ACLEA’s 52nd annual conference in Seattle featured a series of TED-style talks focused on the future and what different aspects of the legal profession and continuing legal education might be like in 2025. This post is based on one of those talks, The Future of Marketing, presented by Carmen Hill.
Is the Future of Marketing Already Here?
By Carmen Hill
It’s hard to believe, but by the time 2025 rolls around, it will have been 50 years since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of lawyers to advertise their services in the case of Bates vs. State Bar of Arizona. During that time we’ve seen changes that would have seemed like science fiction: the internet, smartphones, social media, marketing automation… the list goes on and on.
Meanwhile, legal marketing evolved (devolved?) into the over-the-top genre of late-night TV and billboard ads that inspired the hit Netflix series Better Call Saul. And it’s safe to say change is only going to accelerate between now and 2025.
Meet the Class of 2025
In 2025, there will be almost 10 more years of new, young lawyers in the field, and many older lawyers will have retired by then. Generation Z is the cohort of six to 18-year-olds that makes up 25% of the U.S. population. In just a few years they’ll account for 40% of all consumers.
It almost goes without saying that this will be a generation of digital natives. Lawyers who graduate in 2025 have never experienced life without the internet or Google. They’ve been able to tap an iPhone screen since they were in second grade, and swipe right for “yes” or left for “no” since they were old enough to go on their first date.
Meanwhile, millennials, or Generation Y, are already the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. By 2025 they’ll make up nearly half of it. You may already be sick of hearing about millennials, but ignore them at your peril. More than 70% of millennials are involved in researching or making decisions about what products and services their companies buy (The Next Generation of B2B). And they are far more likely to use digital channels like search engines and social media to make those decisions.
The Future Is Already Here
It’s not just the future of marketing that will be digital; it’s the present. Today, you’re not only competing with other law firms for attention you’re competing with everything else on the internet. The days when you could buy an ad and expect millions of people to see it are long gone. Because at the same time marketers look to technology for new ways to reach consumers, those same consumers are finding new ways to filter them out.
First we had the mute button. Then we had TiVo and DVRs. Now, a lot of people—especially younger people—are getting rid of their TV altogether and watching online. Oh, and if you want to reach people online? That’s getting harder too.
There’s a less than one percent chance that someone will click on your banner ad (Think with Google).
And 41% of millennials will never see your ad to start with, because they’re using ad blocking software (Page Fair).
The Generation Gap
Jill Switzer, who writes for Above the Law, says both oldster and youngster lawyers are battling for the same slice of the shrinking pie. One of the “youngsters” is Bryan Wilson, from Fort Worth, Texas: The Texas Law Hawk. He graduated from Texas Tech law school a few years ago, and was voted “Most likely to do a TV commercial.” But he put a millennial twist on that notion: rather than pay big bucks for TV advertising, he made funny videos with his friends and posted them on YouTube.
This Fourth of July-themed ad is one of several that Bryan Wilson has produced. This one alone has had nearly 200,000 views on YouTube.
Wilson spent just $500 on his first ad and not a whole lot more than that on the others. But his phone is ringing off the hook. In this recent interview with D Magazine he said his biggest problem right now is that he has too many clients.
Others are disrupting not only legal marketing, but also legal services. Joshua Browder, a 19-year-old Stanford University student, launched a chat bot app called DoNotPay (Business Insider). It helps people who can’t afford a lawyer to fight simple legal battles like parking tickets for free. His “robot lawyer” has already beat more than 150-thousand tickets. Joshua Browder isn’t paying for advertising… he’s getting it all for free in the form of media coverage.
So, what’s next?
The Guardian writes that over the next 10 years most marketing will become like Amazon Recommends on steroids. If it creeps you out to have a pair of shoes you saw on Zappos follow you around the internet, just wait till your refrigerator tells you it’s time to stock up on ketchup—or even places the order for you on Amazon. Technology, combined with both big data and small data, will make it possible for marketers to be even more targeted, personalized and automated than we already are.
What if lawyer ads appeared on your car dashboard when you have an accident or get pulled over? This is not all that far-fetched. Several years ago Mercedes unveiled its concept of an augmented reality dashboard at the Consumer Electronics Show. And some predict that within only a few years, 90% of cars will be connected to the internet (CNN).
Wi-Fi-enabled cars could offer some intriguing opportunities for audience targeting: For example, parents and kids on the way to school or people commuting to work. What if you’re not even driving your car? How does a driverless car talk its way out of a ticket? This is what’s coming, sooner than you think.
Digital Trends You Should Not Ignore
It’s impossible to say for sure what marketing will look like in 2025, but many of the same trends are affecting every business. As we’re already seeing, communication will become increasingly fragmented, broken into smaller bits on mobile devices and social media. Generation Z will be filtering what they choose to see and hear with split-second speed and precision. And it will all be happening all the time.
While you’re waiting to see what comes next, there are a few future-friendly things that simply cannot wait.
Make sure your website loads fast. You’ve only got a couple of seconds to show someone why they should stick around.
Make sure your website is mobile-friendly with a responsive design that is easy for visitors to use on any device. If you don’t, site visitors will punish you by leaving, and Google will punish you with a bad search ranking.
Invest in high-quality, valuable content that meets the needs of your prospective clients. Because if you don’t, your competitors else will.
Technology Is Just an Enabler
Regardless of where technology goes, the future of marketing still comes down to people. Nearly 40% of people still choose a lawyer the way they did a century ago: through someone they know (Moses & Rooth). No billboard, TV ad or even viral YouTube video holds a candle to the recommendations of trusted friends, family and colleagues. In short, understand the clients you’re trying to reach. Be helpful. Be interesting. And focus on providing the kind of experiences that clients love, even before they become a client.