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“Need a taxi?”
“Where are you going?”
“Sir, sir, sir, I have taxi!”
The taxi drivers in Rome crowd around the exit after you get through customs, when you attempt to depart through the sliding airport doors.
I’m not sure if there are two hundred of them or two thousand of them. It’s a lot of taxi drivers. They are everywhere.
In between are other drivers, holding signs with the names of passengers who pre-arranged their ride into the city. It’s quite chaotic as you emerge from the relative tranquility of the secure area.
There’s so much yelling that the drivers all cancel each other out. In the cacophony, no single driver can make an impression.
Most lawyer marketing is like taxi marketing
Unfortunately, most lawyers market their practices like the taxi drivers market their driving services.
We shout out loud. We scream “Jones Law Firm, The Criminal Defense Experts” or whatever.
When business gets slow, we scream it louder and more often. When the yellow pages stopped working, we started screaming on radio and TV. Then we yelled in our online ads. Then we tried YouTube, and Facebook, and Snapchat.
We’re on a never-ending hunt for new places to scream. If we’re creative enough to show up in the new space early we see results–at least until everybody else arrives on the scene.
But most of us only go where the other noisy lawyers are shouting–sometimes a decade after the peak, when we’ve heard enough success stories. Sadly, the new marketing venue is flooded by other screamers by the time we arrive.
Nobody stands out–everybody gets ignored
Screaming doesn’t work for the taxi drivers, but they get a fare once in a while, so they keep screaming.
Ask a lawyer how Google AdWords is doing and they’ll tell you they don’t really know with certainty. But it gets a client once in a while, so they keep screaming.
Ask a lawyer how well his website (full of 300-word articles with titles like “QUESTIONS TO ASK A DES MOINES ESTATE PLANNING ATTORNEY”) is doing at turning visitors into consults. He doesn’t know exactly, but the person answering the phones said that when he remembered to ask a few, a couple of them said they came in off the website.
Most of us lack any effective means of measuring our marketing. The sophisticated among us claim to have dashboards and analytics, and to know our return on investment. But mostly–regardless of our measurements–we conclude that screaming louder and more often gets us better results. We lack the capacity to measure subtle change in our marketing approach, so we simply crank it up when the number of inquiries goes down.
Ultimately we spend more and more, as a percentage of our revenue, on marketing. That’s the opposite of what a successful business should do. We should be building a reputation–clients, former clients, peers, and others should be telling good stories about us–and our marketing expenditures should shrink.
In the long run, we’re fighting a losing battle with the screaming. The costs keep going up. The challenge of finding and adapting to the next new marketing venue becomes more difficult. The competition makes the quest an endless struggle because we’re always hunting for the new, new thing.
There must be a better way. And there is: it’s found in the power of stories to impact what you do, how you do it, the way people think about you, and how your service might be helpful to them. Stories pack an emotional punch that makes screaming sound like something for babies and toddlers, not successful, effective, grown-up lawyers.
Standing out is easier than it seems
Nothing travels faster than a story. Stories are the foundation of human communication.
Pay attention to your reactions as you listen to someone else tell a story. What are you thinking? You’re thinking about the story you’re going to tell when the other person stops talking. We think in stories.
“Wow, that’s a great story,” you say. Then you push forward with “let me tell you about the time that happened to me,” and off you go.
Stories are what we remember, they’re how we learn, they’re the brain nourishment that allows us to change, adapt, and grow.
Stories are the way we spread the word. They’re how we make a point. They’re the way others are able to comprehend what’s being said.
You need a good story others can tell about you so that they understand you, appreciate you, and tell others about you, the work you do, and the difference you make in the lives of those you serve.
People tune out the screaming and the noise so they can hear the rest of the story. We lean into the storyteller because we want to hear more, we want to know what happened, we want to understand, we need to know how it ends.
A story is exponentially more powerful than screaming. We can turn the screaming off and block it out. A story, however, is alive in our brains and we find ourselves thinking about it long after it ends.
Here’s how you get noticed
What’s your story?
Until you figure out your story, you’re wasting your time marketing your law practice. Nobody will remember your message until you master your strong, powerful, interesting story. Your story has to land in their brain. It has to connect with their framework of understanding the world. It has to make them feel.
Your story needs to resonate, and that’s only possible when it overlaps with the story of the person on the receiving end. When they recognize themselves in your story, it clicks. That’s when they feel a connection with you–they like you more. That’s how trust is built.
Discovering your own story is not, however, a solitary activity. You’ve got to dig down into yourself while simultaneously exploring the story of your ideal client. Your understanding of the people you serve helps you find common ground.
You already know your ideal client pretty well, but most of us haven’t fully stepped into their lives in a way that lets us build empathy. We haven’t yet fleshed out their story so we can find the places where their feelings, experiences, and perspective overlap with our own.
You’ll only fully discover your story after you fully understand the story of your ideal client. It all starts with them.
The marketing process is about them, not you. Your story has to dovetail into what they care about, how they think, and what’s driving them as they experience the problem you solve. Mastering the client’s story is a prerequisite to formulating your story.
Your story is a work in progress
Practice telling your story one-to-one. Use life as a laboratory. You’re already telling stories. Tell yours more often.
When you master your story in person-to-person conversations, and see their eyes light up, you’ll know you’ve nailed it. That’s when you should invest in marketing tactics to spread the word. Prior to that moment you’re just flushing marketing money and energy down the toilet, screaming words that lack the power to inspire others to action.
Mastering your story, and your client’s story, is the foundation for creating your marketing message. It’s at the intersection of these two stories that we make an emotional connection. It’s in that space where trust comes rushing forward in waves of emotion. That’s when clients know they need you alone. They ignore the screaming and see only you. They stop asking other lawyers for help and wait for you to come galloping to the rescue.
Get focused on action
Last year, we organized a program to help lawyers tell their client’s story, develop their own story, and find the perfect tactics for telling those stories so they spread.
A bunch of great stories emerged from the work, they got told, revenues increased, and lawyers saw their reputations grow.
In our online program, lawyers shared their backgrounds and histories. They explored the events that shaped them. They explained how they came to be who they are, and why they do what they do.
It was uncomfortable, it was awkward, and we spent weeks dragging some closely-guarded and unpleasant details out of members that helped explain what made them tick and why they do what they do.
That’s when something powerful happened.
These lawyers stopped being lawyers to the rest of us. They become people. They became passion. They inspired us, they changed us, they energized us. Their stories were theirs alone, but their stories overlapped with ours. We each saw a bit of ourselves in the powerful stories the others were telling.
The stories we shared made us laugh. But sometimes they also made us cry. They always made us feel something. They made us want to be more, be better. They made us excited about our own potential to level up.
The story is the secret. Finding it is easier than you think–it’s that thing you don’t always want to talk about. Telling it, in a way that’s helpful to growing your business, is harder. Telling your story makes you feel vulnerable, open to criticism or ridicule; sometimes the words get stuck in our mouths and won’t easily come out.
But telling your story is magical. You feel better. The listener feels better. Trust grows. Others like you even more. They want you as their lawyer because they know they need someone like you at their side.
Releasing your story is powerful. It draws people in. It grows your business. You need to tell your story.
Everybody is yelling, except you: you’re different
In Rome, it’s taxis.
At Petra, in Jordan, it was (bizarrely) “Need a camel?” There were hundreds of camels, all lined up, waiting for a fare.
Back in the day, working in the Orange Bowl stadium, I yelled “Get your ice cold Coke here,” as I climbed up and down the stairs through the football crowd.
Yelling is background noise. It makes us tune out, even when storytelling makes us lean in.
Yelling works sometimes. But it doesn’t work nearly as well, or as often, as telling compelling stories. Stories get people talking. Your readers and listeners book your special taxi in advance. They arrive on the scene planning to ride your camel. They’re excited to try the special cold beverage you’re selling.
Most importantly, they know who they want to hire to represent them in their legal matter, because they’ve heard the stories about you. They already know who you are because you’re special–you’re the lawyer in the story.
Tell your stories and stand out. Tell your stories and energize others to spread the word. Tell your stories and get noticed. Tell your stories and stand out.
Stories turn you from the taxi driver crowded around the exit door into the magical chariot driver who carries special people through the chaos to their destination of choice. You become the guide who makes it all better. You are the person who makes people feel safe, secure, cared for, and special. You are the story they came to hear.
We’re going to share our stories again. We’re going to help you find the stories you can tell to build your business. It starts with the beginning of the new year. We’ll get busy telling stories on January 2, 2019, with Premium members of Rosen Institute.