Admitting a Weakness is Your Marketing Strength

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Lawyer marketing is a self-love fest. If someone looked at at our websites, advertisements, and business cards, they’d think we’re all extra-amazing.

We have the greatest experience, the most astonishing expertise, and the strongest credentials. Even I like myself more when I read my lawyer biography.

We emphasize the things we perceive as positive, but we don’t even mention anything we think might be seen as a negative.

Acknowledging a weakness feels wrong

Marketing is about putting our best foot forward. We want to demonstrate our credibility. We want others to trust us.

We believe that we need to puff ourselves up, appear strong and invulnerable, and demonstrate our mastery of the universe.

Our flaws–touchy spots like a law school we’re not particularly proud of, prior employment we don’t view as prestigious, or a lack of relevant skills, experiences and accomplishments–become things we feel compelled to hide when we’re presenting ourselves to others.

We go out of our way to minimize our weaknesses, or we simply ignore them. The approach I took, and I’m not particularly proud of it now, was to join forces with another lawyer. Together, we pitched ourselves as having many years of “combined” experience. We knew we were full of it, but we did it anyway.

I’ve even seen larger firms take this route, claiming hundreds of years of shared experience, as though they were all practicing in Jamestown and Williamsburg back in the day.

Weakness is strength

When lawyer marketing leads with an admission of a problem, people tend to (almost instinctively) open up their minds and listen.

Think of a time when someone came to you with an admission of a problem. You listened harder, you leaned in, you quickly moved into helper mode. This is true whether the person with the problem is a client or a friend. We pay attention, we’re open to hearing what’s being said, and we’re automatically more interested.

When your audience tunes in to your admission, they’re paying attention, they’re open to your message, they’re willing to hear what you’re trying to say. It’s almost the exact opposite of the reaction we get when we open a conversation with a sales pitch.

Admitting that you’re less than perfect is the opposite of the hard sell. It plays into the idea that everybody likes to buy, but nobody likes to be sold to. In the hard sell scenario, we want to trust you, but we often feel pressured to do so. But when you lead with a flaw, you’re shifting the dynamic. You’re turning us around, and giving us something we didn’t expect. Your vulnerability neutralizes any pretense of trying to sell and clears a pathway for the buyers to listen.

The classic examples of weakness

Avis acknowledged that they were in second place to Hertz. “We try harder,” they told us.

Listerine admitted that their mouthwash tasted bad.

Volkswagen conceded that the “Bug” was ugly.

Most lawyers would be terrified to ever admit to being less than perfect. We sell hard and we ignore even our obvious imperfections. We’re positive, with a bit of positive added to that, then topped off with more positive.

We’re like the candidate who, in every interview, claims that his biggest fault is that “I just work too hard.”

Okay, buddy.

For some reason, we believe that we can power through our weaknesses and that others will overlook our obvious flaws. We’re either incredibly confident or we’re massively overcompensating for a lot of self-doubt. Whatever it is, it doesn’t go unnoticed. Our audience sees right through the puffery.

You’ll stand out if you tell the truth

Because most lawyers go so far in the perfection direction, you’ll stand out if you go just a tiny bit in the opposite direction.

You’ll have greater credibility. You’ll be trusted. You’ll come across as more real, authentic, and human.

Al Ries and Jack Trout, in The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, explain a phenomenon they call The Law of Candor: “When you admit a negative, the prospect will give you a positive.”

The objective is to get into the prospective client’s mind by first admitting a negative, and then reframing it as a positive. Candor is disarming. Negative statements about yourself are instantly accepted as truth. Positive statements are considered dubious at best.

Don’t go overboard

The law of candor doesn’t mean you simply highlight any weakness you’ve got. Some weaknesses are unique to you, or apply only to a small group of people. Things in that category fail to elicit recognition.

Your negative must be widely perceived as negative. It should instantly trigger agreement in the mind of your prospective client.

It’s especially tempting for us to moderate our negative with something that’s almost a positive if you squint your eyes a little bit. That’s confusing. Don’t go in that direction. If you’ve got a real negative, then go with it–don’t soft-pedal it. Be clear and direct, and watch for instant recognition in the response of others.

Once you’ve acknowledged the negative, turn it around quickly. Turn it into a positive. Avis is number two, but they try harder. Listerine tastes terrible but kills germs. The VW Bug may be ugly, but it gets you where you’re going.

Keep it simple, turn it around, and build more trust.

They already know your secret

I’m sure the prospective client who came into my office when I was twenty-eight knew I didn’t have thirty years of “combined” experience. There really aren’t any secrets. People are pretty smart. They get it.

Your secret isn’t safe either. Your secret, left unacknowledged, becomes the elephant in the room. The elephant will have an impact. Your negatives are going to have a negative impact until trust develops between you and your prospect. Why not turn that negative around? Let that negative itself build more trust. That’s what you’ll achieve when you step up and use the negative as a strength.

Smuckers did it with their jam by telling us “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.” Listerine called itself “The taste you hate twice a day.” Now is your opportunity to take that liability you’ve been hiding and turn it into an asset.

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