Ahhh, the mind of the consumer. So much psychological vastness for marketers to examine, so much data already out there to base our marketing strategies on. We law firm marketers have a rather different task compared to retail marketing gurus because we are marketing not just a business transaction, but a real-life relationship between the potential client and a firm’s lawyers. Which means we can use retail marketing data for insights, but we need to carefully assess when we develop strategies based on that data how we can up the relational impact factor for our legal clients.
An instructive case is a recent IPSOS/RetailMeNot study that surveyed more than 10,000 consumers in 10 high-income country markets (plus India) on what most influenced their buying decisions. The results appear above, as summarized by Marketing Charts.
Keep in mind that this data applies to online shopping, which differs in significant respects from consumers researching legal services online. But I’d hazard a guess that the results of a similar survey with potential law firm clients would see the top three slots occupied by the same three categories (although their order would likely be shuffled; more about that in a minute).
What jumps out here? First, that the primary way to Internet shoppers’ hearts does still appear to be through their pocketbooks, and that U.S. consumers are on average more responsive to bargains than their global counterparts.
But the results also show that getting a good deal is actually not as important to consumer buying decisions as you might think: Americans are swayed almost as much (51% to the first category’s 56%, a difference that is almost unnoticeable if you factor in the margin of error of up to 4.4 percentage points) by ratings, reviews, and opinions of people who’ve bought the product on offer. Topping that off, 45% also cite the trustworthiness of the retailer as a major influence. This means that even in retail, building trust with the consumer should be at least as much of a marketing priority as playing up deals, discounts, or price guarantees.
Now, how should a law firm marketer interpret these findings? Well, we should start by considering the following:
1) Online buying is in many cases a 100% electronic experience with no actual human interaction and the purchase itself is often a physical product that be evaluated by other people in straightforward terms.
2) The online purchasing decision tends to be closely time-bounded: the average consumer goes on, for example, Amazon, reads a few product reviews, and makes the purchase decision within a few minutes. They may decide to buy some time later (e.g., after payday), but the purchase decision itself tends to happen within a timeframe of minutes to hours rather than days.
3) In most cases online purchasing decisions are easily reversible if they turn out to have been poorly taken. If you buy a faulty or unsatisfactory book at Barnesandnoble.com, you can send it back for a refund without too much hullaballoo.
None of the above points is usually true in the case of a potential client choosing a lawyer. Consumers are buying an intellectual service when they contract a lawyer, meaning their primary consideration in choosing legal representation is the human capital of the attorney himself (i.e., his level of skill and likelihood of winning their case). Unlike a watch that is either attractive or ugly and works or doesn’t work, the evaluative criteria for a potential lawyer are highly subjective and best assessed and communicated by former clients, as potential leads well know.
Furthermore, clients tend to prolong their decision of which lawyer to choose over much longer time periods—anywhere from days to months—intensifying the scrutiny on all competitors. And finally, if a client chooses the wrong lawyer, even if the lawyer operates on a no-win-no-fee policy, that client will have lost months of time and energy in pursuing their case—time and energy that can never be refunded.
All this together means that building credibility and trust through reviews, ratings, and word-of-mouth referrals should undoubtedly the number-one consideration for law firms and their marketers. But this is a lesson that many firms seem to have missed: we see ubiquitous sites that cover their bases on the “deals and discounts” front with free consultations and contingent fee guarantees but severely neglect the credibility-building aspect by not adding a single testimonial on their site, or, worse, having no procedure in place for requesting online client reviews.
So don’t be one of those firms that neglects the power of ratings and reviews. Create a procedure to request Google+ and other online reviews from clients. You could, for example, have your secretary email clients to congratulate them on a favorable settlement, coupled with a request and instructions on how to give a review. (You can find a sample review request form specialized for law firms here). It’s okay to politely nudge a second time if promised reviews never materialize. You could also snag a happy client after a successful settlement to give a 90-second video testimonial that you then embed on your website and let us market for you.
None of this is at all groundbreaking and in fact the most interesting point I take away from this study is that we spend unbelievable amounts of time and energy trying to understand the psychology of consumer decision-making, and yet the more we learn, the more the same point is reinforced: people like to take the path of least resistance when making consumer decisions by using “outsourcing” tactics as much as possible. That is, they simply go with the outside opinion they deem most reliable. The more strategies we law firm marketers can develop to capitalize on this rather lethargic decision-making style, the easier it will be to get potential clients to choose your firm.