Word of mouth is the kind of marketing that happens when people talk. The fact that people talk to one another is certainly nothing new, and indeed, until relatively recently, word of mouth was the only kind of marketing to drive the development of business in the legal profession.
Times have changed, however, and law firms that are looking for new and improved ways of reaching those they seek to influence and sell their services to have adopted print, broadcast and, most recently, electronic and social media as a means to develop business.
However, new isn’t always better, and notwithstanding the proliferation of messages that law firms are now sending out through these various media, word of mouth continues to be the most effective form of marketing communication that there is. Here’s why.
> Skepticism and Perceived Credibility
When people talk about themselves, what they say is rarely taken at face value. We all know that people (and by extension law firms) typically don’t have an accurate and objective read on themselves, and the tendency toward self-aggrandizement only increases when there is a marketing objective at play.
For this reason, people have doubts about whether firms provide objective information about themselves, and those doubts affect how they interpret messaging they receive from law firm websites, blogs, brochures, advertising, and so on.
On the other hand, when real people talk about a law firm or a lawyer, they are assumed to be credible in ways that firms and lawyers talking about themselves simply can’t be. For starters, an objective opinion, as opposed to a subjective one (and presumably self-serving one), is considered to be more credible and more trustworthy.
People are not inclined to recommend firms or lawyers that they don’t truly believe are worthy of recommending. Those who make referrals do so in order to be helpful, and to build and strengthen their relationships.
When someone renders an opinion or makes a recommendation, they put themselves on the line. The ultimate satisfaction of the client who retains a firm based on a recommendation reflects not only on the service provider, but also on the person who recommended or referred that firm. This means that word-of-mouth marketing has a kind of built-in quality assurance. People know this, and that is in part why they so highly value the opinions and recommendations of those they know.
> The Bombardment Effect
Not only does self-generated messaging lack objectivity and credibility, but as electronic and social media are being more and more heavily used by law firms everywhere to promote themselves, people are becoming increasingly numb to the incoming bombardment of messages. And they are tuning them out.
> Relevance and Targeted Messaging
Another distinct advantage of marketing communications that use word of mouth over firm-generated broadcast messaging is that it targets the right people much more directly, and the message is much more relevant to those who receive it.
Widespread, mass communications may potentially reach many, many people, but only a very, very small subset of those reached will actually have any kind of interest in, or need for, the kind of legal services being promoted. Given that law firms don’t actually know the people they are trying to reach, the best they can do is to hope that a large enough group of people will receive the message, and that, among them, a few might actually be interested.
When it comes to word of mouth, however, the person who is speaking on behalf of the firm or the lawyer has already actively identified those who have a real interest or need. Nobody is going to randomly strike up a conversation about a law firm or make a recommendation regarding whom a person might be interested in retaining unless they know that the person in question has an interest — meaning that word of mouth has an extremely high direct hit rate.
In addition to being highly effective, word of mouth has the added advantage of being inexpensive. All that is required in order to generate business through word of mouth is to do great work and be interested in helping others.
> The Bottom Line
No form of marketing communication will ever be perceived to be as reliable as the word that comes directly from someone who is respected, and whose advice is valued. No form of marketing is more effective than word of mouth, and today word of mouth and personal referrals have more power than ever before.
Donna Wannop, LLB, MBA, is a practice-development coach (www.wannop.ca) who has worked exclusively with the legal profession for over 20 years. She can be reached at [email protected].