Knowing where to play and how to win the content game

Life comes at you pretty fast. Especially if you’re in the legal industry in 2017.

Overnight, it seems, law firms were thrust into the content business, forced to compete for the attention and time of audiences in the daily digital mosh pit. To their credit, many are taking advantage of the ever-growing number of tools and platforms available to tell stories and communicate their messages. Newsletters, blogs, social media, podcasts, videos, interactive graphics — they’re all part of the content mix at many firms these days. Very soon, virtual reality will be added to the list.

But here’s an uncomfortable truth: The expanding volume of content makes it increasingly difficult for brands to distinguish themselves. The key decision-makers that law firms want to reach have only limited amounts of time to consume content. This means the investment required to get noticed and stand out is going up.

This is not an original insight. But given the limited resources organizations can devote to creating and distributing content, it’s a fact that must be confronted, lest a lot of time, money and effort go to waste.

The author and marketing strategist Mark Schaefer has argued that “content shock” could eventually render making quality content economically infeasible for some businesses, due to the prohibitively high cost to compete.

No doubt, this dynamic should cause concern at law firms, especially those without large marketing staffs or big marketing budgets. But it shouldn’t cause them to retreat from content as part of their marketing plans. There is no evidence that content is becoming less vital for firms to make connections with clients. In an increasingly competitive market, giving up on content would mean unilateral disarmament.

But it’s clear that in a noisy world with an unprecedented amount of free information available at our fingertips, firms need to articulate and execute a content strategy that sets them apart. It means that they’d better keep improving the quality of their content.

I would also argue that it’s important that firms decide what they are not going to do. This means choosing where to play a content game they can win.

An oft-stated aphorism in the legal industry is: Don’t try to be everything to everyone. The same approach should be applied to a firm’s content strategy. This may ruffle some feathers at some law firms. But the payoff can be large.

To understand what this sort of decision-making process looks like, consider The Economist, which has been around for more than 150 years and weathered all kinds of economic upheavals, including the digital transformation that laid waste to so many media companies. As told in The Content Trap by Bharat Anand, the magazine has institutionalized saying no, which allows it to play to its strengths. With a rather slim staff, it has said no to things like investigative reporting, breaking news, and interactivity. Nothing is stopping them from doing these things, but the company has decided others do it better. Instead, it focuses on what its readers want from the magazine: its view of the world in about a hundred articles every week.

As Economist Group CEO Chris Stibbs explains, the approach is supported by an understanding that the magazine will not appeal to everyone.

“If your belief is that the total number of people in the world who might be interested in you numbers around 65 million — as we believe is the case for The Economist — then you simply cannot be Google or eBay or Yahoo!, whose potential audience is five billion. You just can’t play a mass-market game. Our belief about our potential target audience puts us on a global leash.”

As noted by Anand, not many firms are willing to acknowledge the limitations of their appeal. But by doing so, firms can connect more deeply to their core audiences and win the content game that they choose to play.

Andrew Longstreth is the Head Writer at Infinite Global, based in New York. He creates custom content for law firms and advises on PR strategies. Andrew can be reached at andrewl@infiniteglobal.com.
 

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