The Fallacy of Word of Mouth Advertising

Shelley Dunstone, law firm marketing. attorney marketingI picked up this interesting post on Martindale Connected by Shelly Dunstone:

I often hear lawyers say "Most of my work comes through word of mouth".

It's a matter of pride that satisfied clients will tell others, who then become clients.

What it usually means, though, is "I don't spend money on advertising". Now, in itself that makes a lot of sense, because word of mouth promotion is more effective than advertising. However, I worry that many lawyers rely on "word of mouth" as an excuse not to do any form of marketing. There's a common belief that if you are any good as a lawyer, word will spread and clients will come to you automatically, without the need to engage in any marketing (which tends to be regarded as unpleasant and a bit grubby). If you want to build a client base you do need to engage in marketing activities.

There's a real danger in relying purely on word of mouth to build your practice. You may be an excellent lawyer, but your practice might not grow in the way you would like it to, and that can leave you feeling frustrated and demoralized.

Here are three limitations of word of mouth marketing:

  1. It's hard to make people tell others. Marketing people say you should ask existing and past clients for referrals. However, this can feel awkward, unnatural and needy.
  2. Word of mouth does not necessarily bring the type of work you want to do. People don't always have a clear picture of the kind of work that you specialize in, or the kind of work you want to attract.
  3. Even if someone is referred to you, they might not contact you. They might have their own adviser; they might trawl the Internet for free information or they might decide to do nothing. One recommendation is not necessarily enough. If a second or third person mentions you, that starts to carry some weight. Or they will Google you, and see if they can find any proof that you are good.

If they check you out online, what will they find? Many times, when I Google a lawyer, I find nothing at all; not even a LinkedIn page. And lawyers' profiles on firms' web sites are usually quite bland and uninformative. They are really just advertisements.

However, if the Google search produces a "body of work", e.g. informative thought leadership articles, blog posts and answers to questions - by you, that offers proof. If they see that you have presented at seminars and conferences, that offers proof.

Thought leadership amplifies word of mouth in two ways:

  • When people are referred to you, it gives them added confidence to act on the recommendation, and
  • It positions you as a source of valuable information, which people can share with others.

Word of mouth doesn't just happen. It's up to you to provide the proof. 

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