier. You might want to explore tools for creating more interesting layouts and formats for blog posts for example, or platforms for making infographics setting out key points from your content. There are also all sorts of tools out there for managing, scheduling and monitoring social media.
Another option is to use a marketing agency or professional to assist with content marketing. This could be anything from helping to develop a strategy and plan to delegating the production and sharing of content. Working with an external marketer can be more efficient in terms of time and money, as well as ensuring content remains fresh and focused.
How do you know if you’re doing it right?
Unless you set targets and measure performance, your content marketing is likely to fizzle out. You don’t have to have an intricate management system; it’s about knowing what you are trying to achieve and understanding what success looks like. Setting some metrics for your content will also help you to know what works and what doesn’t, so you can steadily tweak and improve your approach.
For example, you might want to record email open rates and the number of click-throughs for an email campaign; on social media you might record likes, retweets and reposts, engagement through comments, followers and so on; for blog posts you might focus on overall unique visitors, page views, pages per session, bounce rate and average time spent. There are lots of digital tools to help you track and record these metrics.
Approached strategically, content marketing can be an important tool for building the reputation of barristers and their chambers; establishing credibility and showcasing specialisms as well as attracting new clients. Like the tortoise, it’s all about taking things step by step and focusing on the end goal.
Box out 1:
Stuck in a time warp? Barristers and marketing
- Most marketing activity for barristers is still based around networking events
- In spring 2018 the Bar Directory switched to online publication
- Entrepreneurs are exploring platforms for barristers to self-promote and share knowledge
Box out 2:
A recent survey by Greentarget found only 26% of law firms have a documented content strategy.
Box out 3:
We process images 60,000 faster than we process text. Unsurprisingly, content with a visual element – such as an image or a video – attract 94% more views than a pure text piece.
By Ben Hollom, Managing Director, M2 Bespoke content creation agency
Ben Hollom runs content creation agency M2
Bespoke, specialising in Thought Leadership
marketing and social media management
+44(0)1225 720 099