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Could Social Networking and Viral Marketing Help Build Your Brand and Save you Money?

Date

April 10, 2010

Read Time

9 minutes

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Anyone who has ever run a business, been responsible for a department or even taken an accounting course knows that advertising and marketing are generally lumped in with a number of other expenses that are seen as necessary to keeping the company in business. It is tough to determine the return on investment of advertising and marketing dollars, but cut them off and you will soon find out how quickly business can be lost.

 

Our current economy gives us all a strong incentive to wring every drop of value from each dollar and minute we spend on marketing. With this in mind, we would like to share some of the trends that we are seeing and strategies we are employing at LP to get the most from our advertising and marketing resources.

 

Using Web 2.0 to build your brand and cut advertising costs

Wikipedia defines Web 2.0" generally as "web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing, interoperability, user-centered design and collaboration on the World Wide Web." As such, a Web 2.0 site allows its users to interact with other users or to alter Web site content. Examples of Web 2.0 include social-networking sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace), video-sharing sites (YouTube), Web-based communities (Yelp), hosted services, Web applications, wikis, blogs and more. These sites differ from the Web 1.0 world (pre-2004) in which the Web generally was non-interactive and limited to the passive viewing of information.

The first step in building your brand in the age of interactivity is to clarify and deliver a "message" that sets you apart from your competition. For example, we determined that what differentiates LP from the million other lawyers and thousands of law firms serving middle-market and larger companies is our unusually high degree of business savvy, built in part on the relatively large percentage of CPAs, LLMs and even YPO members at the firm.

To deliver this message, LP embarked in 2007 on an advertising and marketing plan in three phases, which despite its war-like terminology, is fairly straightforward:

Phase 1: An air strike utilizing advertising to publicize the LP name, seeking to expose the brand and decrease the likelihood of a prospective client saying "Levenfeld who?" when speaking with one of our attorneys in a business or social setting.

Phase 2: A targeted assault that places our attorneys in positions of thought leadership where clients and prospective clients can see or hear that our firm can help resolve their legal issues. Speaking engagements and Webinars are prime examples of "targeted assault" marketing activities.

Phase 3: Boots on the ground – also termed "leveraging networks" – to ensure that our attorneys can clearly communicate the firm's message when telling clients and prospective clients (online or in person) what they do, how they do it and what sets them (and LP) apart from the competition.

If you conduct the air strike correctly, you should be able to reduce resources spent in this phase so that you can focus more of your resources on the other two phases. This reallocation of resources is particularly important given the prevalence of social networking and viral marketing on the Internet. But here is what has happened since 2007: whether you're a service firm or a product company, to a certain extent, it has become all about boots on the ground.

Think about it this way: nearly everything that you make or sell will be reviewed online. Really, the Web is that pervasive, and products from cars to krill oil have pages of discussion devoted to them. This affects you and your business. You will have fans of your work and probably a few customers who were unimpressed or, sadly, had a horrible experience. Your happy customers are a powerful sales force, but your vocal detractors can cause damage to the reputation of your business.

As a recent article in The New York Times quoted one business owner:

"Social media for business now is life or death… you could open a business and do everything right, but if you're unaware of these social media you will perish. Social media can take a business and put a bullet in it."

"These forums," mentioned above, include local search sites such as Yelp, Metromix and Citysearch. Customer reviews of products and professional services also can be found on Angie's List or Epinions, or integrated into sales channels such as Amazon, OpenTable, TripAdvisor and countless online communities. These reviews, whether online or word of mouth, shape your brand and impact your ability to compete in your markets.

Your customer service also will be reviewed; therefore, how you resolve issues raised by dissatisfied customers is central to maintaining your competitive advantage. Many companies, both large and small, spend time reading and responding to online reviews to ensure that any issues are resolved promptly, before they can do damage. Given a recent survey by the Opinion Research Corporation in which 84 percent of respondents stated that online reviews influence their purchase decisions, this is time well spent. Although it may seem daunting to monitor your brand and reputation online, free services such as Google Alert and search.twitter.com make the process fairly painless. However, you still must allocate the resources necessary to read and effectively respond to the online reviews of your business.

Although it is beyond the scope of this article, many companies ask about the benefits and potential pitfalls with social networking sites, how they are used by employees, and whether employers should dedicate resources to monitoring what is said by employees on these types of sites and requesting that employees remove content deemed inappropriate by the company. LP's Laura Friedel was interviewed on this topic in the January 2010 edition of Smart Business Chicago. The full text of that article can be viewed here.

Building your brand with a better Web site

So, can you cut advertising spending and still build your brand? Definitely. LP has reduced our spending on "air strike" messages in 2010 to roughly one-third of what it was in 2008. Remember though, you pay for everything in life, but not always in cash. The time you spend building, managing and monitoring your brand online will take resources regardless.

How do you make your Web site standout from the crowd? There are many schools of thought when it comes to search engine optimization and the techniques that can be used to drive traffic to your business' Web site. Google actually has a great primer that includes tips and tactics on this topic, linked here. In this article, however, I focus on how to make the most of your online presence once you have accomplished the hard part of getting someone to find your site amongst the more than 200 million that currently exist.

With that in mind, think about you company's Web site. How easy is it for visitors to navigate your site? What information can they find? Is it useful to them, or just flattering for you? Is your Web site imagery and messaging consistent with the rest of your advertising and marketing?

We conducted a thorough review of our Web site, lp.productiveedge.com, in the spring of 2009 and found that a lot of changes needed to be made. The LP site that you see now is the result of a substantial face-lift launched in January 2010 to resolve navigation and branding issues.

Despite the face-lift, we still have room for improvement. Over the next year you will see efforts in two key areas: clarity of message and delivery of that message.

In terms of clarity of message, the face-lift of our Web site changed the look and feel of lp.productiveedge.com to match the imagery and message from our print ads. As noted earlier, we determined that what differentiates LP is our unusually high degree of business savvy. In 2008, we adopted the tag line Unusually Good to help solidify this message. You will see improved clarity of our message in 2010 as the firm pushes the Unusually Good branding to every part of your interaction with LP. It is not enough that we provide excellent legal counsel – this excellence needs to be pervasive and present in every touch, from counseling to billing to connecting clients to our network so we can help them build their businesses.

Delivering our message also will get a boost from updated technology in 2010, including the release of video segments highlighting some of the firm's attorneys. The first place you will see this is the attorney biographies, which generally lack inherent excitement in their current form. Worse, most bios do little to set one attorney apart from another. But what if an attorney could talk to you via a 45-60 second video clip that would give some insight as to her personality and how she might handle a matter for you? Wouldn't that be more useful than just knowing what schools she attended and what articles she has written? You could actually see her as a person instead of just a listing of accomplishments in a bio. We think this will be a hit, even if we are already somewhat late to the party.

Video is one of the biggest trends on the Web in the past few years and will become even more pervasive in 2010. According to "The Global Web Index" study from Trendstream and conducted by Lightspeed Research, 72 percent of Internet users in the United States watched video clips monthly. This number has nearly doubled since 2006. (A much more detailed article on the study can be seen here.) Video is a powerful marketing tool because it closes the gap between knowing a little bit about someone and feeling like you actually know them.

This technology, however, does have its problems, at least for now. An increasing number of users are accessing the Internet from mobile devices, many of which do not display video well, if at all. It will be incumbent upon businesses to think through how users may view their Web sites and ensure that their sites are mobile friendly.

Conclusion

The shift to Web 2.0 presents opportunities to grow your company's brand and to connect with your customers and prospective clients. With proper monitoring and attentive customer service, it also presents a powerful tool for executing "boots on the ground" marketing by leveraging fans of your company.

What next steps should you take? If you are wondering how to get your Web site noticed, the Google article referenced above gives good background on search engine optimization and keywords. If you are ready to start working on your Web 2.0 marketing strategy, this article at BusinessBrief.com provides examples of how some companies are already leveraging this technology. It may give you a few ideas beyond those mentioned earlier in this article.

While LP, by no means, has all of the answers, we have done a lot of research and spent countless hours strategizing on how to make the most of the current and upcoming Web trends. Give us a call or send us an email (

) if you have questions or if we can be of help to you or your business. We know it may be odd that a law firm is offering up its marketing department to answer business questions, but it is all part of being Unusually Good.

 


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